Q&A: Jessie Ware On Finally Arriving Stateside, Her Beloved Gay Fanbase, And Why It’s Important To Live In The Moment
Given the amount of press that Jessie Ware has garnered over the past few months, it seems kind of insane that her breakthrough debut album, Devotion, is only just now seeing a U.S release. When the album does appear (on April 16th) it will arrive with two new tracks (a “Wildest Moments” remix and a new track called “Imagine It Was Us”) and a brief run of U.S. tour dates. If there is any justice in the world, the extra push for Devotion will bring Ware the kind of megasucess that she rightly deserves. But even if it doesn’t, Ware herself doesn’t seem too concerned. I called her up in Croatia to discuss the delayed release of the album and found her to be both refreshingly humble and wonderfully chatty. We should all be so lucky as to ever have as much fun as Jessie Ware seems to be having right this very second.
STEREOGUM: It seems like we’ve been writing about your record and talking about you on Stereogum for ages now … it’s hard to believe that the record is only now officially being released here in the states. Does that delay feel weird to you?
JESSIE WARE: It’s quite nice, you know, because I feel like I’ve been really supported by blogs such as Stereogum and Pitchfork and Fader. You’ve been really supportive of me and that’s been a really generous way of people being able to discover me before my album’s been out. And yeah, it helps that I’ve been on tracks with SBTRKT and Joker. I feel like it’s just been really nice that people are getting to know my record and kind of easing into it. And yes, my album’s been out nearly a year — or like, eight months or something — but having another chance to be introduced to people properly, in a situation where you do your press and you talk about things properly — it’s quite exciting for me. The fact that for the release in America that I’ve got A$AP Rocky on the “Wildest Moments” remix and stuff like that … it feels like there’s progression. I’m actually really happy about it and I love touring in America, so, I’m excited to be there.
STEREOGUM: What has your experience been like coming here so far?
WARE: So positive. The most generous crowds I think, ever. And so warm!
STEREOGUM: I was thinking about doing this interview this morning and then I opened the most recent issue of Out Magazine — which has David Bowie on the cover — and there’s this really sweet interview with you. You mention in that article that it was really gay audiences that originally embraced you — especially here in the States. I have to admit, that’s how I first heard of you.
WARE: That’s what’s happened in America, I feel like my audience is far more gay than anywhere else, and that’s been really great. I mean, I love that! It makes the show more fabulous, I think. And I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve talked about my brother being gay, and maybe all these men were wanting a date, I don’t know. But it’s wicked, and I feel like you lot always have — you’re always the first to discover people. You’re always ahead of people. So I’m happy, that you like me and are supporting me.
STEREOGUM: It means you’re doing something right.
WARE: But its true, there’s a real loyalty, I think! I’m guessing anyway.
WARE: And it makes the shows really fun. I’ve said it in other interviews, but when I did “What You Won’t Do For Love” — my Bobby Caldwell cover — I did it in Chicago and at the beginning of the Chicago show it was — I was like, so the lights come up and I was like, “Why are there only blokes in this audience?” And one of them just shouted out, “‘Cause the gays love you honey!” and I was like, “Okay, great.” And then I’m singing “What You Won’t Do For Love” and I’m like, [sings] “I guess you wonder where I’ve been … ” and you know, there’s a space in between and somebody goes, “Girl, where you been?!” and I was like, okay, “My friends wonder what is wrong with me.” “NOTHING’S WRONG WITH YOU, GIRL!” And I was like, oh my god this is so brilliant. It was really fun. ‘Cause I nearly didn’t finish the song. Also, I think my new single is quite gay. The gays hopefully will enjoy it. I got to dirty dance with this really amazing dancer in my video. It also involves group dancing. I really just hope that everyone does it in gay clubs. I really, really want for that to happen.
STEREOGUM: That’s amazing. I know sometimes it’s weird you get on this sort-of treadmill of doing a million interviews where you’re talking about a record that, for you, is no longer new, but for a lot of people is brand new. Did you ever anticipate that doing this for a living would entail having to talk about yourself so much?
WARE: I guess I didn’t. But, I also know that I’m a really chatty person, so I am still quite flattered that people want to interview me, and I think it’s because they know that I’m probably going to say something really outrageous or say something … I don’t know, something quotable, maybe. But, yeah. I’m prepared to work really hard, and this is part of it. It’s actually a really warm way of chatting with people and understanding what people are feeling about your music, so it’s kind of a learning curve for me, but who it’s the weirdest for is my boyfriend, or my friends, when I’m about to have two hours of phone interview time. It’s just a bit weird, but it’s also completely essential and really wonderful that people are interested enough to chat with me!
