Jessie Ware: ‘Without Sounding Cocky, I Know I Can Sing’

A little bit of this, a touch of that, 110% pop star. Harriet Jennings sits down with Jessie Ware.

Photo Credit: Sam Bond

If Dr Frankenstein was alive in 2012, and had an avid interest in pop music, the creature he’d be trying to create would have a lot in common with Jessie Ware. We don’t mean aesthetically, before you start sniggering at the back. Drawing influences from the likes of Prince and Destiny’s Child, picked up by Pitchfork and revered by Radio 1, Ms Ware is a little bit of a lot of things, but indisputably the one she has in abundance is star quality.

Hailing from South London, and with her curriculum vitae including everything from football journalist to being part of Jack Penate’s backing band, Jessie Ware is no ordinary singer. Despite her ample qualifications (seriously, stop sniggering), pop’s new girl next door is more than happy to talk to us about the best way to get to her native Brixton (we did it wrong), meeting superstars and just what the hell we’d all do without an iPhone. First world problems, eh?

You can’t define a pop star. Britney was one, but then so was Bowie, and The Beatles. What, exactly, do they all have in common (other than record sales, don’t be clever)? Zilch. Zero. Zip. Without getting all ‘je ne sais pas pourquoi’ about it all, there’s no definitive rule book on how, who or what makes a popstar. It’s far more complicated than that.

“I grew up looking at pop stars,” Jessie says strongly. “If people want me to be a pop star, I’ll definitely have a good go at it. I guess when the album comes out it’ll feel real. At the moment, it feels like I’m in a parallel universe. I’m not going to be doing dance routines, as much as I’d love to. I don’t think I’m that kind of pop star. But it’s a compliment that people think I could be.”

Firmly part of the MTV generation, Jessie’s roots lie strongly in good, old fashioned pop, soul and R&B. Quite rightly, she’s proud of it too. “I love pop music,” she says, sipping on a cup of tea in her publicist’s back room, “I’d like to think that I fit a little bit inside everything, and that’s maybe why they’ve tapped into it,” she explains when we ask her about her wide ranging fanbase. “I’m not an out and out indie leftfield. I love soul music and I love dance music - and that’s kind of the Rinse thing, the electronic thing. There are definitely pop elements in my music and I want there to be, but I also wanted to stay in tune with the electronic music that had helped me to become a singer. They gave me the leg up.”

Keen to tip her hat to where she started out, Ware’s relationship with London radio station Rinse and the associated ‘underground’ movement was what initially lent her a way in. Collaborating with SBTRKT on 2010’s ‘Nervous’ brought Jessie from backing singer to centre stage. With a record deal, a voice and a bubble of interest, she’s set to work honing her craft with the guidance of Julio Bashmore, The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and Kid Harpoon.

“The whole making an album thing was daunting for me,” she explains. “I think it would’ve intimidated me if I had’ve gone in with these big pop writers and big pop producers but actually, I don’t think anybody really knew what I was going to do. I think people were thinking I’d maybe do a kind of dance vocalist-esque album. I was in such a state about how to write I was just freaking out. Actually, the people that I wrote with on the album are the people that I felt the most comfortable with in the studio and that there was a real bond with. It wasn’t just churning out another hit for radio, it was like, ‘What do you want to do?’ or ‘What do you want to say?’. They really nurtured me.

“The studio environment was really positive and romantic. I appreciate that every person that’s been involved has tried to make it as special for me as possible, like ‘it’s an occasion, let’s enjoy this.’”

And with the album done, there’s nothing Jessie can do but wait. “I’m treating it like a pregnancy,” she laughs, “No, not that third trimester thing. You’ve got to pace yourself and just keep calm. I’m so busy with other things that that’s going to be a nice little present at the end of August.”

But as any seasoned singer knows, there’s a lot more to being a pop star than just having a cracking debut album, even if your fanbase is chomping at the bit. There’s videos to think about, image, performing live, the logistics of touring; and on top of all of that, there’s always the possibility that you’re going to leave a lot of people disappointed too.

“You’re either going to pleasantly surprise them or they’re going to be like, ‘oh…’” she shrugs. “But I like to think that I feel more confident. Without sounding cocky, I know I can sing live. The whole recording and writing stuff is more daunting because I came from being a backing singer. That was just how we did it.” Jessie laughs and pauses, “But I still need to work on my chat. My chat is awful in between songs. I’m terrible.

“When I was a backing singer, I didn’t have to worry about it, you can get away with things. But now you have to take it ridiculously seriously, and I want to. I feel like at least I got the experience of having loads of fun. Now it’s no drinking before gigs, no drinking after if you’ve got another show - it’s a job really. I am quite strict. I’ve got to be because if I don’t sing well, people won’t really give a s**t. You’ve got to be on point all the time.”

With latest single ‘Wildest Moments’ already causing quite the stir, and ripples of rave reviews emerging on the internet, it’s only a matter of time before Jessie Ware’s credentials as a chart-humping-behemoth will be called upon. She might only be dancing on her own at the moment, but it’ll not be long before there’s a field full of followers devoted to pop’s newest princess.

Jessie Ware’s debut album ‘Devotion’ will be released on 20th August via Island.

Taken from the August 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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