We talked to the London singer about disco mermaids, style inspirations, and the appeal of J-Lo back-in-the-day.
Last time Jessie Ware toured the States it was as a backing singer for her pal Jack Peñate back in 2009. This time round the 28-year-old is selling out joints as the headline act and A$AP Rocky’s dropping verses in her inbox. Jessie's debut album, Devotion, is both sultry and understated, mixing up an old school soul swing with street-wise swagger. Basically, it's great.
Here's some random stuff you should know about the south London singer:
She used to work at London’s Jewish Chronicle and at one point she had her heart set on being a soccer journalist.
Jessie used to work as a PA at a TV production company. She sat next to the woman responsible for Fifty Shades of Grey.
Her dad is kinda famous in the UK: he's the award-winning BBC Panorama reporter, John Ware.
She sang in a school production of Guys and Dolls with Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine.
Noisey: So what’s the deal? Last time we spoke we were hanging out in your hood in Brixton Market, London and now you’re in NY and A$AP Rocky’s all over “Wildest Moments.”
Jessie Ware: I know, it's crazy. I saw him perform in London and we have a lot of mutual friends, weirdly. I’d heard such good things about him as a person and I think he’s wicked. Then he talked about me in an interview in London. I was in New York at the time and everyone was like, “A$AP’s just said he wants to work with you!” I was like, “Oh My God! Let’s email him and send him 'Wildest Moments.'" When the A$AP verse turned up in my inbox it was bizarre. I’ve always wanted to get a rapper on it. I’m sure I’ll meet him soon and we’ll chat. I emailed him and he was really happy.
People like Katy Perry and Russell Crowe are dropping your name on Twitter and it’s all coming together: The Power of the Internet.
“Right! Russell Crowe came to my show in Sydney. I DMed him on Twitter, because he follows me and I said, “Russ, Do you want to come to the show?” He was so nice. So was Katy Perry when I met her. I feel like I’m name-dropping now, but they were both so nice and I really appreciate them. It helps having a bit of support. I mean, what, Katy Perry has like 50 million followers!
Your style these days is pretty slick. Who were you looking up to when you were a kid?
I was always really into Jennifer Lopez. She had that French manicure and was dripping in gold. Especially circa “If You Had My Love" and “Feeling So Good” when she wore that big puffer jacket. It’s all those things I’d love to have worn, but have never been able to wear. I remember in the video for the remix of "Ain’t It Funny" she got her fringe [bangs] cut really blunt. She just looked amazing. In fact I copied her fringe in my new video.
Jessie's new video for "Imagine It Was Us."
What’s the vibe for your new video?
Disco, 70s, J-Lo, and loads of color. I wear a lot of black and we were like, “Sod it, let’s just go color make it feel like a scene in a movie like Saturday Night Fever.” I do a point to a disco ball. Also, lots of hair extensions.
You already have loads of hair.
I know, but I wanted to be over the top. I wanted to look like a disco mermaid and my hairdresser had wanted to do this fringe on me for ages, like an Audrey Hepburn fringe. And she was like "That won’t work for the disco thing, let’s go blunt." She cut it on set and I was like, “Oh God I hope I like this!”
For this song you teamed up with your old collaborator Julio Bashmore. You once said when you first started working together, you were so nervous you couldn't even show him your lyrics. How does your relationship feel now?
He’s like my brother now. But we have a particular way that we work together where it’s not like, “Hey tell me your problems.” It’s more, “What shall we write about? Shall we do something fun and silly?” He’s quite eccentric. He got it straight away when I did "Sweet Talk" and “Running” and I said that it should be like a scene at the end of a prom film. Like the guy’s running to see the girl and it’s all in the dance bit at the finale. He was like, "I get it." I was like, “You’re younger than me and I love you for getting this and going with it and not being like, 'What are you talking about?!'"
"Imagine It Was Us” is a bit of a departure from the rest of the record.
I wanted to make one that was reminiscent of early Madonna and Janet Jackson with a bit more of dance edge because that’s where I came from. It’s a bit more of a house flex because of Bashy, but live we make it a bit more Chaka Khan. We’ve got a really over the top outro and a lot of bass slapping. I guess I’ve been touring the album and I realized I’d love a more upbeat song in the set so I wrote one. I hope people can sing along and there’s a choreographed dance in it!
