Jessie Ware The Storyteller
Published Nov 05, 2014In September, Jessie Ware had the opportunity to do what every Kate Bush fan had been waiting more than three decades for: to witness the legendary singer perform for the first time since 1979.
"It was exactly what you would expect, everything and more. It was brilliant," she admits. "I'll never see anything like that ever again. It was definitely inspiring to see someone who has not performed in 30-plus years be able to come back. She's got such brilliant songs and an incredible voice, but that longevity is really inspiring."
Ware is only a few years into her career, but she took the experience as an example of what she can do in the future. And while Bush may have taken an unorthodox approach — 12 years between albums, 35 years between performances — Ware likes that she has options.
"The idea is that I want this to be my career," she explains. "I don't want it to stop in five years. I like the idea that if I want to take ten years off, which I could never do because I like working too hard, but if I did and I was in my 50s, I would love that opportunity. It was a really warm, wonderful atmosphere [at the show]."
Jessie Ware is giving her career a lot of thought lately. Not only because she is releasing her second album, Tough Love, but because she recently married her childhood sweetheart. The two events go hand-in-hand; her relationship with her husband was the inspiration for the album's title.
"For me, I love my job, but sometimes it pulls me away from what I adore the most," she explains. "And sometimes it gets in the way of being able to have a proper relationship. There's frustration but I wouldn't change my life. I love what I do. So it's this tension between that and trying to balance it for me. This thing I love takes me away from who I love equally or even more."
(And in case you're wondering, Ware did not sing at her wedding. "Fucking definitely not," she says. "That would be so weird. People asked me if I was going to sing. Why would I sing? It's my day off!")
Tough Love comes two years after Ware exploded onto the UK charts with her debut album, Devotion. The first song she ever recorded, "Nervous," was with fellow Londoner SBTRKT, who would offer her guest spots on both of his albums. From there, Ware began to receive offers for collaborations with Sampha, RackNRuin (Gorgon City), Joker, Florence and the Machine, and Bobby Womack, to name a few. A deal with PMR, the label that would go on to discover Disclosure, followed, and in 2011, Ware released her debut single, "Strangest Feeling."
Devotion's release immediately announced Jessie Ware as both a star of the rising R&B resurgence and the UK's new breed of chart-dominating singer-songwriters like Adele and Emeli Sandé. She didn't win the Mercury, nor the MOBOs and BRITs she was nominated for, but she certainly established herself. When it came time to begin working on Tough Love, Ware was ready to make even more of a statement. She knew she wasn't the same tenderfoot that struggled with nerves on Devotion.
"I knew I could do a better job and I felt ready. So I wouldn't say I felt any pressure at all," she says. "Some of the production is more stripped back and there's more space in my voice, which was a bit scary for me at the beginning. I'm just experimenting. Hopefully this isn't going to be my last record. And in different stages in my life and career, this is the kind of music I want to make for this album. But I think it's opened up my voice to my audience. There's more to hear."
Unlike her first album, the majority of which was produced by the Invisible's Dave Okumu, Ware chose to explore her options and work with a variety of songwriters and producers. (Okumu did work on two songs.) BenZel, the production duo of Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch, oversaw half of the album. Ware says that while they had "electric chemistry," sometimes it became "fucking hard because we wanted to kill each other. But in hindsight I wouldn't have changed a thing because it helped me understand myself and realize I am ready to be this confident artist, which I wasn't ready to be on the first record. I'm kind of growing into myself musically and know what I want to do."
Ware also brought in three of the hottest songwriters around to help out: Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, Miguel and Ed Sheeran. But with all of those cooks in the kitchen, she took it upon herself to ensure that the album was done her way. Tough Love isn't just a more focused and sinuous album than Devotion, it also exemplifies her discipline and consistency as an artist.
"It was so important to keep it consistent working with so many other people," says Ware. "For me, it really meant that I had to be in control of what I was doing. But also put my trust in other people. I had to be more decisive though and know what I wanted. I'm sure that frustrated some of the producers at some point, but in the end I think it made more sense."
Of course, the question that seems to be plaguing Ware these days is how can a newlywed, who's been in love for years, continue to write and sing about heartbreak with such conviction? Ware is irritated that people assume every song is about her love life. She considers herself to be a songwriter, but also a storyteller.
"Everyone kind of says, 'Now that you're married how will you write another album?' And it's like, well, I just wrote an album while I was engaged and I haven't been unhappy ever, really," she explains. "Songwriting is storytelling and there is an art in that. It doesn't necessarily have to be my story — it can be somebody else's. And if that means that it's relatable then why does it matter? There is this assumption that I'll be making really dull, domesticated, happy music for my third album. I mean, maybe I will, but I don't need real heartbreak to write a bittersweet song."