INTERVIEW: JESSIE WARE
Managing to stay out of the limelight for so long with a voice that makes the Guardian compare you to Aaliyah is impressive in itself, but listen to Jessie Ware’s “Running” and you’ll see why the veil has been lifted. Featuring with everyone from SBTRKT, Sampha and Joker, touring as a backing vocalist for Jack Peñate and living with Felix from the Maccabees, Ware has friends in all the right places, but hear that voice and it’s clear her fate was decided long before she shared milk with a Maccabee. Ware is young Britain’s answer to soul, creating a timeless sound in a contemporary context. With the help of producers Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu, Ware’s album is sure to be a stinking smash.
Luckily we got in there quickly and had a few words with Jessie herself:
Have you always been confident in yourself as a singer or did the help of your family and friends spur on your career as a solo artist?
I always knew I could sing but didn’t think this would happen! Friends and family definitely helped spur me on. It was a friend of mine called Sarah who really made me think about pursuing singing. She got so angry with me one day and said ‘if I had a voice I would be using it, you’re so stupid!’ My mum has always loved me singing so it’s always in the back of my mind that I am singing and making her proud and of course, my friend Jack let me be his backing singer.
When you were singing back up vocals for Jack Peñate did you already have an urge to break out on your own and had you already started writing?
Not really. I was very happy to be singing at all and having the experience of playing to pretty big audiences. At the time I was most excited that I was able to go and perform at all the festivals. I learnt a lot being a backing singer and think it was a great place for me to start. I hadn’t started writing songs at that point either so it was all about performing and getting my harmonies right.
You have said in previous interviews that you grew up on soul, R&B and Jazz but have you always been interested in dance music? Where does the electronic side of your music come from?
I used to always go out raving from the age of 16. We used to go to DnB nights in Brixton and at Fabric and I have always loved garage so I guess that’s at the root of my love for electronic music. But I also love singers that combine a bit of an electronic aspect to their production such as Chaka Khan, Aaliyah, Grace Jones and Talking Heads.
Do you find it hard to wear your heart on your sleeve lyrically or will listeners get a real insight into who you are through your album?
I sometimes find it easier to hide behind playing a part in my songs. I think some of the songs that are about certain people are extremely ambiguous so hopefully the people they are about won’t even know they are about them!
What is the lyric you are most proud of writing?
‘Hear my Swan song, it was my mistake, catch a kiss now, swan song, help me to escape’
Is there a central theme that threads the album together?
Did Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore bring different qualities to the recording process on your album?
Absolutely – I love working with both of them. Dave and Bashmore both taught me a lot about other music and Dave taught me that a simple message is just as powerful as a load of metaphors as long as you believe it.
What has been the biggest hardship you have had to overcome during your solo career so far?
To me there is a female strength represented in your video to “Running” but the lyrics allude to a weakness. Can you explain the themes and ideas that inspired both the lyrics and visuals in your video?
It’s about falling for someone and not feeling in control anymore, but not in a good way. But still you go back for more. I wanted to do a bold video as I have been known as the collaborator and dance vocalist so I wanted to make a bit of a statement with my first solo video and test myself into a really big performance for the video so visually, people would take notice. I wanted glamour and femininity in there and it to feel rather timeless.
You’ve been compared as a down tempo Katy B which is a huge compliment, but what do you think you are bringing to the music scene that is breaking away from other stuff out there?
I don’t know if I am bringing anything particularly new, I am just trying to be true to myself and sing about what I want to sing about with a modern approach but harking back to musical greats that have inspired me.
Is longevity something you focus on when making music? If so, what do you think are important elements in making your record achieve a timeless quality?
I absolutely want to be doing this for more than one album and I want this album to stand up in years to come so it is definitely something I focus on. I can’t really say what are the important elements as this is my first experience of writing but I know what I love about albums such as ‘Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ and ‘Diamond Life.’ It’s great songs, beautiful lyrics and good grooves!
What strong female figures had an impact on you growing up?
My mum and my grandma. My grandma was a very strong and wise woman who could charm a room within a second of entering it.
You wear a lot of vintage, if you could raid the wardrobe of one woman or man from history who would it be and why?
Probably Elizabeth Taylor because she was glamorous and I would love to have been able to dress up as Cleopatra!
Ware is playing at Live at Leeds, Field Day, Nova Festival and Beacons Festival.
For more information of Jessie Ware check her website: http://www.myspace.com/jessiewaremusic
By Emily Ames