Jessie Ware interview
Brixton girl, Jessie Ware, takes Kim Taylor Bennett on a tour of her hood
Jessie Ware is excited. We’re strolling through Brixton Village and the 27-year-old singer is having a hard time narrowing down her favourite hangouts. ‘There are so many places I want to show you,’ she says. ‘I’m a real homebody so the fact that I can do everything in Brixton suits me down to the ground.’ Eventually we settle in for a ‘Jessie Ware’ cocktail at Seven at Brixton – it’s not on the menu, but if you order it they’ll serve up a refreshing elderflower martini with a sliver of cucumber.
This is definitely Ware’s hood. While we chat, two friends swing by to say hello. One tells her, ‘I keep seeing you everywhere, Jessie!’ The Clapham-born singer laughs, but it’s true. Following a series of excellent collaborations last year with Sampha, SBTRKT and Joker, she’s set to own the rest of 2012 as a solo star thanks to her imminent debut ‘Devotion’, an album of silky, downtempo R&B. Ware’s effortless, creamy tones recall her heroine Sade or ’80s-era Whitney Houston at her most melancholic. Lightness and subtlety characterise this cleanly crafted collection, at the centre of which stands the anthemic, heart-swelling ballad ‘Wildest Moments’. The relationship described within sounds like tumultuous romance; in fact, it’s about her best friend. ‘I met her at university. She’s so bright and opinionated and we became inseparable, and that became very intense,’ she says. ‘I was nervous when I played it her, but she loved it.’ And Ware’s BFF isn’t alone. ‘I met a girl at a party at the weekend and she said the song made complete sense to her and her ex-boyfriend and that’s kind of amazing. That’s what I wanted: I wanted it to feel like a universal song.’
Ware was encouraged to sing from an early age, but didn’t start out wanting to be a superstar. ‘My mum loved that I could sing,’ she says. ‘My grandfather was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who lived in Northern Ireland and apparently when he sang in the synagogue he made everyone cry.’ But even though close schoolmates Jack Peñate and The Maccabees’ Felix White ardently pursued their dreams, something was holding Ware back. ‘I was amazed and in awe of Jack when he got signed,’ she says. ‘I thought he was so talented, but I thought he should finish his degree. I was the boring friend who bet him £100 that he wouldn’t get signed. I think I still owe him that £100 !’
Ware went on to study English literature at Sussex and for a time she followed in her father’s footsteps – ‘Panorama’ reporter John Ware – into journalism (at the Jewish Chronicle), before working behind the scenes at TV company Love Productions. There she was a colleague of Erika Leonard, otherwise known as E L James, the author of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It was Peñate who swooped in to change her fate, taking her on tour in America as his backing vocalist, while his bassist Tic hooked her up with SBTRKT. The pairing resulted in 2010’s ‘Nervous’, which landed Ware a record deal. It was then that the hard work really started and Ware’s confidence wobbled. Luckily The Invisible’s Dave Okumu was on hand to steady her creative nerves. ‘I’d done a few sessions and I wasn’t happy with what I was writing,’ she explains. ‘I’d just met Dave and I launched into how stressed and worried I was about not getting these songs right and he was like, “I’ve got this idea for you.” And it was the song “Devotion”. He just got me. He’d never produced an album before, it was new for him and me, and we made it so special. He helped me realise how I wanted to be.’
As we leave, a guy sitting with a coffee in the corner stops her. ‘Jessie – I just have to say. I absolutely love “Running”. Keep doing what you’re doing!’ We walk out the door and she’s genuinely thrilled. ‘That’s so sweet! That never normally happens!’ And with that she’s off up the road, weaving through the crowds of Brixton, heading for home.
‘Devotion’ is out on PMR Records on Aug 20.