Do you ever imagine yourself passing through hardships, the pressures you put on yourself, structures you have become trapped within and breaking through to a place of calm and wisdom gained? How palpable the excitement within your soul would be even though you have been through so much? Or do you ever wish you could chat to someone who had overcome all of that who would tell you that everything was going to be okay on the other side? It feels not only has Jessie Ware been on this journey but is the person on the other side reaching her hand out to you, with reassurance and abundant joy. A person you want to meet in the smoking area of a club when you are feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of life to guide you through it, get you back on track and bring you once more into the dance! In fact you might even find she put the event on herself so much does she relish in bringing people together to shake off their troubles and feel connected.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 48. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Jessie Ware has had quite a life from chaotic raves in her youth and overcoming self doubt to Mercury Nominations, charting and critical success. Her deeply impressive discography of ever evolving and groundbreaking pop albums maps out this journey not only as an artist who constantly looks to joyfully experiment but as an individual creating music that truly expresses her unfiltered self. Now onto her fifth studio album we see Jessie Ware in a position of understanding what is important to her and able to fully enjoy where she is in the present. Her music oozes guidance showing us how we can all reach that point too through opening ourselves up to pleasure and happiness. She is in a position to give back and is on a mission to spread what she has learnt. This can be seen in her podcast with her mum Lennie Ware, Table Manners, where she welcomes guests as varied as Dolly Parton, Kylie Minogue and Robert De Niro, shares her love for food, explores people’s stories and has a good laugh in the process. In fact it feels like her laugh can crack through any doubts you have and let the sun shine in.
We catch her mere days before her album That! Feels Good! is released. A proclamation of joy! The title track highlights how everyone is deserving of pleasure and ’pleasure is a right’. We talk about opening yourself up, how liberating it is to realise that what people, and most importantly you, love most is when you are rawly yourself. How there is strength in that vulnerability and that actually on closer inspection the things you were worried about are actually not weaknesses at all but your greatest strengths. They only feel like weaknesses because you have built up a belief system to see it like that. Through these revelations we see an artist who has cracked the code and although quite far into their music career feels in many ways like they are just getting started.
I’m so sorry that I’m eating!
It’s all good!
I wouldn’t usually be doing this, but I’m fucking starving!
How’s your day been so far?
Well, it’s just been really busy. I just stacked it walking into the offices, so I was obviously really faint with hunger. I’ve been really, really busy. But being busy is good and I managed to take a holiday with my kids, which is pretty audacious. Especially with an album coming out. Yeah nuts! Back on the grind now so all good.
Where did you go on holiday?
We went to Cyprus. I taught my little boy to swim so that was great. I felt like I got really good mum points on that. I learnt to french braid my daughter’s hair, which has been the greatest gift to her. Because she’s got amazing curly hair. I mean this is what I do to my hair [gestures to messy bun perched on top of her head]. Me learning how to do two braids she just thinks I’m the fucking coolest thing ever.
Oh, that sounds really lovely. I mean maybe you can get her to learn how to do it herself so she can give you some braids too.
That’d be great. And she can be my hair person.
So as you know this edition is about joy. I was thinking that the title of your fifth album That! Feels Good! and how it seemingly ties in perfectly with the theme. I was just wondering if you could talk to me a bit about this phrase and where it came from?
Well it came from the song that we made. I mean in the song it means something slightly different to just joy, I guess. But it made sense for me to have it as the album title because I think I’m in such an amazing place in my career where I’m able to do a number of different things and wear all these different hats. Actually, I’m enjoying making music the most I’ve ever done in my career. And so it’s just what it says on the tin, it’s like That! Feels Good! Pure and simply I’m having so much fun. There’s so much joy coming out of the album and the music, but also in a more kind of an intimate world. It can mean something else.
I guess we’ll leave it at that but I get you.
It could be that moment in a club when you hear that song and you’re like, oh my god, that hits so hard I love that. That feels good. Yeah, you know, it means lots of different things. But for me, I’m having the best time making music. Performing. Understanding myself as an artist, being a parent. I’m having a great time.
Amazing and for the track, Pearls, it seems like it’s a dedicated song to the joy of being in the club and having a dance in a sense?
Yes it’s about freedom and letting go. I guess I kind of did that in Free Yourself as well but it’s the sentiment of that feeling of freedom on the dance floor. I think there’s nothing quite like it. Especially when you’re with loved ones, with your friends, when you’re falling in love with a stranger. It’s something that I constantly return back to because I think there’s such euphoria when you dance and you sing, and I get to do both.
You can often dance yourself out of a feeling a certain way as well right?
Totally you put on music or I think that with food too. They can solve lots of things. But dancing it’s like, dance it off you know? I think particularly when it’s been a pretty heavy few years dance music has never felt more necessary.
