A squeal of delight emanates from the general direction of Jessie Ware when I inquire if she’s been watching the recent TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.
“I’m obsessed...obsessed,” the pop star and podcaster says. “When I heard that Connell – sorry Paul Mescal – lives in London, it kind of broke me. I’m imagining he is still in his mum’s house [in Sligo]. I basically wish he was my husband.”
Asking Ware about Normal People isn’t as random as it might seem. Her new LP, What’s Your Pleasure?, is a suite of sensual bangers which she has described as “an album for people to have sex to”. Just the sort of record Connell and Marianne might slap on as they get tastefully frisky.
“I love the book,” continues Ware, far more interested in Normal People than in plugging her new album. “You always wonder whether the adaptation is going to be good. I thought it was beautiful.”
She loved everything about it, but Mescal’s performance in particular. Ware’s husband – the real one – supports Tottenham Hotspur, English soccer’s perennial nearly men. So I feel obliged to tell her Mescal used to play for the GAA equivalent of Spurs: the Kildare footballers.
“God, how many women have you spoken to about Normal People and they’re all just obsessed with him?” she asks. “He better watch out when the lockdown finishes. All these women are going to jump him. The poor guy. He’s the most talked about actor. And he’s stuck in his flat.”
Ware has been confined to quarters too. She, her husband, Sam Burrows, their four-year-old daughter and 15-month-old son, have spent the lockdown at their home in east London. It’s been challenging, obviously. However, she doesn’t want to make out that she’s been to hell and back.
At 35 there is a sense Ware is coming into her own as pop star for the grown-ups
“I’m having as good a lockdown as I possibly could,” she says. “I’m really enjoying cooking, being busy with my family. The weather in London has been good. And I’m lucky in that I’ve got a garden.”
Ware has, across the past decade or so, established herself as the thinking person’s dancefloor diva, with music that knows the difference between smooth and bland. As is the way with musicians, she’s obviously had her ups and downs. But at the moment the trajectory is in a positive direction, with What’s Your Pleasure? winning her some of the best reviews of her career. At 35 there is a sense Ware is coming into her own as pop star for the grown-ups.
“It’s probably my most effortless record to date,” she says. “I ended up having a baby during the making of it. That delayed it for a bit. But that turned out to be a good thing. I could pick and choose the tracks and not feel rushed.”
As a mother and a pop star, Ware has spent many years batting off all those how does she do it questions. I must admit, I’ve been guilty of going there. The last time we spoke, she told me about filming Jools Holland and then having to go home and stay up all night with her poorly daughter.
I asked her this because, as a parent myself, I was fascinated with how pop stars straddle the glamorous and the everyday – go from crooning under the spotlight to dishing out Calpol.
“I’ve accepted it,” she says. “It’s a talking point. I don’t show my children. I do a podcast with my mum. I also effectively invited it on the last record, which is about being a first-time mother.”
The podcast is Table Manners, which she co-hosts it with mum Lennie, a social worker specialising in family law. It’s about food and chat and, though that sounds ever so slightly Alan Partridge, it’s actually delightful. It’s also a stone-cold smash, with 60,000 “immediate” downloads per episode and an overall listenership estimated at 3.5 million.
The big idea is that mother and daughter, confirmed foodies both, invite a celeb around for a slap-up feed and friendly natter. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Ed Sheeran share an anecdote about that time he had a dream about a Lion Bar – and of course you do – then this is the audio treat you need in your life.
“I did it as an outlet, to escape music and the business side,” she says. “People really related to it. It’s brilliant, isn’t it? When there’s no agenda and you just enjoy having a chat at the dinner table and it kind of blows up. People are always asking me about it. They never ask about the f***ing music.”
Ware’s pop career has been more of a rollercoaster. She was a name to drop around her 2012 debut, Devotion. Alas, the hype machine had moved on by the time of her third album, 2017’s Glasshouse. It was her most personal record – too personal, in the opinion of a few people close to her.
Glasshouse was a bit of a flop. The rejection hurt
Her father, former Panorama journalist John Ware, was among those who felt she had gone too far. He and Lennie divorced when Jessie was 10. Father and daughter have gone through periods of estrangement. She touched on this in the ballad Sam, expressing the hope that her husband would prove a better man than her dad. You can imagine how that went down.
“And I hope I’m as brave as my mother,” she sings. “Wondering what kind of mother will I be?/ I hope she knows that I found a man far from my father.”
“As much as I definitely hurt my dad’s feelings, I think he’s forgiven me,” she says. “I’m still really proud of that record.”
Overall, Glasshouse was a bit of a flop. The rejection hurt. She recalls leaving behind her daughter to play a terrible gig at Coachella two years ago, where she was billed opposite Cardi B and drew a meagre crowd. The sound was horrible, the punters too young for her slow-jams about parenthood and domesticity to cut through.
“That f**king Coachella gig...” she sighs. “It was a shocker. It was at the beginning for the tour. For f**k’s sake. I was sightly defeated. Everything was going to s**t. And also, because I had the podcast, I was also like, “What the f**k...I don’t need this. If it makes me miserable...”
Ware grew up in Clapham and attended the private Alleyns School in south London. There she crossed paths with Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine and Felix White, for whose band, The Maccabees, she briefly sang backing vocals.
She graduated with an English degree from the University of Sussex. From there, the plan was to go into law. Somehow she became derailed and ended up working in media. Her first stop was the Jewish Chronicle. That was followed by TV company Love Productions where she shared an office with EL James, of 50 Shades of Grey fame/notoriety.
But then her music career took off and she could stop worrying about a day job. Unfortunately, by the time of Glasshouse, there was a sense of having gone full circle in the worst possible way. As she recovered from that record’s underwhelming performance, she felt she was starting over again. So she made changes to her team behind the scenes. She also resolved that her next LP would be all about escapism.
I’m incredibly disappointed by Brexit. They’ve completely let us down
“I’m really proud of Glasshouse,” she says. “I didn’t need to write something autobiographical again. I came back from America a bit deflated and thought I need to go and make music that reminded me why this is one of the greatest jobs.”
What’s Your Pleasure? is the best kind of thrill ride. It’s a big sensitive snog of a record, that sweeps you off into its own reality. Still, Ware wasn’t able to keep the outside world entirely at bay. Every now and then the messiness of reality seeps through. She mentions the final track, Remember Where You Are, written while Donald Trump was visiting UK and Britain’s departure from the EU was progressing from tragicomedy to straightforward tragedy.
“I’m incredibly disappointed by Brexit. They’ve completely let us down. Brexit is the stupidest ever,” she says. “Remember Where You Are isn’t a ‘political’ song. It is definitely a commentary on the fact that we have Boris and f**king Donald in power and that everything is going to s***.”
What’s Your Pleasure? is released June 19th.