Photo by Carlijn Jacobs
Jessie Ware On Returning To Her Dance Roots And Continuing To Learn
What do you do when you're, quite literally, dressed up with nowhere to go? That was Jessie Ware's issue when, after three albums of moody R&B-focused pop, the singer/songwriter saw her fourth album What’s Your Pleasure? as a big-beat filled opportunity to get down with her fans. The Mercury Prize-nominated singer/songwriter envisioned listeners dancing with the same reckless abandonment she showed as a teenager on the London dance scene. Instead…she got a pandemic.
While performing to sweaty clubs is still off the table, the crooner made the best of the setback by delivering an elaborate green screen performance for "The Late Late Show" from her living room, a fun set-up she hints might point the way to her live performances, now slated for early 2021.
But despite the joy she radiates on nearly every topic (her personality, she says "has always been my best PR tool"), listening and advocating has always been a huge part of the musician’s platform. She’s proud of the way her audience has allowed her to speak out about a spate of issues, including LGBTQ rights and Brexit. Which is why she felt comfortable postponing her love letter to disco by a week in support of the world wide Black Lives Matter movement.
"It’s been brought to my attention that June 19 is in fact a special date in American history," she explained to followers on Instagram. "It’s celebrated as Juneteeth. It’s an incredibly important day for black voices. I don’t want to distract from those voices, or experiences or voices in any way."
Ahead of What’s Your Pleasure?’s new release date (June 26 via Virgin EMI), Ware spoke with GRAMMY.com about learning how to trust herself, the joys of multitasking and the artist that will always remind her of her dancing days.
In interviews surrounding your first album, you spoke quite a bit about how difficult it was to write about yourself. Has that gotten easier as you've progressed in your career?
Well to be honest this record is probably less personal than my previous record. But I think since the last time we spoke, my confidence has come on leaps and bounds in that I no longer have this imposter syndrome. I think that has a lot to do with years of experience, understanding myself as an artist much better, but also having this podcast that has been a wonderfully balancing tool for me to be able to feel like my career is kind of limitless and it isn't just pigeonholed by music. Because I've always felt scared by that notion, and I was always kind of accepting of if music didn't work out, that I could go and find another job. But it's really liberating to feel that I can actually balance two different jobs and, and to be kind of doing them that the fullest, but also still be creating and feeling very creative and inspired.
So, you have the podcast and the music. You're even directing your own green screen late-night performances. When someone asks, what do you do, how do you respond?
Now I guess I would have to put down singer/songwriter/podcaster. Also, I don't know in my spare time, I'm a teapot. I'm doing a lot but I feel kind of more invigorated than ever. I'm more confident of my music, which has been amazing.
That is amazing. Has your definition of success changed?
It was a completely generous feeling from everybody and a will, by everybody, to want me to be this big thing. And I have now four albums in, and yet to be discovered by many people. However, I have this incredibly strong growing fan base that are incredibly loyal. And then I've also been able to have this extra side project which has become just as important as my music career, that has been able to really expose, warts and all, my personality—which has always been my best PR tool ever. When perhaps I wasn't getting on the TV shows or when I wasn't doing more commercially-minded stuff, I was growing this fan base. And this podcast has kind of shown me my truth. I don't take myself too seriously. I have fun. And, and then yeah, that's kind of been an extension with this record.
When did you start discovering What's Your Pleasure?’s sexy, dance vibe?
I guess what a lot of people may not know is that was where I started. That's where I got my first song came out with a guy called SBTRKT, and I was kind of a dance vocalist. And then I got signed and then I did a solo project, that was slightly more soul and R&B-focused. But yeah, it's the community and the world really embraced me and started me off on this journey. So, for me it was somewhat of a return. You know, 10 years' more experience and wisdom and understanding of myself as an artist and then applying all that to trying to make this fun record, which was exactly what I needed. And I'm trying to remind myself how to enjoy myself and have that freedom that I think is so wonderful within dance music, and really being able to kind of tessellate between electronic music and beats and rhythm with the confidence within my vocals.
I love that you're returning to your roots, but you're also returning without the imposter syndrome.
Yes, it's a nice feeling, I have to say!
Were you a club kid back in the day?
Yeah, I started clubbing when I was about 16 when I went to a drum and bass rave. That was my first entry point. It was so fun in London and it was very innocent. My mum was very kind of okay about me going out and coming home very very late or early in the morning. I had a small amount of money and I danced for hours with my friends. It was amazing to see the same people you would know each night. It was a scene. And I felt very comfortable with it and I loved it.
When did you start feeling like you could bring this freedom and fun to performances?
I think my way of navigating my confidence on stage was being able to talk to the audience. So, I felt completely out of my depth, performing, because I kind of I felt like who gave a shit if I was singing and they didn't know the song? It was that kind of beginning bit, but you you've been put on whether you're opening up for.
So, I remember opening up for Alabama Shakes in this pub and just feeling like no one is here for me. They don't want to hear me, they want me hear Alabama Shakes! Why am I even singing this like, and just being like, oh god please, can this just be over? And then I worked out how to kind of do my performance by talking to the crowd in between songs. It was a way of settling my nerves. It's a way of kind of relaxing into it. And we just had so much fun, particularly with my American crowd. I could chat to them without singing a song when we'd have like a riot, and. And I love the back and forth that I get with my crowd. They were all hysterical and completely outrageous. Now I live to perform live, and I love it, I love that the kind of jeopardy of when you need to win people over.
Is that what you're most looking forward to when life continues?
Yeah, performing, seeing the fans, playing the songs. I mean I made this record with my fans with this kind of club element in mind. And being able to dance and go out and be together. And yes, that is going to take a while to be there but when we get to that point is going to feel very delicious.
Was there a song on this album that really sparked those emotions for you?
However, "Adore You" it felt kind of like I could imagine in my, in my dreams, it could be a Blondie song or even a Kylie Minogue song.
Since your goal is to get people dancing, what artist like Blondie or Kylie Minogue defined your club days?
We used to always get ready to JLo. That was our thing. Jennifer Lopez. I think somebody that I have huge admiration and respect for [is] Róisín Murphy. She's got this following, but she's one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen. And I love how she creates dance music and stays so true to herself. With this record, I guess it's more kind of Donna Summer, Minnie Riperton tribute.
How have you handled that in terms of speaking out and being an advocate towards like the Black Lives movement?
I've kind of always presumed my fans are as liberal-minded as me, but maybe they aren't. They've always been very accepting of the platforms I speak about whether it was anti-Brexit, or encouraging people to vote, or Black Lives Matter, or the LGBTQ community. It's been interesting this week, definitely. I don't know whether they're [Twitter] bots, or like they're just idiots. Generally, I feel like I have a very like-minded audience, but I'm hopefully able to educate, or open some other's mind through my kind of messages that I'm putting out there. We're all learning, I think. And, you know, I think I took for granted, like many people need to know more. I need to understand more, and I'm here and I'm ready to do that.