“I went into the studio to make a record that made people want to dance, flirt, and have sex.”
Mercury Prize-nominated singer/songwriter Jessie Ware is feeling herself. Fresh from the studio, finalising her fourth album What’s Your Pleasure?, the archetypal London musician reinstates her brilliance three years after a hiatus from the charts. Returning with a seductive, unadulterated dance-soul-pop record, she describes her newly-conceptualised, “soft filter” sound as her best material to date.
Talking to us whilst negotiating a nursery field trip, hunting for worms with her 4-year-old daughter, Jessie blends being an artist and a mother with finesse. Dedicating her previous LP, Glasshouse, to her young family, What’s Your Pleasure? feels more reminiscent of the 35-year-old artist’s earlier releases, featuring the sound she refined performing in disused warehouse spaces and collaborating with the likes of Disclosure and Julio Bashmore. All that Jessie wants to do now is make uncomplicated music, igniting passion and escapism within her listeners. And What’s Your Pleasure?, a captivating whirlwind of melody and emotion, is all that and more. Drenched in soul and passion, the effortlessness of Jessie’s voice—paired with the intuitive production of long-time friend James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine)—culminates in a sound that feels instantly compelling.
Giving herself over to whatever project’s on the table at any one time, Jessie Ware assumes full creative control over every element of her work. Her own podcast, Table Manners, co-hosted with Mother Ware as they discuss food and everyday life, has amassed over ten million downloads and regularly trends worldwide. The pairing has released a cookbook—authored collaboratively—and Jessie’s highly-anticipated fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, is due for release on June 5.
Now feels like the perfect time for this songbird to make her return to the pop music sphere—a world made infinitely richer by her sweet and soulful sounds.
COMPLEX: Now that the album’s finished, have you stepped back from a schedule, or are you into the promo cycle already?
Jessie Ware: I never take a break, but I somehow manage to balance it all by the skin of my neck. It’s just a constant operation in my family, but it’s all good. I’ve just done the nursery rounds; my husband has taken the kids so I can do this interview with you, and then I’m going for a Mui Mui fitting. Life is very complicated but different, and I like it that way.
Did you feel like you were able to commit to the creative process more freely given that your studio for recording the new album was so close?
Not necessarily. I think the podcasts allowed me to feel more free and creative. I created this new job that felt fun and effortless, and that reminded me of how it should be: work should be enjoyable. It can be, don’t get me wrong, but it can be fun to do very different jobs that add such satisfaction and take you to such bizarre and brilliant places. I think I had fallen out of love with that. The proximity allowed me to feel slightly more insular, so less pressure. I could work on a short session, and enjoy it, and then go back to real life. James has a young family too, so it was just so harmonious; working together never felt business-like or highly pressurised. I enjoyed the whole process.
In a previous interview, you remembered your Coachella performance as the moment when you turned to your mum and thought that you didn’t want to continue with the music. What turning point inspired you to get back into the studio and regain your creative confidence?
I did the Coachella gig after a three-week tour in LA, which was a great opportunity. Still, I couldn’t understand why I was doing it—and I was losing a lot of money throughout that process. I got back home and I was straight into the studio with James, and we just started making music. It was a relief! We went into the studio to enjoy ourselves; we didn’t consider what radio wanted, or what was popular at that time. We wanted to create something atmospheric... I’m just thankful this all happened at the right time.
“I think there Is a way of expressing yourself that doesn’t have to be incredibly autobiographical. There is confidence in this music, and the coherency of this music when you hear it says a lot about me as an artist, telling a story about my day-to-day life.”
I feel like there’s a real nostalgia for Devotion in this album?
A lot of people have made that comment. I think this album is reminiscent of who I was as an artist when there were no external pressures. I did draw on the feel that we created when we worked on Devotion. It’s naivety. It’s not about overthinking or anything autobiographical—it’s about just wanting to dance.
Are you mindful of the fatigue and pressures you will be subjected to with the release of this new album?
I think I am in a much better place with everything now; it’s a real pleasure to be working again. I’m reminding myself of how it all should feel, and I’m aware that it can be taxing, but I’m focused on not saying yes to everything. There is a real beauty to saying no, and I’d forgotten that for a bit. I think the podcast is like a full-time job. I have a cookbook out next week that I made with my mother, which is completely bizarre. That comes out while I release an album that people will hear and want to have sex to. That’s just two different ends of a spectrum. That’s the constant balance, and, of course, my family! I have wonderful management and a great new label; it’s all just feeling good.
What was your mum’s reaction to the music when she heard it?
She hasn’t heard that much of it. My husband and my kids have heard it. She adored the last record.
Does What’s Your Pleasure? communicate anything personal about you, or did you want to create more of an atmosphere with the music?
I think there is a way of expressing yourself that doesn’t have to be incredibly autobiographical. There is confidence in this music, and the coherency of this music when you hear it says a lot about me as an artist, telling a story about my day-to-day life. My last record was all about me being a new mother, the struggles in relationships, and this time I didn’t need to do that again. There are some autobiographical songs, and this album does talk about my development as to where I am at as an artist... I am a celebration of my new self-confidence, and that’s exciting. I have never really felt that confident, but now I feel like I have possibly made my best record and everything is alright. I’m going to start enjoying it properly. I didn’t care if I made my best record when I started; pieces fell together, and I was happy. In two years, we wrote so many songs, it was hard to edit the album down. At the moment, I’m feeling like this is my best record, but I didn’t set out to achieve that. I just wanted to make music that felt good to dance to.
How do you envision the music videos for the album to work?
Lots of karaoke-dancing, dance routines that everyone can learn the moves to! Innuendo and glamour in there would be good, too. I am not taking myself too seriously here.
I like the Polaroid artwork for the album.
The photographer is called Karlene Jacobs; she’s outstanding. I had an idea of how I wanted the image to look: a portrait of me which gives the Andy Warhol/New York Polaroid aesthetic. That photo was the first picture she took of me on the shoot, and it was a test—I like the way my eyes are droopy in the picture. I’m very much involved in all of my creative processes.
How will the outfits work for the live shows?
My stylist is the best in the world! We are going to go full glam: full-on gowns, sparkles, more and more. I’ll have dancers on stage; it’s gonna look like a big party.
Your fans are very passionate about you and the music.
They are so loyal. I still feel like they think I’m quite undiscovered; it’s quite special. I think my shows are like the Ricki Lake show when I perform.
I remember seeing you play at Boiler Room years ago.
I loved Boiler Room! That was such a special time. I feel very lucky that I was a part of that scene—such a wonderful, generous thing. There were so many DJs who helped me from that time, and Boiler Room gave me one of my first shows performing at a Hackney Warehouse... It was magic.
Have you any plans to work with Julio Bashmore again?
I’ve moved really close to him, actually. Bashy and I are going to make more music together. He’s one of the best producers in the world.