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Definitely! Throughout your career as an artist you’ve had people remix your works from artists such as Silk recently to Melanie C, Ross From Friends and Todd Edwards. Why is it important to you that your music transcends so directly into a club dance setting?
I think when a remix is done well, it’s so vital. You see how the Disclosure remix of Running did things for both of our careers, but also more importantly, for the club. My first proper regular experience of live music, or like dancing and music was when I was 16. I was going to gigs, but I would regularly go back to clubs. And it was where I felt happy, it’s not that I was unhappy but I mean, I loved it. I love the sense of community. So, for me to be able to be making a version of pop music, but also dance music helps me connect with and remain within the club. A remix can do that. If one of my songs is going to get played on the radio and reach a different audience. Well, I want to still be able to be in the club. For me it’s really important and it’s also a great way to collaborate with new people and old friends.
What kind of clubs were you going to when you were younger then?
I was going to Fabric. I was going to a club that was in a church I don’t think exists anymore in Brixton called Mass. There was a night called Movement there which was an amazing Drum & Bass night. Friends were putting on a regular Drum & Bass night in Battersea, in Wandsworth Road called Potent Sounds. And it was in this club, we all were underage. I don’t know how we got away with it. You get to see Andy C, Friction. It was like, we get so many amazing people down and it’ll be on a school night. I still don’t actually understand how my Mum allowed me to do it.
She knew that you were going then?
I was driving myself there in my Fiat Cinquecento, I wasn’t drinking and we would just rave and then I would drive home.
That sounds great. That sounds like a really good time – slightly dangerous.
It was innocent! It was pure, we were there for the dancing.
Where have you been going out dancing these days?
I mean, I’m lucky I got to go to Printworks recently before it closes. I don’t get that much time at the moment, that’s also why I want to remain in dance music so I can go and call it work.
How was Printworks? What night did you go to?
I went to a queer party called Body Movements.
Ah yeah, I saw that lineup, it looked amazing! I saw that Cobrah was playing.
Yeah she was amazing! I hadn’t heard her before, it was amazing. Loved it.
Yeah. I love all of that music at the moment. It’s coming out like Cobrah, Shygirl.
Shygirl is amazing too.
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That kind of industrial bass, sex positive community. I mean I saw you interviewed Kim Petras on your podcast that also fits into that vein as well I feel.
Well Kim is amazing. I’m so thrilled for Kim. She’s very hard working and has been doing this for a very long time. And it’s all kind of starting to happen – well it was working before – but she says she was a club kid. Yeah. Now she’s a bloody popstar.
You’ve mentioned that food is like a big pleasure of yours outside of music. Can you talk to me a bit about when you realised that, that was something that you really enjoyed? And you started tapping into it more.
My mum told me that I used to wiggle my toes in the highchair when food would come before I could speak because I was so excited, she said I came out hungry. So yeah, food has always been my greatest joy. And then being able to combine that with work? I didn’t think it was going to work out how it did. It was a chance to chat to people with the podcast. My mum’s a great chef to have a home cooked meal and a chat with, it was not meant to do what it’s done. But obviously other people are as interested in food, food memories and Lennie’s cooking as I am. It was complete luck that it worked out how it did. Probably because it was very authentic, you know?
What other things big or small bring you happiness in your life at the moment?
Early nights, my children obviously and sunshine.
Yeah the shift at the moment with spring coming out has been tantalising.
Definitely. Let me think, that first gin and tonic on a flight when one of your kids has fallen asleep. Watching my kid learn to swim on holiday. Watching my kids make friends on holiday. That was amazing. You don’t get to see them when they’re at school. Do you? What else brings me joy I don’t know. Fucking hell so much stuff.
I know. Sounds like so many things. Do you have any self-care rituals that are intertwined with your day to day?
I wish I was off my phone more. I think that’s something that would keep me happier. Switch off. I don’t know if it’s keeping me happy but I’m slightly obsessed with my Fitbit at the moment, which I know is not very METAL magazine at all but it’s making me really obsessed with my sleep. I like being in control of things I realised. I think cooking for my friends, connecting with them. I mean, even, sadly, we went to my friend’s mum’s funeral at the weekend and with my best friends we drove down to Kent to this funeral. We had the most beautiful catch up on the way down. We went to this beautiful funeral, which was a humanist ceremony. The sun came out, we planted flowers, we were there to support our friend and say goodbye to their mum. But I think friendship is so vital and important to me as I get older and especially when reconnecting with old friends and having that familiarity. I don’t know about you, but your school friends, there’s something about your school friends, you’ve spent so much time with them, day to day, they know you so well. You fall back into this really silly humour, I love it, there’s an innocence there that I love. I wish I could bottle it, it’s really beautiful to be able to revisit that with old friends. There’s nothing more nourishing.
I totally get you. I’ve got lots of old friends that have been around for a long time. I think there’s something special about that. I guess you just feel safe.
