At this year’s Glastonbury festival, a party-ready Jessie Ware got landed with a Sunday afternoon slot on the John Peel Stage. She could’ve been handed a better draw. “I was like, ‘Ah fuck, I’m on a Sunday’. I’ve left Glastonbury before on a Sunday,” she remembers. “I thought people would be like ‘Fuck this’.” But despite gloomy eyes, heavy heads and burning car keys, people stayed on site and turned up in their thousands. And they did the thing most Jessie Ware concert-goers tend to do. They had a good cry. “I even had my boyfriend crying. He was probably exhausted from the weekend of partying…”
This is the gist of it - Jessie Ware is still writing bittersweet, tear-strewn songs. People emote in their masses. Handkerchiefs are at a discount. There isn’t a non-smudged selfie shot in the house. But now there’s the chance that she might be too happy to maintain this killer hitrate of tearjerkers. ‘Tough Love’, her new album, doesn’t pretend that relationships are an easy ride (clue’s in the bloody title), but by the time it’s out, Jessie will be a couple of months into married life. It’s a subject she’s broached plenty of times, and she doesn’t mind questions because she’s “been quite open about it - I can’t really expect people to not ask about it.” But is marriage going to hinder the melancholic side she specialises in as a songwriter? Fat chance.
“I’ve been pretty happy for the last four years, you know,” she begins. “But my voice lends itself better to bittersweetness. I want to stay true to myself. That’s the music I wanna make. And I hope being in love and being a married woman won’t change that.”
"Sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s your voice that people are wanting to hear. If it’s tired, or if you’re tired, it’s not the same."
— Jessie Ware
‘Tough Love’ sees Ware going one step further in trusting her emotions. These lend themselves to playful soul numbers like ‘Sweetest Song’ and album standout ‘Champagne Kisses’, but they’re also unafraid about getting down to the bare details. ‘Say You Love Me’, co-written with Ed Sheeran, sounds like a classic love song in the making. “It’s got that familiarity that you can’t put your finger on,” she agrees. “He’s so comfortable with being a songwriter. I don’t think I’ll ever be as comfortable as him. It was amazing to watch. I didn’t want to deny myself a song that’s so beautiful. And it was so easy to write, which makes it even sweeter. It wasn’t this thing where we were sitting down going, ‘How are we going to pull at people’s heartstrings?!’ You know. It was literally instinct and that’s so brilliant.”
A couple of times, speaking ahead of ‘Tough Love’’s release, Jessie says she’s not the most confident of song-penners. It’s strange, in a sense, given that ‘Devotion’ had her standing out in the crowd. The soul of that record and the depth arrived with the ‘Not Just Any Other Songwriter’ tag. On this follow-up, she’s kept pretty much the same team. Close friends pick up production credits, like BenZel (Two Inch Punch and Benny Blanco) and Dave Okumu from The Invisible. And beyond the supporting cast, the singer at the front is still trying out batshit ideas. Probably more batshit than before.
Going back to ‘Say You Love Me’, it packs a closing section that sounds like your everyday gospel choir. Rousing, ready for a confetti curtain sendoff, it’s actually just one small flock of familiar faces. Stuff the choir - this is Ed Sheeran’s voice layered again and again and again. A few more layers belong to Jessie, and the rest to Benny Blanco’s own family. The same goes for the rest of the record, where vocal notes entangle and aim for foolhardy heights. “Yeah, all the high stuff,” is how she refers to it. “I’ve really fucked myself with this album…
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s your voice that people are wanting to hear. If it’s tired, or if you’re tired, it’s not the same. It’s the instrument but it’s so reliant on you looking after yourself. I’m really strict on looking after myself when I’m on tour. I’m not reckless with my voice. I don’t drink that much. I’m pretty sensible.”
Recklessness was embraced just a couple of times in the past year. That included the immediate aftermath of her successful, sob-centric Glasto set. The only issue - she was invited back to the studio with Chance the Rapper the following morning. He’d met her side-stage while they were watching Sam Smith, and he extended an invite. “I was feeling so rough. But I didn’t want to say no. He was like, ‘Come on, we’ve just met.’ I was like, ‘Mate, I’ve got mud on me.’”
Eventually, the next morning Jessie “got in the shower, pinched my cheeks” and they ended up working on something exciting. Collaborating is second nature for this musician. She started out guesting on Joker and SBTRKT numbers, becoming an anomaly in the electronic sphere. “Me and Sampha - we had things like ‘Valentine’. Songs that probably didn’t make sense with the rest of the music that was about. But it felt good,” she remembers. “It was always the music that I wanted - big pop but with more soul.”
She ended up going back into the studio with SBTRKT earlier this year, after they initially “lost touch” following careers that took off in separate paths and parallel lanes. In the end, Aaron Jerome asked if she’d work on a track; the playfully disjointed shuffle of ‘Problem Solved’. “That guy really started everything for me. He gave me my first break as a solo singer,” she cites. “And I’m never going to turn down working with someone I consider to be a pioneer in the electronic world. Lots of people have looked to SBTRKT and that first album. I knew it would be exciting, and there was a history with us there.”
"Do I seem like a very rock and roll singer to you? Let’s be honest."
— Jessie Ware
Whether it’s Chance or SBTRKT - or even Miguel, who guests on two ‘Tough Love’ tracks - the collaboration process is completely reciprocated. “I didn’t have people banging down my door, if I’m honest,” she claims. “But yeah, I got to ask and see if people would be up for it. It definitely helped that I had an album under my belt.” Sessions were often wrapped up quickly - Miguel’s two contributions came about in two days. And they’d be defined by a “comfortable” studio environment, an anything goes atmosphere. In the least rock ‘n roll anecdote in living memory, Ware and Sheeran’s sessions were defined by quick trips to Whole Foods. “I mean, do I seem like a very rock and roll singer to you? Let’s be honest. Does Ed seem rock and roll? I’ve been on a wedding diet!” she jokes.
To make emotional juggernauts, in this case, there didn’t need to be a great deal of soul-searching. Some songwriters seek within for inner turmoil, get reflective enough to unleash their inner demons. But on ‘Tough Love’, Jessie sticks to the truth. She lends her strengths to a record that’ll likely send her stock skywards. No false intentions, no desire to break free from an already successful team, she’s about as honest as they come. “I’m laughing, I’m being self-deprecating, I’m taking the piss out of myself, which I’m good at,” she admits. In the beginning of her career, she was “so serious”, but she’s since broken out. “People thought I was moody, mysterious. I guess I wanted to add a bit of mystery because if I showed too much, guys would be like ‘Who the fuck is this?’ So it was easier to hold back at the beginning. But now, you get an audience where people are paying money to see you. I wanted to show them a bit of personality.”
Since then, that personality’s run amok. It’s as big a contributor to Jessie Ware’s success as the versatile, flooring voice she helped set the world alight with. ‘Tough Love’ might be the result of a happy few years - with plenty more to come - but this star remains devoted to prompting a good old-fashioned, cathartic sob. Let that never change.
Taken from the October issue of DIY, out now. Jessie Ware’s new album ‘Tough Love’ is out now via PMR Records / Island - watch an exclusive video of her discussing the release with producers Two Inch Punch and Benny Blanco here.