Oh what! You’re doing choreography now?
I’m not! I got cut out of quite a lot of the choreography in the video I’ve seen! [Laughs] But I wanted a choreographed dance and we’ve got some hot dancers.
I was watching the “Night Light” video recently. Do you sometimes think: “I’m stroking my face, I’m sensually touching this gauzy curtain, uh…”
Yes! Yes. Sometimes it's ludicrous and that’s why I was really happy when my friend Chris Sweeney, who directed it, would be like, “Give me Whitney, give me Whitney,” and I’d crack up.
Your videos are always super stylized and you work a lot with director and artist Kate Moross, who has a long history collaborating with musicians including Simian Mobile Disco, Tom Vek and Disclosure. How does the partnership work?
The majority of the videos are my ideas that I go to Kate with. I don’t pitch it out. I don’t want to. I know what I want and I know what I want to say. It’s always got to be people that I get on with and who are like extended family. Kate was happy about this video because it has loads of color in it, which is totally her. But she’s always so respectful of what I want, she’s just so tasteful and she just gets me straight away. I gave her the references—Paris is Burning, Night Fever—and she made it happen and she edits it too. We’re very much in sync. She’s such a talent, she’s done all my artwork as well. It just makes sense, it makes the package and it makes the whole thing be coherent.
She also did “If You’re Never Gonna Move” which is very different.
Originally I had the Big Pun sample on it and it felt very much like Kelis’ “Millionaire.” It felt quite American and kind of Miami so I wanted to make the video quintessentially British. It was just supposed to be a bit surreal and an extension of the “Running” video, but really it was just an excuse for me to prance about in really nice clothes.
Do you work with a stylist?
Yeah Avigail Claire. She’s a mate that I’ve known for ages. I learnt about her brand that she has with her husband—Silver Spoon Attire—before we worked together. We bumped into each other at [London festival] Lovebox and I was like, “Oh man I really want some new clothes. All I wear is leggings.” And she was like, “Try the American Apparel jodhpurs.” She wishes she never told me that because I live in them! She’ll never get them off me! But we get on really well, she’s like family, and we just have so much fun playing dress up with each other.
Did you go to her with a specific slant?
I said I wanted to either look very androgynous or really chic and quite timeless. I didn’t want it to be too of now. I knew what I liked, but not what I suited necessarily and we just developed together. She gave me more confidence with clothes. I usually just wear loads of black, but the fact that I’m wearing this hot pink crop top today, you wouldn’t have caught me dead in this a few years ago. It’s really collaborative.
What about designers?
Miu Miu have been amazing to me. I do love Dolce & Gabbana—they just make women look sexy. I’ve been getting into Moschino, and Ermanno Scervino is also amazing. I love Sandro and Cos. Topshop is killing it! ASOS too! I have fun with their clothes.
You’re always wearing hoops. Are they part of your nod to J-Lo?
Yeah. I always wear hoops. If I don’t have hoops in, that’s my equivalent of a bad hair day.
What about your nose ring? Was there someone you were looking to when you had it done?
I got that done at university when I was 20. My mum always offers me money to get rid of it. She hates it! I copied my best friend Sarah, who I wrote “Wildest Moments” about. I copied her and she’ll always say that I did, but I've always denied it!
So your older sister Hannah is an actress now living in LA. [She was in Boss with Kelsey Grammar and Shame.] Did you share clothes when you were kids? She was much slimmer than me and she was not generous with her clothes! She was a cow! [Laughs] She nicked [stole] my clothes, but that was okay because she was older and they’re just entitled to that. We’re actually really close.
Are you into your mom's sense of style?
I definitely nicked a lot of my mum’s stuff in the past five or six years. She’s not a particular style icon. I do get what she was going for now, but she had this leopard print turtleneck body with matching leopard print ski pants and I was a bit like, "Hmmm, okay." I’ve worn that to be a leopard at a fancy dress party!
Kim Taylor Bennett wants Jessie to be her BFF. Awk. She's on Twitter - @theKTB
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