STEREOGUM: Well you have a great story. I feel like, so much of the time when I talk to people I am speaking to kids who are like 22 or 23 and are just desperate, desperate, desperate to make it happen. I don’t get that kind of energy from you at all. You did a lot of other kinds of things before this music thing finally took off.
WARE: Yes, this is actually too good to be true at the moment. My first record came out when I was 27 and I was prepared for it to not work out. I was preparing to not get another record because I was like, “Fuck it, if this career doesn’t work out at least I’ve got this record to show for it. I have this and I can show my kids that and I can show them the vinyl where I dressed up, and I’ve got some fun videos and stuff.” I always felt like I was given such a lifeline with this record … and really I wasn’t desperate for it because I didn’t have the confidence to be desperate for it. I actually hid it in the back of my head that I could sing. I was like, fuck it, it’s not gonna happen, let’s be a realist here. You know, I’m gonna go work really hard and get a good job and train hard and probably never sing again. So that I’ve got this happening now … I appreciate it, I really appreciate it, and I didn’t expect it. I don’t know whether it will carry on. You never know whether people are gonna like your next stuff, so I just appreciate what’s happening at the moment and I also know that the most important thing is — it sounds really corny — but my family and friends. This is AMAZING, don’t get me wrong, this is beautiful and I’m having the best time ever, and the memories I’m making are so special. The fact that I’m in Croatia chatting to you, you’re in America, it’s very bizarre, and I think you just always need to remind yourself that this is not real life, you know?
STEREOGUM: What were the primary inspirations for you when you were making Devotion? Were there certain albums what were touchstones for you then?
WARE: For Devotion? I think that I wanted to make something that could exist–especially for me and my friends — when we’d come back from nights out. Not necessarily a “chill-out” record, but something that they could put on at the end of the night. And I wanted to have these quite dreamy soundscapes in it. I was referencing Sade and in my own way, the Weeknd. Particularly that first mixtape that came out. I remember hearing “Wicked Games” and like, ALL those songs on that mixtape are so amazing, and I remember thinking that this is really cool, downer, R&B, sounded really new and exciting. I kind of wanted to make quite melancholy music because I think it suits my voice better. But with Dave’s help we managed to make it quite beautiful as well. I had lots of Peter Gabriel references as well. “Still Love Me” reminds me of — I know it’s not “Sledgehammer” — but I was like, “Oh! It makes me feel like I’m listening to ‘Sledgehammer’!” Yeah, It was kind of some ’80s things. Chaka Khan was always a reference from the beginning, but I don’t think she actually really came out in that album. I think she’s gonna hopefully be referenced more in the second album. But you know, not too much over-singing but then, thinking of divas like Chaka and Whitney and lots of R&B and the kind of softness of hearing Aaliyah’s voice and the fact that she’d have that combined with the kind of hard-up hip-hop Timbaland beats, that interests me.
STEREOGUM: I know you’re coming back here in April to play some shows after the record is out. There’s already been such a strong response to you here, but do you feel a certain amount of pressure to try and break big over here?
WARE: The pressure. It’s so bizarre, because as much as I love playing in America and actually think some of those gigs have been the most fun gigs I’ve ever done — and what I love is that they really get my band they get the references, they get what we’re trying to do with the live thing. I still feel like I’m just starting out … so the idea that we’re “breaking America” seems so vast and kind of scary … and I just think ignorance is bliss. I’ll just go do my gig and hopefully people will like it, hopefully people like my album … What else can I do!? If I put all my bloody money in hopes of breaking America, I’ll only be disappointed, there’s such a small amount of people who actually DO do it. And you know, I’m happy! I’m singing as a career, I’m traveling the world, and that’s enough for me. And if it happens, it happens, and that’d be wicked. But who bloody knows?
STEREOGUM: That’s a good attitude to have about it. I think it’s amazing that there’s been so much love already for a record that hasn’t even been formally released here.
WARE: I hope they’re not all like, “Awww” with the two extra songs, like, “Great. Two songs. Is that it?”
STEREOGUM: I’m sure people are gonna be into it. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk. Do you get to go enjoy your day now or do you have to do more interviews?
WARE: Um, you’re actually my last and I’m going to go try start a song now. And then I’m gonna go out. I’m gonna have a cocktail tonight. I don’t really drink on tour ’cause I’m too worried about my voice all the time so I’m just steaming manically and drinking throat coat … but I’m gonna have a cocktail tonight. I may put some heels on and go paint the town red.
The American version of Devotion is out 4/16 on Interscope.