After running towards her wildest dreams, the British siren has finally found her sanctuary.
Words and Interview by James Walsh and Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson
Having previously toured America as a back-up singer, Jessie Ware returns this month with shows in New York and LA, fresh from delivering one of Europe’s most seminal albums of 2012, the incredible Devotion. The British soul star’s debut is host to a sophisticated and emotive voice, which is complimented further by the effortlessly cool, electronic stylings and rhythms. Her penchant for ’90s R&B and dance music (remember her feature alongside Sampha on SBTRKT’s “Right Thing to Do”), working alongside some of bass music’s most forward-thinking producers, is evident on an album of great authenticity and depth that most artists strive for years to achieve. Starslinger, Perseus and Disclosure are just a handful of stellar names who have taken on the task of remixing the 28-year-old’s soaring choruses and lyrically-inspired melodies. MTV IGGY gets to know the rising star…
Jessie, where in the world are you right now?
I just landed in Helsinki a few hours ago. I’m currently playing a few European gigs, and did Sweden last night.
Cool. How have they been going?
Really good. I think they’ve been going really well. I’ve been getting loads of nice messages thanking me for the concerts, which is great, and it’s been interesting to see how the different countries react. You can definitely tell the difference between each crowd, which is really fun.
You performed at a lot of festivals over the summer. How does it feel to now headline your own shows?
Don’t get me wrong, I love festivals and have been going to them for years, they’re magical places and really exciting, but doing my own shows have felt really special. I feel more confident, like, I can perform more because people have come to see me. I feel almost apologetic at festivals, but they’re great to do and you work hard to keep a crowd interested during them. The only thing with my own shows is I hate awkward silences, so I end up chatting about the most stupid stuff on stage. My drummer’s a big Michael Jackson fan and when we played in Bucharest last week, I tried to fill the silence and accidentally compared my first gig in this warehouse in Bucharest to the huge Dangerous tour he did there! Hopefully that got lost in translation, but my chat is pitiful [Laughs].
Going back to the beginning, you started out as a backing singer. Tell us a bit about how you got signed, and how you went from behind the stage to right in front of it…
My best friend, Jack Penate, asked me to be his backing singer and so I quit my job and went on tour with him around the US. Tich, in the band, had a lot of white labels, one of which was SBTRKT – who wasn’t as well known then. He played me Sampha, too, and I thought both were really exciting. I was petrified going into a session with them but the songs were a success; “Valentine” with Sampha and “Nervous” with SBTRKT. I was listed as a feature and was on front of the vinyl, as SBTRKT didn’t want his face on it. It was through that labels became aware of me, and I went on to get signed. I started working on my own stuff in between doing the more dance-orientated music. It was daunting at first, making my own songs, and there’s definitely something satisfying about jumping up for a PA in a club—there’s no pressure and you can just go back to dancing with your mates. I definitely can’t ever imagine having not made that transition now.
A massive congratulations on the success of Devotion in the UK, by the way. It’s been hugely critically and commercially acclaimed. The singles released prior to the album were available for people to get for free and, on the release date, people were also able to stream it on The Guardian’s music site. Were you ever worried people would opt for the free stream rather than buying it?
Not really. The fact that the music was so accessible probably helped, as it meant the people at radio and clubs could get the music easily, but it’s not something that was contrived or was thought about consciously. We just put it out for people to listen to and the reaction was great. With The Guardian album stream, they asked if I wanted to do it and I was happy I had the chance to do so. I think music should be heard by as many people as possible, and it should be something which is generous. I’d prefer people to hear it first and then when they buy it, they know they’re going to like it. I’d feel guilty otherwise [Laughs].
You also picked up a Mercury Music Prize nomination for the LP. How has the recognition of all the hard work you’ve put into the album been?
The most important thing, for me, was that my friends and family liked it. I never thought it was going to happen the way that it has. It’s been bizarre but great and the nomination was an incredible bonus. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate it. I front the album, but there’s so many people behind it who have played a huge part and been important. So it was also recognition of the work everyone’s put in, which was great to celebrate.
You’re going back to America later this month, right? What are your plans while you’re there this time around?
I have a show in New York at The Box on December 10, and I’m at The Bootleg Bar in LA three days later. We’ll be packaging a special EP together as an introduction to me and my music and that’ll be out January 15, which is a nice way to start the year. “110%” will be on there, but we’ve had to change the name to “If You’re Never Gonna Move.”
For those who may have not heard you as yet, how would you describe your sound and who influenced it?
It’s British and very soulful, electronic music, but I’ve got so many influences on the album. I listened to a lot of ’90s R&B growing up, artists like Aaliyah, Sade, Lauryn Hill and TLC. There’s obviously the dance music element, and we even used a Big Pun sample on “110%.” Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon were the main producers who helped shape the record.
Finally, what are your plans for early 2013 and where do you hope to be in five years?
I think I have the whole of bloody 2013 planned for me [Laughs]. There’s lots of touring. I’m going everywhere: the UK, the States, Europe, Australia. There’ll be festivals, too. I want to play as much as possible and really get to know the people who like me and are listening to my music. In five years’ time, I hope to have had a baby by then who I can play my album to on repeat and teach her all the words [Laughs]. No, I’m just joking! I hope to have had a second album, possibly working on a third, and just a successful career.
Want to hear more British soul? Check out 11 artists that you must know from the other side of the pond, here.