Bursting on to the scene with some A-class collaborations with the likes SBTRKT, and now releasing stellar solo material London songstress Jessie Ware brings some much needed soulful classiness back into pop... along with a bit of sass too.
Singer Jessie Ware gently places a finger on my arm and calmly says: “If you print that, my Mum will come and hunt you down.” We were joking together about her Mum’s anonymous presence on YouTube shutting down the haters’ comments, and Jessie revealed her Mum’s ID. As I threatened to expose it, there is a brief and minute flash of a fierce Jessie. Very brief, and for a blossoming RnB, soul, garage vocalist, refreshingly the diva is currently checked out, and she shows herself to be a modest, bright, enchanting, glamorous 27 year old. When asked if she is quite fierce, she shakes her head, intimating she is often shy: “It was always a really scary thing not knowing how to tell people you could sing. And then they’d say ‘Sing!’ I found it very difficult because I was quite shy about it all when someone would ask me to sing for them. Once I had ‘Nervous’ there was a track I could play to people and it all escalated from there.”
Five singles in and only in to the very early stages of her career, Jessie has already proven herself to be a tremendously versatile vocalist, powering though Bristol based Joker’s dubstep muscle with The Vision to the smooth embrace of SBTRKT’s Nervous, right out to the playful choral arrangement of her collaboration with Sampha, Valentine. And then there’s the meditative house of Running with Julio Bashmore, which has captured hearts, an intense dose of emotion where she emphasises how she can subtly switch up from the smooth serenade to such an incredibly forceful vocal. Compared to Sade and Aaliyah, she also pulls through the rebel London vibrations of Soul II Soul and the incredible emotion of Masters of Work’s India. It’s all there from explosive belters to introspective garage, although the tone in her voice is consistently reflective, brooding and sombre. Reflecting upon this Jessie explains: “I always sound like I’m moaning, and it always sounds quite heavy, and I don’t really know how that happened, because I’m a really happy person.”
Over the past twelve months, her wardrobe has also caught up with her incredible presence. On stage you won’t see the frisky trainers and baseball jackets anymore, she’s cutting an alluring and enchanting silhouette which is equal parts Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosellinni) in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and an Eastend Kray Twins gangstress: “I don’t dress like that every day, I’m very self-conscious, so if I can create a character it’s creates armour to hide behind. I also just thought: fuck it, I’m trying to be pop star, so I might as well have fun with it.”
Born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith, and raised in Clapham she’s a South London girl. She tried out the East End but gravitated back to her Mum’s after a year. Attracted to singing at school, her teacher leaned towards classical, although in the early days opera had no appeal, the preference was for jazz standards and Gershwin or Sinatra. Slipping into the background she decided to forget about singing and thought: “It was dream that would never happen, so I decided to go to university and get an education. Really sensible. Too sensible actually.” Jessie decided to trail in her Dad’s footsteps and studied English literature at Sussex University with aspirations of later becoming a journalist. “My father’s a journalist [Panorama’s John Ware] and I dabbled in it. I wanted to write for a paper like The Mirror, be a good tabloid hack. Did a journalism course and started working at The Jewish Chronicle.”
I always sound like I’m moaning, and it always sounds quite heavy, and I don’t really know how that happened, because I’m a really happy person.
Through her school friend, none other than Jack Peñate, Jessie found work as his touring backing singer and then skanking Londoner’s Man Like Me: “I really thought I would just be happy making a job out of being a backing singer. Singing with Jack Peñate and Man Like Me. That would be my bread and butter getting gigs, getting paid and singing my heart out.” The spark took place when Jessie was introduced to SBTRKT. In their first session together they wrote the track Nervous. And through this she was quickly gaining exposure on Rinse FM. With the radio station now legal and Katy B igniting a fresh commercial awareness to British dance music, and together with Jessie regularly spotted collaborating with DJ Oneman at the live Boiler Room sessions, her reputation escalated quickly.
She popped a couple of cherries during the first recording session with SBTRKT, it became the first time Jessie had even heard her voice recorded. Prior to this, she had only performed live, she laughs: “When I first heard my voice I loved it; he made me sound nice. Loads of reverb!” Second, she had never written before: “It’s really hard when you’ve never done it before and you never thought you could do it. I love songs and listening to lyrics, but being the person trying to write them in a unique, romantic, beautiful way is quite a task. I’m not saying I’ve succeeded yet, but it’s difficult and it didn’t come naturally because maybe I was nervous.”
Fuck it, I’m trying to be a pop star, so I might as well have fun with it.
Experience and fantasy embrace when Jessie writes, her method is to conceive the lyrics through a character and create a distance: “Which makes it easier to act it out and perform it, when it’s not too close to you.” She elaborates Running: “Is an embellished event, it comes from experience, and then I try to imagine if it was used as a soundtrack in a film and who would act it out. And it’s usually an eighties teenage prom film.” Going on to reveal Running is the second part of a trilogy which she has written with Julio Bashmore, the first part is Sweet Talk and the final chapter in the saga was completed at the beginning of March: “We were making very melodramatic guitar riffs, I like the drama, I like Toto and Whitney Houston, I enjoy theatre too so I thought we’ll make a three part saga out of it”. Taking us through a quick synopsis, she expounds: “Sweet Talk is about someone pulling you in and you shouldn’t want to speak to them and they give you the sweet talk and pull you in and then you’re under their spell again, it’s more flirtatious. Running is the result of too much sweet talk, trapped and madly into somebody, where the manipulation is maybe not so healthy. The journey from flirtation to frustration and then trapped and sucked in too far. Part Three is the goodbye chapter. It’s about secrets and frustration.” If the saga is made into a film, her character would be played by, she cackles: “A young Barbara Streisand.”
The debut album is now written with producer Dave Okumo, who came into the fray after Jessie’s manager met him at a barbeque and recognised the potential there was for the pair working together. She explains writing the album was daunting, although she’s had fun with it: “I didn’t want to make a strictly dance record and I think you can get away with that with your first album, it can be a mish-mash, and I love so many different types do music, I love RnB, hip-hop, jazz. I just wanted to get as many of those ‘loves’ in there. There’s a few powerful ballads on there too, you can put a fist in the air to a couple of them.”
With the album due towards the end of the summer, Jessie is ready to get out and start performing again. With her incredible first headline performance at Our Lady and St Joseph church in Islington, she laughs: “My first solo was in a church at a carol concert when I was 10 actually. A Jew singing in a church.” She laughs at the irony: “I think my Mum bought all my tickets.”
Make up Lucy Bridge @ Jed Root using MAC
Hair Tom Berry
Photographic Assistant Matteo Macri
Retouching Alex May @ Provision
Fashion Assistant Ian Luka
Special thanks to Provision Studios