I’m on the sixth floor of the Universal building in Kensington, a giant chalk rendering displayed prominently on the wall beside me. Jessie Ware, whose new album ‘Tough Love’ is the subject of this lovingly crafted mural, is delayed, enthusiastic and slightly confused as to who I’m here from.
“Oh Clash! Great, yeah.” A dazed grin, a flurry of wandering assistants, label-types and quick negotiations as to lunch and schedules. “Where shall I sit? Anywhere?” She plugs in her phone to charge and settles for a small grey sofa that’s stranded in the glass-walled, mid-floor meeting room.
Following the release of her debut album ‘Devotion’ (review) in August 2012 and her appearance at Coachella at the start of the following year, Ware found herself back in the studio for a few early sessions with BenZel, a duo consisting of hit makers Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch, working on a proposed new album.
“On that first trip, I wrote ‘Tough Love’ and I also wrote with Dev Hynes, a song called ‘Want Your Feeling’, which is also on the new album, so those were the first two, and it felt a bit too good to be true,” she says, sipping the coffee a breathless Island employee has rushed in.
Although these early sessions only provided a tiny fraction of the album’s final heft, it was ‘Tough Love’ the song, as she sees it, that provided the soil from which ‘Tough Love’, the album, could grow.
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“I was always referring back to it,” she explains, “even though the whole album doesn’t sound like ‘Tough Love’, there was something about it which felt like the focal point, like let’s look at this and see what we can build out from that.”
This positive early experience has also rubbed off on the sound of the new album. “It’s definitely not as melancholy [as the debut],” she confides, and what’s helped, more than her marriage to long-term boyfriend Sam, or the success of ‘Devotion’, or her cabal of new celebrity collaborators including Ed Sheeran, Miguel, Romy from The xx and countless others, “is just having a bit more experience and not being as scared”.
“I think it was probably annoying actually,” she says of her new-found confidence, “especially for Two Inch Punch and Benny, because sometimes I’d be like no! There’s no point going further because I know it’s not going to work. I learned about pop music working with Benny Blanco… just kind of understanding it, but we don’t always agree at all, and sometimes I would say ‘hell no’ to songs and choruses that we’d written that felt too big, because it didn’t feel right.”
She laughs: “I knew what I wanted, and am really pleased that I felt confident with that, because otherwise I think it probably would have been quite a confused album.”
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Soft rock? F*ck off…
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And a confused album it isn’t, although it does have its baffling moments. One of these comes on the Bashmore-produced ‘Keep On Lying’, which frolics into life with a few bars of piña colada pomp and circumstance that sounds, almost, like a half-lost, early-’70s soft-rock flourish.
“Soft rock? F*ck off!” she cackles. Okay, soft rock might have been a bad point of reference. “It’s actually a grime beat.” She fixes us with a serious stare – it’s not all smoky glances and melancholic poses with Jessie Ware. “That’s why I love Bashmore, because he gets away with murder; he transports you into a weird world where it feels almost make believe. You go, ‘Huh?’” She scrunches her face up into a confused scowl. “It’s like a f*cking merry-go-round or something, but the beat’s quite hard if you actually strip it all away.”
“Chance The Rapper,” she grins, “that was a bizarre one. I met him side of stage at Glastonbury watching Sam Smith – he was there nodding his head, and didn’t know who the f*ck I was.” She beams – the shoulder pads and heavy mascara of the ‘Devotion’ era seem to have done the job of disguising her from her peers. “We were chatting about stuff, and he was like, ‘Oh, so what’s your name, and what do you do?’ and I was like, ‘I’m a singer,’ and he was like, ‘Who do you play for?’ I always look like the f*cking session singer. I said, ‘Actually I play for myself. Jessie Ware?’ And his face!”
She pauses and shifts, searching for some small pocket of comfort on the hard, grey sofa. “He was like, ‘Look, I’m not in London for very long, but I’m going to go to the studio today’ – this was on Monday, and I’d partied until the early hours on Sunday, and I was like, ‘Oh f*ck, I don’t want to go to the studio.’ I looked like shit, and I’d lost my voice. I was like…” She adopts a weak, hungover groan: “‘Oh God, he’s gonna make me sing!’” She laughs again. “But I went, because I it was an opportunity to hang out with somebody I think is really f*cking cool. So I had a shower, smacked a bit of blusher on my face, tried to not look hungover and went. And he played me stuff, and I played him stuff, and he said, ‘Look, can you be on ‘Wonderful Everyday: Arthur’?’ And I said yeah, because it’s really f*cking amazing.”
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‘Tough Love’ is really just this feeling of weariness, not necessarily to do with a romantic situation…
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With Ware now freshly married – at the time of our conversation, the ceremony is three weeks away – and chart success achieved for the ‘Tough Love’ single, is love, either literal or musical, really so tough? She groans, melodramatically.
“It’s so weird that it’s just there looking at me,” she says, glancing up at the chalkboard rendering of her album title, which looms over the whole proceeding like a worried parent. “‘Tough Love’ is really just this feeling of weariness, not necessarily to do with a romantic situation, but more to do with getting to grips with being a working musician, which is exhausting.” She sighs, and shuffles on the sofa. “And ‘Tough Love’ served as a kind of escape from that.”
She pauses, before picking up on a point made earlier. “I’m really overwhelmed that ‘Tough Love’ is going to chart, it’s bizarre. It speaks volumes for the people that are supporting me and shows that maybe people are ready for me to come back with a new record, which is a lovely feeling and very reassuring.
“When you’re presenting new music it’s always subjective, and you’re always thinking people will maybe not like it. It’s not that I’m scared…” A big smile breaks out across her already beaming features. “But yeah, I’m looking forward to people getting to know the album.”
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Words: Rob Knaggs
Photography: Laura Coulson
Fashion: Rosa Safiah Connell
This article originally appears in issue 98 of Clash magazine – details and purchase links.
Jessie Ware’s ‘Tough Love’, the album, is released on October 13th. Find the singer online here.