Jessie Ware started off as a backup singer for indie-rock singer Jack Peñate and pop duo Man Like Me, and then sang for British heavyweight producers like Joker and SBTRKT. Understandably, her critically acclaimed debut album, Devotion, with hits like “Wildest Moments” and “Running,” used the formula that was already working for her — heavy production and doubled vocals. With one Mercury Prize Album of the Year award and two years of touring under her belt, Ware recently debuted her second album, Tough Love.
On it, she's collaborated with a handful of other musicians, including Miguel, Ed Sheeran, Dev Hynes, Benny Blanco, and Two Inch Punch. But while she worked with a lot of men on the original album, she also released Jessie Ware: Remixed, which features work from two female producers, Nina Kraviz and Tokimonsta. "I feel like they’re always put against each other as rivals, but actually there’s such a lot of love and generosity [between] women in music," Ware says. She spoke with the Cut about the inspiration behind some of her love songs, working with women in music, and her enormous collection of white shirts.
It’s been two years since you released your debut album, Devotion. What’s one of the most useful things you’ve learned since then that's helped you make your new album, Tough Love?
I learned that it’s not a race. I’m still relatively new to this being my job, and that this is still kind of a moment and this record was a moment [spread] over a year. It doesn’t have to define the rest of my career. Do you know what I mean?
It felt kind of like this was a moment, and you keep [going] through it and you enjoy it. I wrote this record kind of quickly, and it wasn’t that I wanted to rush it. It’s just that it all came out and then I was quite satisfied to be like, This is what the album is and I like the sound. Maybe the next album might sound like this or it won’t. But, this is how it is. I didn’t freak out about it like lots of people told me I would with my second album. It was actually really free and easy to write. I think I learned that I was more confident, and I could take a few more risks. Maybe because I had the experience of having an audience and enjoying an audience. So, I took the risk and hopefully they enjoyed that, because it was my audience that I felt like I was getting to know.
You still talk about how you still seek approval or you don’t always trust your opinion about your music, which is one of the reasons you love working with other people. But your music doesn’t come across that way. What changes when you get in the studio?
I rely on working with other people because I don’t play any instruments, so I rely on someone to be able to play the piano with me. Also, I rely on that kind of soundboard with somebody being like: Yes or No or Oh, I like that idea or Why don’t we fix that? I don’t trust myself, but I do feel more comfortable in the studio, I feel more decisive. And, I don’t know, I’m always going to want to constantly collaborate with people because that’s all I know how to do and I love it. I think it’s how I get the best music out.
Your song “Kind of ... Sometimes ... Maybe” on the new album captures the the viewpoint of the woman being the heartbreaker. You wrote it with Miguel. How did this idea come about?
It was the first song I wrote with Miguel and it was in L.A., at the beginning of the year. I went into the studio knowing that I wanted a certain time signature, and I didn’t know what the melody was going to be like, but I wanted it to feel like it had this quiet, soulful vibe to it. Miguel just picked up a guitar and he started playing, which felt really nice, like it had a kind of space to it. We were just chatting while he kept on playing it.
The music felt good and it was very simple, and I love that, when it just works and it feels immediate. We’re just chatting and he’s still going, “dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum,” and he was like, "Jessie, I think it’s time for you to be heard as this confident woman that you are." I’m like, "No, no, no, no, no, I’m really good at singing the longing, bittersweet shit, that’s my thing." And Miguel is like, "No, you’re this confident woman, and I sit and work with you. You know what you want; you’re so confident and you’re sexy ..." And I was just like, "Well, thank you very much, but I don’t want to sound cocky," because I’m so worried about sounding too cocky. And he’s like, "No, I think we should have this thing. Why don’t we play it out with this idea: Maybe you are confident, but you can still show vulnerability." It’s one of those songs that just wrote itself, but he thought of the tagline, the "Kind of ... Sometimes ... Maybe," and we kind of drew from that. It’s very playful and flirtatious. Not, like between me and Miguel, we were just writing the song, but it felt very open and exciting.
Unrequited love is a recurring theme on Tough Love, with tracks like "Say You Love Me," "Cruel," and "Desire." Is there a particular personal relationship that inspires these songs?
