Jessie Ware: when the going gets tough... the love keeps her going

Weary from promoting new album ‘Tough Love’, Jessie Ware talks (in a croaky voice) about getting lifted by her fans, and getting encouragment from such collaborators as Miguel, Ed Sheeran, Dev Hynes and BenZel

 

There are two Jessie Wares. There’s the one who appears on her records, a woman making beautiful, sophisticated, vulnerable, soulful sounds and producing albums such as debut Devotion and newbie Tough Love.

Then there’s the one who usually turns up for interviews and proceeds to charm all and sundry. She’s the cackling, talkative former reporter who doesn’t sound as if she takes herself all that seriously.

Today, though, we meet a third Ware. It’s the singer with a cold and a dodgy voice, a set of ailments which come at the worst possible time for her. She’s in the middle of the final blast of initial promotion for the new album and is playing live shows at the same time. The last thing she should be doing, she says, is talking.

“I’ve been promoting this album a lot over the last few months and my voice is really on the edge,” she croaks down the line. “It’s because I’m talking too much and singing too much and people forget – not wanting to sound very precious here – that it’s your tool and if you don’t have it working well, you’re going to disappoint people and definitely disappoint yourself.

“I’m really struggling and I think I’ve been a right moaning cow with this campaign. I suppose I tell it how it is, though I definitely don’t want to come across as miserable.”

But there is a pay-off for Ware and that comes when she gets to stop talking about herself, walk onstage and play a show in front of an audience. “I’ve found that touring can be this beautiful thing in that you’re so exhausted when you go onstage that the crowd can lift you. We played Paris last week and beforehand, I wasn’t so sure if they were going to be up for it and if they were going to be a London crowd.

“But they were amazing and I needed that, I really did because a great show and a great reaction puts everything into perspective. It’s wicked because you realise why you do it. It’s also very, very addictive.”

The new album, Tough Love, owes a lot to that addiction. Ware released Devotion in 2012 and took to the road with great gusto but, after a while, she began to notice some things about how the audience reacted to the set. Some songs really worked and some didn’t.

“The live show is really intriguing for me. It’s hard work for that hour and you lose yourself sometimes in what’s going on, but you want to put on a good show and so you have to be on the ball. But you notice things like ‘oh, they really like Taking In Water tonight’ or ‘I wonder would another ballad here be too much’.

“I knew from watching the audience that there were certain moments they really responded to and I wanted more of them.”

 

Elbow room

The problem for Ware was that she didn’t have much elbow room to change things around on that Devotion tour. “When you have just one album, you don’t have that much scope to change things around, bar one cover here or there. You don’t have much time to write and prep new stuff so the show can get a little staid. What I wanted was more of the kind of songs which gave the audience a lift because that would then give me and the band a lift as well.”

In some ways, she wrote to order to ensure that the new songs contained “the up feeling” she knew would work at the shows. “One of the first songs I wrote which ended up on the album was Want Your Feeling. I was very weary and tired when I wrote it and what I wanted was the up feeling. I wanted a bit of a groove, I wanted the chorus to be quite camp and fabulous and even a little macabre. I wanted to do more things like that, things which I thought were missing from my show before.”

She tried to write those songs on the road. “I’m a very impatient person so I just started to write rather than wait and set aside weeks or months to do it. I think I wrote about 15 or 20 songs, but only three of them ended up on the album in the end. Looking back now, writing was as much a way of helping me get through all these long flights and drives and everything else that went with touring as the next album.”

There was also no shortage of helpers when it came to doing the album: Ed Sheeran, Miguel, Dev Hynes and producers BenZel (Two Inch Punch’s Ben Ash and Benny Blanco). “The record started for real with BenZel in New York”, she explains. “We wrote some songs and we hung out and we had a right laugh. It didn’t feel like we were under any kind of pressure, and Tough Love came out of that. There was no agenda at all but Tough Love then decided the rest of the album.”

 

Pushing herself

Previously, Ware was shy about pushing herself in the studio. On this album, she became more confident about her voice and songwriting abilities.

“I think it comes about from working with people like Ed and Miguel and Dev. They really push you in a way which is not deliberate. I think I was scared and trying to hide myself on the first album. But this time, I definitely found a confidence when it came to singing and I think I enjoyed everything more as a result.”

 

Jessie Ware plays Belfast’s Mandela Hall on January 20th and Dublin’s Academy on January 21st.