Jessie Ware has impeccable taste. Before polite pleasantries are even exchanged she’s got Crack pinned down on our choice of cologne. “I can smell Molecule in the air, is one of you wearing Molecule?”
We proceed to explain we have a mate who fancied himself as a bit of a ladies’ man back in the day and used to wear said scent due to its unique selling point being the fact it contained certain female attracting pheromones. We just liked the smell. Honest. “Of course you do boys”, she sarcastically replies. “Have you read The Game as well?” We haven’t read The Game, but we do own a copy. “Yeah, you’ve definitely read The Game”, she smiles.
Ah, shit. The hottest new property in British pop music thinks Crack is trying to get its mack on. Well even if we were, who can blame us? Jessie Ware is making a strong play to quicken the pulses of guys and girls with her soulful pop, belting vocals and oodles and oodles of good old-fashioned British charm. It’s impossible not to be enamoured by her humour, let alone her voice.
With a set of pipes that are equally apt at melting soulful R’n’B refrains, as full-blown belting assaults, the first two singles from her upcoming Devotion album – the dramatic, Sade-influenced Running and the dusky, summery 110% – have showcased the Brixton-born Ware in two contrasting but equally powerful lights. One constant running through both productions, however, is the deskwork and arrangement of Julio Bashmore. From the Andre 3000-inspired R’n’B underbelly of the aforementioned 110% and Running’s grandiose rises and falls, complete with full overblown arena guitar lick, Ware’s pitch perfect vocals have been allowed to flourish.
Coupled with these classy production values, Ware’s credentials as a leading lady have been exposed to dashing effect in both singles’ Kate Moross-directed videos. Unveiled as a classy velvety beauty in one and summery temptress in the other, the none-more-British setting and Ware’s sexy effervescence pervade the wonderful art direction in both. Kind of like a good cologne.
Gathering a small army of adoring fans from both sexes, the unmanufactured nature of Ware’s rise to prominence and her confident exterior is pushing her into the consciousness of a number of young girls, for whom she is an exceptionally healthy role model, and guys whose taste in girls stretches a little bit beyond the standard Nuts reader. This is a lady with genuine sass.
With her full-length debut due in August and attention encircling her every move, not least at a packed Love Saves The Day main stage where Crack catches her for a chat before her performance, there is every reason to think Britain has an exciting new songstress on its hands that can last a bit longer than Winehouse, retain a slightly more credible audience than Adele, and not be Duffy. Crack’s backing her all the way.
How do you feel the live show is developing, with all the other attention on you at the moment?
I feel the show is developing really well. I had to get a new drummer and his first gig was yesterday. He’s called Dornik. His Mum was called Dorothy and his Dad was called Nick, so they put them together (laughs). He’s so tiny, but amazing. Bless him; he’s been thrown in the deep end. He was at Field Day yesterday, we’ve got this today and we’ve got Newcastle tomorrow. He was doing these fills and I was so shocked by how good he is. The band is amazing and they have a collective age of 62 or something, which is ridiculous. I’m really lucky, they’re ridiculously talented, and I’m getting more confident. It’s very different going from doing a PA of one song in a club to hosting your own show.
Do you think PAs are a slightly overdone thing in music? Was it always the ambition to have your own band and a full live act?
To be honest it’s a dream, but I didn’t even think I was going to be a singer so the PAs were good at the time. It meant I got to do Notting Hill Carnival, the Major Lazer party and I got to meet people like Bashmore, Joker and SBTRKT. It was definitely the best thing I could do to meet people like that. But it feels good to have a band and be playing your own songs.
It’s impossible not to notice how quickly it’s blowing up though. Does it intimidate you at all?
I think Matt (Bashmore) has got a lot to do with that, cause he’s just so good. I wrote the two last singles, Running and 110%, with him and he produced them. I guess we have a really lovely chemistry when we work together. I just hope it hasn’t come too soon. But it doesn’t intimidate me, because although it feels like a whirlwind for the people on the outside, we’ve got a plan and through PMR and my manager and my producers we’ve plotted a course. Sure, 110% has done better than I thought and Running recieved loads of attention and that’s all really brilliant, but I’m focusing on the next thing now cause I’ve got to try and make it work. You always hope people are going to like the next single.
In using a range of producers, do you ever think you might get too many variations in sound on your album?
It’s been Bashmore and Dave Okumu on production and that’s been about it, actually. The writing has been Bashmore, Dave and Kid Harpoon, so it’s been a really tight group and it doesn’t feel too much like everything’s all over the place. It meant a lot to be able to work with the same people, as those are the people I trust. Those are the people I came out of my shell for. Bashmore was on my wish list and I had already worked with SBTRKT, so I was quite into the electronic stuff, and I remember looking on MySpace – because I didn’t even know what Soundcloud was – and asking who this little cheeky ginger kid was with a cap and these wicked tunes! So first on my list was Bashmore, second on my list was The Neptunes (laughs).
How did you first hook up with Matt?
I was singing in a band called Man Like Me and we’d done a really awful gig at Motion in Bristol. It was my last gig with them because I’d just got signed, and it was all a bit tense cause I was leaving. So I said: “Early tomorrow, while they’re all in bed, I’m going to meet Julio Bashmore.” They’ve always been so supportive and this was like breaking up time. I met him in the city centre at this really disgusting café. Like a blind date.
