“I Was Going To Give It Up”: How Jessie Ware Came Back To Music With Her Best Album Yet
"For so many years I'd been so appreciative of being able to do this job that I hadn't been able to enjoy it."
If you’d asked Jessie Ware in the middle of 2018 whether she wanted to keep going with this whole music thing, you would have received a pretty negative answer.
The British singer was just coming off a gruelling rollout and tour for her third album Glasshouse, which culminated in an “an absolute Jesus Christ of a shocker” performance at Coachella, after which her mother told her to quit the game altogether.
Having hit upon success immediately following her acclaimed 2012 debut Devotion, the tepid reception towards followup albums Tough Love and Glasshouse was disheartening, and she grew “bitter, angry, resentful”. So, for a time, Ware walked away from it all.
“Yeah, I think I did,” Ware says over a Zoom call from her home in London, when asked whether she was going to give it up altogether. “I got a bit Debbie Downer and I was a bit woe is me and I needed to check myself. It’s a ludicrously kind of brilliant and bizarre job, and I think I’d got too deep in it and the politics and I’d forgotten how to really enjoy myself.
“I think for so many years I’d been so appreciative of being able to do this job that I hadn’t been able to enjoy it. And then it got really kind of slightly hard and I think having the podcast going, I was a bit like, ‘Well, I don’t need to do this if it’s making me so miserable and I have a family and I don’t want to be taken away from my family if it’s not worth it’.”
Ware went to the head of her label and told him she was “miserable”, and they had “the” conversation about her future in the business.
“I just needed to navigate a way to find enjoyment out of it again and make music which had no agenda.”
“Luckily he was generous enough to try and solve it,” she says. “I moved label, and I’m very lucky that I got to do that. I did feel that I was going to give it up. I just needed to navigate a way to find enjoyment out of it again and make music which had no agenda.”
Her road back to music was made a lot smoother by a somewhat unexpected side hustle. That podcast Ware mentioned above is Table Manners, the wildly successful cooking and interview show that she presents with her mother Lennie. Since it launched in 2017, the two have hosted guests like Sam Smith to Dua Lipa to Florence Pugh to Samin Nosrat to London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
It’s a thoroughly wholesome listen, like you’re sitting there at the table with them, tucking into a bowl of Lennie’s much-beloved chicken and matzo ball soup. At the beginning of this year, it had raked in around 80 million downloads.
The success of Table Manners released the pressure on Ware’s music career — and without the need to make big money hanging over her head, she simply began to enjoy herself.
She went into sessions with producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine) after coming back from the American tour. She had parted ways with her manager, and most people around her thought she wouldn’t want to do the sessions at all.
“I was just like, ‘Okay, well, I’m going to go into sessions and I’m going to make some music’,” she says. “And I came out with brilliant, some brilliant, brilliant bits of music that are on the record. So I think that it was those first two weeks with James that really, really helped kind of change things and sparked this real strong concept for the record.”
Glasshouse had dug into Adele-adjacent ballads, heavy on acoustic instrumentation. But with new album What’s Your Pleasure?, Ware has dug back to the sounds that marked her early moves in the industry, when she was a choice guest vocalist for the likes of SBTRKT and Disclosure.
“I wanted to tap back into this world that have been incredibly kind and generous to me and as the start for my career,” she explains. “It still confuses me that I hadn’t done more stuff like that when it suited me so well. So for me, it was a kind of returning romance with that world, but on my terms, of me being the artist, not me featuring. And creating a body of work that used all those years of experience and my taste, without it being dictated by a producer.”
“This is ten years on from me putting those kinds of records out,” she continues. “So my taste has changed too, and I want it to have this kind of slightly elevated disco, groove feel to it. And those guys [Ford, Joe Mount of Metronomy] are the people that I felt like could do that with me.”
What’s Your Pleasure? is velvety and gorgeous, the instrumentation — silky basslines snaking around acid house beats, orchestral flourishes brushing up against pulsing synths — providing the perfect groundwork for Ware’s dynamic vocal. On tracks like ‘Spotlight’ (a single and a standout on the album) she drops to a near whisper, ushering us into the dark with a sly smile. On punchier dance tracks like ‘Save A Kiss’, she lifts the chorus hook up to the ceiling.
“Nothing was out of reach. Nothing was too much….We really pushed ourselves with how naughty we could take it.”
If the title didn’t give it away, What’s Your Pleasure? is also completely, utterly, sexy — an album for late nights, for dark dancefloors and warm, ruffled beds.
“It was incredibly freeing,” Ware says about exploring sexuality on the record. “I was going into total fantasy world with Shun and Danny Parker who I wrote some of the record with — and also with James, and Coffee is another writer that I wrote with. Nothing was out of reach. Nothing was too much. We just need to navigate how we put it down to make it still work within my world. And with that kind of sophisticated element. We really pushed ourselves with how naughty we could take it.”
It follows naturally that after deciding to simply enjoy herself, to throw herself back into music she’s passionate about, Ware has created her best album yet.
“I just thought…whatever happened with the record…I made the record that I needed to make to satisfy myself,” she says, before laughing. “If this is the last hurrah, fine. But at least I made a record that I really enjoyed..but then of course what happens is everyone really likes it and you make maybe your best record. And then you’re like, ‘Oh, right, okay, cool, fine.'”
It also has the potential to be her most commercially successful record ever, with an army of podcast fans now behind her. When people come up to her on the street now, she says, they say how much they love the podcast or think her mum is awesome just as much as they talk about her music.
“It kind of makes it makes me laugh,” she says, when asked about whether she finds it strange that the podcast has almost overtaken her music career. “And, and it’s really nice. It means that I can make whatever music I want because I’ve got this podcast that is so popular.
“I like my life and I like it not feeling too starry.”
“I’m really interested to see whether all these podcasts listeners will potentially give my album a spin,” she adds. “That would be nice. And people that maybe don’t know my music that well. So I kind of think it’s a wonderful situation I’m in.”
Then again, Ware’s always been a big of an underdog — while fellow British peers like Ellie Goulding and Dua Lipa and Lily Allen have dominated the limelight over the last few years, Ware is quite happy to remain out of it.
“I don’t mind being that,” she says about the underdog status. “I like my life and I like it not feeling too starry. And so I quite like it remaining this way. I think it’s kind of actually quite a good tool to always be the underdog. That’s better than always being overrated, isn’t it?”
Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? is out June 26 via Universal Music Australia.
Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee, follow her on Twitter.
All photos courtesy of Universal Music Australia.