The last few years have been pretty monumental for South London diva Jessie Ware. After working as a backing singer for the likes of Jack Peñate, she broke out as a solo artist in her own right with the release of her 2012 debut Devotion. The album went on to earn the singer a Mercury nomination, and won her an army of fans, including a dedicated gay following.
However, despite the cult success of early tracks Running and Wildest Moments, it took until August of this year for Jessie to make her UK Top 40 debut with Tough Love. Follow-up single Say You Love Me – a collaboration with Ed Sheeran – is a slight change of direction for the singer, but looks set to give Jessie her biggest hit to date.
With just a few weeks to go until the release of her second album Tough Love, I chatted to Jessie about her new record, what it’s like performing for her gay fans, and her love of Barbra Streisand.
Your new album is called Tough Love – when did you first experience tough love?
“It was probably unrequited love when I was a teenager, but that’s a different kind of tough love. It was probably tough love from my mum I suppose!”
Is it harder to write about heartbreak and unrequited love now you’re happily married?
“Not really, because I just wrote an album about it and I was engaged the whole time. It felt like it was much easier to write this album than my first album. I was really happy when I was writing it. I draw from being a voyeur in other people’s relationships, literature, films, other people’s music, my own relationships and a bit of fantasy. It can be a bit of everything.”
You’ve already previewed some of the songs from your new album at festivals and at your European dates; which songs are proving to be fan favourites so far?
“Say You Love Me. I’ve only done it three times and already I feel like it’s a real moment. It’s like when Wildest Moments comes on. It’s already got that kind of reaction, which is amazing as it’s a new song.”
I was quite surprised when I first heard that song as it’s something quite different from you.
“Yeah, I think I needed to push myself. It’s a way I’ve not shown my voice before so I reckon that was probably funny for people to hear first time round. But I’m happy that I’m showing that side of my voice and I hope I don’t ram it down people’s throats on the album. There are definitely bits where I’m pushing myself on this album.”
Your disco track Imagine It Was Us went down really well with your gay fans. Have you got any plans to revisit that sound?
“There are two kind of disco-sounding songs on this album: Cruel and Want Your Feeling. I kind of feel like the gay boys are really liking Say You Love Me too. Well, my brother really likes it and he’s gay. He loves that one. He’s only one gay man I suppose. I think the disco side you hopefully hear on Want Your Feeling, but maybe I’ll have to do a few more collaborations.”
Gay men seem to really connect with your music. Do you think growing up with your brother gave you a natural affinity with the gay community?
“It’s a hard one to answer really. It wasn’t something I sought out; I didn’t want it to feel contrived. I just went about my business and did my songs, and I’m really happy they connect with it. I didn’t go out looking for it, but I’m so glad they looked for me. They make my shows – no doubt. It wouldn’t be the same show without my gay fans. It’s warm and fun. One of the ways I approach music is that I don’t want to ever take myself too seriously. I want it to feel like it’s fun and sometimes a bit melodramatic and over the top. My gay fans make it fun for me.
You’re a big fan of Barbra Streisand, and she recently released a new duets album. Is she your dream duet partner?
“I just don’t think I’d be able to compete with her!”
Have you ever met her?
“No! I don’t know what I’d do. I think I’d be a real dork. I’d like to think she knows who I am as my sister’s old agent is her niece. When I found that out, I was like ‘oh my god please send her my YouTube just so I’ve even been looked at by Barbra’. I’d like to think we’d have a really nice natter. I’m worried I’d say something wrong out of sheer nerves.”
We recently ran a feature called ‘What should Britney do next?’ If Britney’s team got in touch with you to write for her, what direction would you take?
“I’ve tried writing for her before, but I’m not sure if she ever got the song or whether she just didn’t like it. Some of my favourite Britney songs are I’m A Slave 4 U and her Neptunes stuff. I don’t know if she should do that now. I didn’t like it when she went a bit attitude-y, excuse the pun. Although I did quite like saying ‘It’s Britney, bitch’. I really enjoyed that actually. I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman is not my vibe actually, so maybe she should just carry on being sassy.”
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