Was meeting there his idea?
Yeah! I was in this nice hotel and I was really nervous, so when I hooked up with him I said: “I really love your puffa jacket.” He went, “yeah, it’s a sleeping bag”, and I went, “oh my God really?!” He was just like, “no, of course not.” You know how dry he is! I just ended up chatting at him for three hours. I love Matt and what we’ve been able to do together. The fact that I got him to shred on guitar for Runningis amazing.
There is great variation in the two singles though isn’t there? There is a very grand nature to Running, while 110% is an entirely different animal altogether and very summery. It reminds us of Millionaire by Andre 3000 and Kelis. It couldn’t be a more perfect time to release it.
I feel like a lot of what we’ve done so far has been quite fortuitous and we’re probably about to put a foot wrong and it’s all going to go to shit. We wrote that in January 2011 in our first session and it just got kind of just forgotten about. People just really liked it.
What about the video? It’s really beautiful.
Well, there were American inspirations like the Millionaire video, and obviously we had Big Pun on there, but I wanted to make something that was quintessentially British. We were going to have the PMR pitbull in there, but he couldn’t fit in the two seater and Bashy couldn’t drive the car because he is under 25, so I looked like an (clicks fingers diva style) independent woman driving him away.
What was it like working with Kate Moross?
I remember being absolutely petrified when I first met her because she’s got an aura about her. I’ve also seen what she’s done and she’s so on it. She’s always done all my artwork too. I had an idea for the Running video and it was really simple. I just told her that I wanted it to be like Sade – Smooth Operator and a bit over the top.
The editing in her videos is incredibly strong.
She does that, like, the day after. I love her work ethic. I love the fact she edits and directs it because as we are filming it she is plotting a journey with the video. Everyone who has been involved in the project so far has been wonderful.
PMR seem really tight, like a family. They keep it all very in-house, don’t they?
Yeah, I’m like the annoying aunt I think. I think Ben Parmar’s (PMR boss) cousin is here today (at Love Saves The Day), I’m here, Javeon McCarthy is here. It’s really lovely and they all work from their house in Acton, almost like a family. The whole scary thing about the music industry is I always imagined these suited types, and it’s so not like that at all. That’s been awesome for me as I’m very neurotic and I worry a lot of the time.
You see very few singers of your ilk go on to be incredibly successful, but stay with that family record label.
Well, look at Adele, she’s still with XL. For me, I know I’m far more commercial than a lot of the PMR lot. They know that, and the nice thing is I can always do a collaboration with somebody, whether it be on Matt’s album or another artist doing a weird dance thing. I feel I can always maintain a connection with underground dance music and I’m always so appreciative that I was accepted into that world. I’ll always be able to be like ‘fuck it, I can try that.’
Can we get a bit more of your story? Do you come from an urban music background at all?
I went to private school love! But I loved drum and bass when I was younger and we used to rave all the time in Brixton Mass for Movement (prominent long-running D’n’B night in Brixton). My private school was wonderful and I learned a lot and got a good work ethic from there. I always loved underground music like garage, and my boyfriend was a drum and bass DJ, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. And we’re still together, so it probably still is the coolest thing ever. I was also classically trained, but I always loved R’n’B.
Were you classically trained from a young age?
Oh, no, I wasn’t one of those drama school kids whose parents pushed them. I got classically trained, but I could never sing classically as I always wanted to sing jazz. I grew up singing Billie Holiday. I remember my boyfriend thinking it was really cool I liked Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, and then I watched loads of music videos on MTV. Those were my inspirations, but because I was classically trained it meant I could belt a bit. I was never going to be an opera singer. I just loved going to raves, but then I also went to Sussex and got a degree in English Literature because I was very sensible and wanted to be a journalist. I enjoyed all my friends that had gone on to be in bands and had done well in the indie world, like The Maccabees and Jack Peñate. I was just always the fangirl at the front at festivals. Then I got to sing on Jack Peñate’s Maida Vale session and then ended up singing with Man Like Me as a backing singer.
We read some interesting things about you doing a gig with Man Like Me on the Eurostar?
I’m not sure what that was about. Bad management was probably what that was about! It was quite fun though. We ate foie gras and did an acoustic gig actually in the Tunnel. We were probably the first band to do that.
What are the plans beyond the album release? Is it just a summer of festivals and then a major UK tour?
I’m not sure whether it’ll be a major UK tour, maybe just a few dates, but we’re planning that in November. My wish list this year was to play Melt! in Germany and I am! I feel like I’m so lucky to play an electronic festival like that and then play something like Bestival. Then we’ll have a new single and a new video …
… and obviously shooting for the front cover of Crack!
Yeah, thanks! That’s my first ever front cover! You had Grimes, didn’t you?
Yeah, we had Beth Gibbons from Portishead too. You’re in good company.
Do you always have girls on the front cover?
Yeah, every single one apart from the one which had Dave Harvey (organiser of Love Saves The Day) on the front looking like the Fonz!
Haha! Does he wear Molecule too?
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Photos: Ryan Hopkinson
Words: Thomas Frost