Yes, but I shan't be telling you. [Laughs.] But, yes that is the joy of a little bit of a metaphor, a little bit of silence: You don’t have to say everything. But, of course these are stories that have not been plucked out of thin air. Some of them definitely have some kind of fantasy edge, but these are real-life stories that happened and maybe I elaborate on them.
What’s one thing that you hate that people think about you?
People are so worried that I won’t be able to write another sad song because now I’m married. It’s like I’ve been miserable for the past four years. I’ve been very happy for the last three years, but I can still write a song and it can still make me feel something. That’s the thing that’s been making me sort of not laugh, and I don’t hate it, but sometimes I think people shouldn’t worry about me not being able to write another sad love song again in my life. I think I’ll be all right.
You've said that your song "You and I (Forever)" was the most personal and honest track on this album, since it's about you getting frustrated by waiting on your husband to propose. Why did you make this material into a song?
I don’t know, I think I had run out of things to say in L.A., and I think I was missing him quite a lot because I was away from him. Probably for our babies to be able to know, something like, Oh, you remember that second album that mum did and that song was about her waiting for dad to propose? For me, it’s all about trying to create memories. It was a big thing that happened in my life, and for me and Sam, who have been together forever, so I thought why not write something about it that feels like something we can laugh about. We’ve always joked about the fact that it took him so long.
How did it happen?
It was in Greece and I nearly messed it up, because I’m impatient and I’m a know-it-all. I was like, "Babe, we need to get this right." Bless him, he tried to do it the day before, but there was a swarm of wasps when I got there. He had the ring in his pocket, and he was trying to be very romantic and I was like, "These fucking wasps; I can’t deal with it." So, yeah, I nearly ruined it twice.
You worked with Tokimonsta for your Jessie Ware: Remixed Tracks, which you released recently. How was it working in the studio with female producers?
You know what, I didn’t get to have enough time with Toki. We had this very short time with each other, but it was really inspiring. With her and Nina Kraviz, there was this immediate, wonderful energy [because I was] working with another woman. I would really love to write and work with more women. I’ve had such a positive experiences with women in music and other artists. Girls have been super supportive and lovely to me. I feel like they’re always put against each other as rivals, but actually there’s such a lot of love and generosity [between] women in music,
Since your first album, Devotion, your style has kind of switched up a bit. Previously, you wore crop tops and mixed in some fun prints; now you’ve scaled back to mostly white tailored shirts, trousers, and blazers.
I’ve always worn a suit. It’d be a crop top with a suit. I really love a bit of masculinity; I’ve always loved tailoring. I think, yes, definitely this time around, there’s more of a softness to it. I haven’t worn a crop top for ages; I got very bored of them. You know what I mean? You just grow out of things. Perhaps, I don’t feel the need to dress up as much because I feel more comfortable with myself, and it doesn’t feel so much like armor. I think the essentials have always been the same, but I definitely think my look has softened. It’s either because I got lazy or I just feel a bit more comfortable, and I don’t feel the need to dress up as much.
What’s your secret to picking out the perfect tailored shirt? You seem to wear a lot of them.
The secret to the perfect tailored shirt is the perfect pair of trousers, I think. One shirt can look so different with jeans or … I have so many different shirts — I’ve acquired quite a few and can’t wear them all with the same thing. I’m obsessed with Theory, all those gorgeous cashmere shirts. I’d be happy in a cashmere jumper from Theory that I got, and these gorgeous Theyskens' Theory jogging-pants trousers that I have. They look great with heels, flats. My wardrobe has been simplified, and it’s definitely made my life a bit easier.
In addition to your more relaxed attire, your makeup seems to be pretty minimal as well. What do you use on your skin?
I really have to look after my skin; I’m so prone to getting spots if I’m tired or rundown. Kate Somerville goat-milk moisturizer is just the best, and then Aveda skin stuff. Makeup-wise, I have this lipstick that Calvin Klein did for me, called Devotion, which is like a nude lip and I religiously wear it, it’s like my go-to lip color for the day. I did wear a red lip on the carpet yesterday, which was very new to me. It was Nars; I think it’s called Jungle Red. That was pretty and really fun; it was a matte red. I really love the Bobbi Brown illuminator; my favorite concealer is by Terry, it's amazing. For skin stuff, the Sicily foundation is absolutely amazing; I’m really enjoying it.
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