January. It may be a cultural cliché, but in the dank dawning of the new year, we take a moment of pause, and no one has more reason to than Jessie Ware.
One year ago, she was preparing for her first gig [at Eurosonic music festival] and putting the finishing touches to the video for ‘Running’. Widespread critical and popular acclaim for her debut LP, ‘Devotion’ followed wave after wave of hype, and by the end of 2012, Jessie was adding a Mercury nomination, a gold disc (in Poland) and sold out shows to her CV.
While the column inches piled up with gushing paeans to South London’s new queen of ‘electronic soul’ like a never ending praise-Tetris, and Ware’s sultry, retro visual aesthetic name-checked all things smooth, from Sade’s 80s sophisti-pop to classic Italian cinema, what didn’t always come to the forefront in print is evident in the flesh. Jessie Ware is as down-to-earth, self-deprecating and ebullient a person you’re likely to meet, whose chat is punctuated with swears, anecdotes and sudden chuckles. In other words, she’s a right laugh.
Tanned and fresh from a break in Thailand, and on the verge of a tour which will take her to the US, Australia and New Zealand, Jessie sat down with Clash to reflect upon critical success, cat costumes and working with Kanye.
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What were your personal highlights of 2012?
JW: Getting my album out, the Mercury nomination and my Brixton Electric gig – that was really special. It was right near my house so it was very cool. I just want to do gigs there all the time now.
‘Devotion’ felt like one of the most hyped records of 2012 – but once it came out there wasn’t a backlash…
JW: I was waiting for the backlash! I was waiting and waiting. There’s always album two for the backlash to happen! But actually I feel like the team got it right and didn’t piss off too many people. Are you pleased with the critical reception ‘Devotion’ received, ending up on a lot of ‘best of 2012’ lists? JW: Yeah it’s really nice way to end the year. I can’t really believe that I make music worthy enough to be up there so it’s a huge compliment. What were your 2012 festival highlights?
We saw you at Bestival in a cat costume…
JW: [Jokingly outraged] It was a panther! I should never have done that because I looked like those girls who go to Halloween parties in sexy cat costumes. Bestival was a real highlight because my album had been out for maybe two weeks and I saw people singing songs from the album. I hope I do Glastonbury and Bestival this year. I want to do everything. I’m greedy.
You’ve said you don’t like touring because you miss home…
JW: Look at me already complaining after I’ve done one tour! I really hate missing out on things at home, evening if I’m headlining a show. It’s a funny old world because that hour of performing is so special but there’s a lot of waiting about.
So are you going to be songwriting on tour?
JW: I’m writing a song tomorrow actually but that’s really rare, and really it’s just a good excuse to meet up with Kid Harpoon. I’m going to try and write, but the schedule’s pretty full on. Come summer, festivals will be at the end of the week so I’m going to try and do a bit of a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday songwriting.
Is it too soon to talk about the second album?
JW: I’m starting to think, I’ve got some ideas but I’ve got nothing to write about at the moment.
That’s the pop star’s problem – writing about being a pop star…
JW: Yeah that sucks. Unless I’m a rapper who’s like: [puts on rapper voice] “Yo, now I’m on my second album.” I can’t do that really, as a kind of melancholic pop soul singer.
You’ve said writing ‘Devotion’ was quite a big step for you, moving from being a backing singer to doing your own thing. Are you more confident in your songwriting now?
JW: I think just having that body of work and being able to refer to that for the songwriting now is reassuring. At the beginning you don’t have anything, you’re just pulling references from Soul II Soul, saying: “I really like that” but now I have my songs. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more at ease with the second album. Collaborations were a theme on ‘Devotion’, particularly with Dave Okumu [from The Invisible] who was like a mentor.
Will you be working with the same people again?
JW: If I had it my way I’d work with them all again and we’d do exactly the same thing. It would also be nice to work with some new people but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, whether it’s doing a house tune with [Julio] Bashmore or writing with Kid Harpoon. Dave is always going to be the person that musically I run everything by, because I respect his opinion totally and I feel like he knows me and knows exactly what I want to do.
And if you could work with absolutely anyone?
JW: Frank Ocean. If I ever meet him he’ll be like: “Go away. Chill the f*** out.” Kanye West - he does wicked albums, and then I’d be able to meet Kim Kardashian. There’s a strong visual collaboration with Kate Moross as well, how did that start out? JW: Kate’s always going to do my artwork. It started with her sorting out my font. It’s Prince’s font. I had the idea for the ‘Running’ video and Kate new exactly what I wanted so we did three videos together. Even though I’ve worked with two other directors since Kate, one of them is an old family friend, the other one, Joel Wilson, I did the Ford Fiesta video with and we got on really well. Daniel [Tuffin, Jessie’s manager] and I had the idea for the ‘Sweet Talk’ video and so Joel did that.
Tells us a bit about the Ford Fiesta video (a short film where Jessie drives around South London and is surprised by, among other things, a Klezma band performing ‘Wildest Moments’)
JW: Joel is a comedy director and the idea was that they were going to surprise me all throughout the day so they were just doing silly, funny things.
There’s a running joke throughout that you’re not the best driver…
JW: I’m a really s*** driver. My mum once got out of the car on the Vauxhall roundabout because she refused to drive with me. I’m a boy racer - I failed my driving test twice.
Tell us about having to release ‘110%’ as ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ in the US.
JW: We thought the [Big Pun] sample had been cleared otherwise we wouldn’t have been stupid enough to put it on my album. The guy that was clearing the sample for us died which was one of those really unfortunate situations. I made matters worse by saying “Fuck Big Pun!” but it was a joke. It wasn’t me dissing Big Pun. I wrote a love song about him - I obviously love the man. It was me thinking I was being funny, when there were loads of journalists in the room.
What new artists are you looking forward to hearing more of in 2013?
JW: Haim are my people. I not only love their music, they are the funniest girls. Disclosure are going to have an amazing year. Laura Mvula has a beautiful voice. Vondelpark – they’re brilliant.
Words by Rebecca Laurence
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Jessie Ware is set to release new single 'Sweet Talk' on January 21st. To design cover art for Jessie Ware's 'Still Love Me, click here.
Jessie had a first drive of the New Ford Fiesta. You can check out Jessie's 24 hours with the Ford Fiesta here.