Jessie Ware is best known for her three albums of slinky, R&B-infused pop. But, as the British musician declares, she’s got an untapped superhero power.
“I like to say it’s that people feel like they can tell me anything,” she reveals, adding that her husband has encouraged her to go into emotional counseling should the ‘music thing not work out.’ “People are quite confessional to me. I manage to get my friends in therapy sessions. They’ll say shit and then go, ‘Hold on—I’ve never said that anybody!’”
It’s true—Ware does have an innate ability to disarm. It isn’t just her habit of peppering statements directed at the listener with a simple my love. Whether it’s discussing her work as a UNICEF ambassador (“My job is so all-encompassing and quite grossly about me,” she says. “It’s very important to have the balance with something that’s very not about me.”), intangible concepts like fate, or simply even her own music, there’s the sense that Ware is incapable of anything less than full-blown sincerity.
Named after the Edward Thomas poem “I Built Myself a House of Glass,” Glasshouse, her third album, began as an exercise in elevating song craft, easing away from the minimal R&B of her earlier releases in favor of a larger, pop sound. But like all areas of her life, honesty found its way in. Through co-writing sessions with producer Benny Blanco, Julia Michaels, Francis and the Lights, Cashmere Cat, and Ed Sheeran, Ware began drawing emotions from her intense last few years, including her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, and birth of her daughter. However, it wasn’t until she began sequencing the album when Ware discovered the depth of her aural diary.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow, that one is about my baby,’” she recalls. “That one is about me waiting to be a mom. That one’s about me really struggling with my husband at the moment because life is not that easy with a newborn and a relationship. Oh, wow, okay this is kind of plotting the last couple of years, accidently. There’s some escapism in there too, don’t get me wrong. Which I think I needed. But I put them all together it tells the story of the last couple of years.”
For much of the recording, Ware’s daughter was present in the studio. However, the musician dismisses the idea that Glasshouse is just her baby album, a concept she finds far too limiting. “Longing and love—I think a lot of people can relate to that,” she notes. “They don’t have to have a child. It’s just about relationships and emotions.”
But it is a sentimental outing. From the slinky bossa nova of “Selfish Love” where she asks “So tell me, darlin’, why are we like this? I must admit that I kind of like it,” to the mid-tempo duet “Last of the True Believers,” which imagines lovers escaping together through an abandoned city, Ware’s observations and flights of fancy are served with a side of intimate details that often feel like peeking in on the singer’s personal life.
The result was some of Ware’s boldest work yet, particularly the brash disco torch song “Midnight,” that she says represents a newfound confidence. But there were also moments where she began to doubt her creative choices. The sparse guitar-driven closing ballad “Sam” (co-written with Sheeran) represents an unprecedented, stripped-bare moment in which, over a cup of coffee, she was preparing to tell her mother she’s about to be a mother herself. “I hope she knows that I found a man far from my father,” Ware coos. “Sam, my baby, and me.” She admits that even in the studio, that reveal made her nervous.
“Annoying that’s the line that everyone wants to talk about,” Ware admits, bringing up the lyrics before it can be specifically references. Her tone is one of self-reflection, not animosity. “I’m a quite private person, and maybe it shows a little bit of the story that I haven’t told people. That definitely was alarm bells going off. It’s not supposed to damn my father. It’s supposed to celebrate my mother and my husband and this new arrival. I don’t know man, I still feel guilty about it.”
But as some see it, Ware’s internal struggles are a major part of her identity as an artist. Dave Okumu, producer frontman of the British band The Invisible, praises her ability to rise above doubt without sacrificing personality in the process.
“Jessie has had a compelling journey as an artist since I met her and we made Devotion together,” Okumu says. “Since then, I’ve watched her grow and experiment with manifestations of her creative voice. I’ve seen her learn how to articulate her vision in a variety of contexts. I’ve watched her wrestle with and sometimes reconcile the various components of her identity. The overarching narrative is familiar to any creative person that manages to sustain a career at the interface of commerce and creativity but the details are all her own.”
Ware’s career is set to press forward this year with a string of announced tour dates. But in the same spirit that brings people to tell her secrets, she’s likewise open about her own doubts and internal monologues. She’s aware that her sound and particular brand of humanity might not always hold a place in pop culture. And if that’s the case, don’t worry about her. As she reveals, she’s already found beauty in the transient nature of her profession.
“I think it’s a very difficult industry,” Ware notes, thoughtful as ever. “And the more I’m in it, the more it gives me the heebie jeebies. I love and I appreciate what I get to do. I love the reactions to the records…I don’t think you can ever rely on this as a job because maybe you’ve written your last song. Even if you think your song is really good, maybe loads of people won’t think it’s very good. I don’t rely on it. I appreciate it. But I still take it with a pinch of salt. I take my job seriously, but I don’t ignore the fact it can fly away at a moment in time.”END
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