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Interview: Jessie Ware

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South London singer Jessie Ware has generated a well-deserved buzz with the release of her lovelorn single "Running." Working with producers Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore, she recorded the as-yet untitled album, which is slated for a summer release on PMR Records, in just two weeks. Ware recently hit the road, performing brand new songs and, for the first time, taking center stage as a solo artist. We caught up with her at Paris' Point Ephemere for her third-ever performance, where she talked to us about her unabashed love for American R&B and her hopes of getting Drake on a track.

How has it been creating this album? It's been scary, exciting and kind of romantic. I feel very lucky that I’ve had the chance to do it. Dave and I made it really special. We set up the studio like his living room, which is where we wrote most of the album. I’m a complete worrier—nervous and scared. I had done a few silly “I love you babies" but I didn’t know how to write a fucking song. Then after a year of freaking out, it slowly came together through working with the right people.

Has music always been something you wanted to do? I was going to be a football journalist, but I don’t think I was very good at it. For a while I was a backing singer, helping my mate out, and getting to see a bit of the world. But I’ve always loved dance music and I always wanted to be a vocalist. I love those females vocals that you hear on dance tunes and garage songs. Like Tina Moore's “Never Gonna Let You Go,” I just thought that I would love to do that kind of thing. I got put in the room with SBTRKT and he was generous enough to collaborate on the song “Nervous.” After that song, it kind of became easier because I had this piece of music by a really respected artist. Then through Rinse FM more people heard about it and other people approached me like ‘Hey, do you want to do a track with me?” and I was like, let’s do this. It was really cool and very organic and really wicked.

Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to? I listened to lots of jazz music—Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Frank Sinatra, and really learned a lot about timing and the way that they approached a song. I mean, Frank Sinatra has some of the best timing in the world. My mom was always into Sade and lots of soul music like, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Then I got really into R&B. Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, SWV. Music that's really feminine. I’ve got this nostalgia for these real divas of the ’80s and ’90s like Sade and Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston.

Were you a big Whitney fan? I remember listening to the album, the one with "I’m Your Baby Tonight" and "My Name Is Not Susan,” a lot with my cousins and just being like I love it! She’s so feminine. She just gives it to you straight. She puts across the story so well, there’s passion, there’s romance, there’s flirtation, especially in “How Will I Know.” She was right there when I was recording my album. I had like 5 or 6 vinyls with me in the studio. I can be quite critical and self conscious, but I’d just look at that record and be like, you know what, Whitney would be like “Let’s fucking do this!” I feel like I’ve been given the chance to do this, so I’m gonna fucking go for it. My Mom is a pushy Jewish mother, she’s always telling me “Sing out! Sing out!" So, in the studio I had my Mom there, Whitney there and Barbra Streisand there. And Grace Jones was outside with Peter Gabriel.

How do you feel about R&B right now? Do you see yourself as an R&B artist? I think there's crap R&B out there. The thing that got me the most excited lately is the Usher and Diplo song, "Climax." It's beautiful and Usher really shows off his falsetto. I was really into The Weeknd when he came out. All the shit that he's talking about is very honest, open and seething. It was really fearless. I love Beyonce. She can do no wrong. I love what she did with the new album. She really put all of her influences in "Love On Top." That's my thing, feeling nostalgic for divas I used to hear when I was younger and being like, Let's try it. There's something really romantic and classy about it. I've just been exploring. I feel like its my first album I can try and be a bit fearless. There's a bit of hip hop, there's a bit of ’80s soul in there and hopefully it all melts together nicely.

You're headlining your first show at The Nave March 22nd, in London. How has it felt to be singing music that you've written for the first time I like to pretend that I'm someone else on stage. I'm used to being a backing singer for Jack Penate and for a really fun band in London called Man Like Me. I learned quite a lot from them. But it's very different not being a backing singer. Like, the thing of having to speak between bloody songs? I never had to do that before. What do you fucking say? Tonight the crowd was quiet, but they were listening. That's all I can ask for. I only just know this material, they don't know anything. I'm living with it, so I'm lucky to be able to play it. I can't expect them to be jumping up and down as yet.

Do you have a favorite song? I've got a soft spot for "Sweet Talk." It's the part one to "Running," which I wrote with Julio Bashmore. I just really love it. It's quite lighthearted. I'm realizing that a lot of the music is quite heavy and serious. I'm a quite lighthearted person, so I'm like, How did we get here? I'm really excited by "Wildest Moments." It's a ballad and it's me trying to hearken to great American R&B ballads like “Halo” and "Empire State of Mind.” I love those songs, they just make me feel good.

Musicians like to pull the most obscure and artsy references and you're like, No, this is the shit that I like—Top 40 songs. Yeah, exactly. I want everyone to sing it, and throw their hands ups. And then get Drake on it!

Posted: March 07, 2012
Interview: Jessie Ware