Jessie Ware: The Cream Interview



When I spent a few minutes on the phone with Jessie Ware for a piece in this week's Scene, she had as many questions for me as I had for her. But I expected that, considering journalism has been a big part of her life; her dad is John Ware, an eminent investigative reporter formerly with the BBC, and she was actually a professional journalist herself before she dove back into music. Speaking of the music, hers incorporates elements of synth pop and sophisti-pop, as well as dance-y R&B, but there are quite a few experimental tricks up her sleeve that make it anything but run-of-the-mill. And that's without taking her impressive voice into account. Based solely on skimming through Wild Cub's cover of "Running" (anyone else hear "The Message" in that synth line?), I was expecting a high-quality nostalgia trip, but Ware & Co.'s fresh approaches took me by surprise.

Tickets to Ware's show at Mercy Lounge tonight are $20; doors open at 7, and local Rihanna collaborator Mikky Ekko kicks it off at 8 p.m.

Take a gander at our Q&A — as well as a live performance of my favorite cut from Ware's record — after the jump.

How much does your songwriting reflect what's going on in your life?

Totally. … The song I’m the most proud of — in a way, I feel like it was a breakthrough for me in songwriting, because I felt so scared about it — was "Wildest Moments." That could have only happened after having the biggest fight with my best friend, at my manager’s wedding, where we ended up by throwing cake in each other’s faces and then ignoring each other. That song came out of it, by us not speaking to each other. Personal experiences can be so important! I like writing, but not always like that. I know that "Wildest Moments" is one of those ones that I feel like relate to a lot of other people, you know, where I have people come up to me like "That’s about me and my boyfriend," and it’s about me and my best friend. It’s so important to dig into what’s happening around me, but I never want to ... write a horrible song about someone. I don’t think I’d be very good at it, and I’d just feel guilty singing it every night, in case they were in the audience.

You were into your career as a journalist when you dove back into music. Do you still use that reporter instinct, your interest in other people’s lives?

I’m completely interested about people. You’ll find that if you come to my show. I’m probably going to be chatting with the audience and asking where they’re from, where’s good to eat around the area, and stuff like that. ... It’s really important to me. I’m just so interested about these people that are bothering to come and see me, and I really appreciate it. And coming to places such as Nashville — these are places I’ve never seen before.

[Auth note: Ms. Ware was pretty psyched when we mentioned that Cannery co-hocho Chark Kinsolving's BBQ-slingin' food truck Squeals on Wheels regularly posts up in the lot.]

I understand you don't try to copy your performance on the record when you play live.

You get bored of yourself singing the same song, and I also feel like if someone’s seen my performance before, "Oh, I’m going to be really boring to them if I sing it exactly the same." I don’t try to completely ruin the song by playing it completely differently, but I try to make each show feel unique. I never rehearse what I’m going to say. Who knows what’s going to come out of my mouth? Usually it’s a lot of awful rubbish, but I do feel like there has to be a spontaneity in a performance, where people feel like they’re not just seeing a kind of rehearsed, old show. But it has to feel kind of "proper" as well.

It’s all live — we don’t have any tracks. We trigger some of the electronic sounds on the record, but it’s all played live, on an MPC or the drum pads, when it’s a particular-sounding drum that I can’t live without. Everything’s played live. My musical director — he’s my guitarist — he’s very adamant that it has to feel live. He’s like, "I don’t want this to feel like they could be listening to the record. It needs to feel organic, and like we’re creating the music in front of them, you know?" Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pain the arse when things go wrong and you’re like "Oh, man, it could be so much easier if this could be on a track," but it’s also very satisfying when it’s right.

You co-wrote most of the songs on the record with Dave Okumu, who also produced and played on much of the record. Did you discuss production ideas during the writing?

It’s funny because [when] I wrote with him, he was a stranger — my manager had met him at a barbecue and thought, "Jessie will get on with you, would you be up for writing with her? She’s a really new artist, and she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but I think you’d really get on." And we emailed each other for a bit, and we got on really, really well, and ... he kind of came to me with this idea. We’d been talking about music and he said, "[from] some of the things that you said you were liking, I kind of thought about this track, maybe," and he created this mood. It was the song called "Devotion." He had the "I need your devotion, I need your devotion," and he had all the sonics, and I was like "Oh God, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to do! Thank you!" So it kind of all clicked, and then we wrote more together.

It made sense for me to ask him to do the record, because I felt very comfortable and protected by him. [I felt] reassured and excited by the production. I knew it was a new thing for him, too, to be producing. I thought, "Well, sod it. First time for me, first time for you, may as well have fun with it." It’s been the most beautiful relationship, I love him so much, and he will be involved in the next record in some way, shape, or form. He’s actually coming on tour with me, but you won’t see him. … [Okumu] and the band [his trio, The Invisible] will be on the West Coast side of the tour.

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