You speak a different language to how like, if we were going to become really good friends, we’d have our thing. But there’s something about going back to being a child I think.
I was wondering if your perception of happiness has changed over the years or if you’ve noticed it changing?
I’m very lucky I’ve been with my husband since we were really young and he keeps me on a level. I’ve sometimes got lost in thinking successful equals happiness, which is quite obvious. I am successful, and I am really happy but there’s been times where I’ve had other kinds of success and I haven’t been as happy but I really attribute my husband for being able to be my leveller. I think it has changed, look, I don’t disregard how lucky I am to do what I do. I really appreciate it. And I think I sound greedy because I get to do all these different things, which I feel like one would probably be enough. But I get to do all these things that just complement each other, and they make me feel happier because I feel like I thrive in chaos and creativity. And people, I get to work with so many different people. In different worlds. And that really, really makes me happy.
So I guess like learning that that’s just what works for you and to reach out and embrace all of those different things. And that chaotic disposition is something to be embraced.
Yeah it works for me.
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Dress and shoes FERRAGAMO, earrings JUSTINE GARNER, bracelet MAISON LUMIERE.
Were you ever told off for being too chaotic.
No, because weirdly I love the chaos. It’s like white noise to me, it kind of settles me. But I’m also a control freak. So, it makes no sense. But I was a real goody two shoes at school. I never wanted to get in trouble. I probably got in trouble for chatting too much. Things haven’t changed now I make a living out of it.
Music is associated with those big events in our lives: birthday celebrations, parties, weddings. If something important is happening, we are likely to be celebrating with some music. What tracks do you pair with these important landmarks?
Well, One Love will always remind me of birthing my daughter. This was an accident, a happy accident that Bob Marley was the song playing whilst I birthed her. It was at the end of my Frank Ocean, Sade playlist and then One Love. Thank you Bob Marley, you’re great. Let me think. I feel like everywhere Fleetwood Mac has been used at every one of my friend’s weddings, including mine. Drum & Bass reminds me of my youth. But then like, indie and Ocean Colour Scene and like early Coldplay reminds me of my first experience of going to Scala and Brixton Academy and having independence. But it’s always with other people. I feel like my music memories are always with people, they always are about a situation where I was around other people. It’s not necessarily things that I’ve done on my own.
Do you enjoy bringing your friends together for moments like that?
I love it. I love fixing everybody up. I love a reason to connect people. It’s what I live for.
I saw that you are having a listening party for the album. Will you be having friends join you for that?
We’re having a launch party, which I feel like it’s kind of okay, because I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah party. And I got that Bat Mitzvahed in December. So I’m just going to treat this launch party kind of like my Bat Mitzvah party. Me and my husband and I have a massive 40th in two years. Well, we’re going to share one and we’re thinking, is it a bit much to renew our vows after 10 years? Maybe we’ll wait till 15. But we had a big party in Greece for our wedding. And so we’re just trying to find an excuse to get everybody together again. So maybe we’ll wait for 15 years because we don’t want to look like we’re pleased with ourselves but it’s also so everyone can come on holiday.
Do you get friends to come and play at those events or what’s the vibe?
Julio Nashmore DJ’d the last one, so did my husband. Yeah, sure, why not but just DJing I can’t be asked with all the live shit.
When you’re creating your own music how do you keep an element of play in the creative process?
I think if you’re smiling during the process, and you’re giggling I think that’s what has been such an interesting thing. For the last few records. It’s been very much like, shall we go there? Can we? Shall we explore this? It feels slightly naughty and unfamiliar to me because it’s not autobiographical, writing about my feelings. It’s a different world and I feel far more comfortable, actually in this more playful world. I feel like it brings more out of me and personality, so yeah, I love revelling in that play. I think it’s really helped my music.
Did you ever feel like there was a time when you did the opposite of that and put too much pressure on yourself and your creative process?
Yeah I presumed that music had to be correct before you went into the studio and you have to have this piece of something or this theme or these words. Actually, yes, that totally can happen and it has happened like that for me before but actually also the unknown, exploring and dancing in that is actually really terrifyingly fun as well.
Do you have a dance when you’re making the music?
Have a dance? Yeah!! If I’m not dancing it’s not right!
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There’s something about the enigmatic nature of pop music which allows people to read things into it and let it guide you. What is the one thing you hope to make your fans feel when they’re listening to your music?
Happiness, joy, I think for this record anyway, I want to bring a smile to their faces. I want them to look to their friends, smile and have a dance whilst they’re doing that. I think my job at the moment as an artist is to entertain and excite and spread celebration and escapism and fun. So that’s my job at the moment.
To talk about joy, pleasure and music perhaps it makes sense to also talk about its absence or disappearance. In general, life and music are so tied together, one often affecting the other. I was wondering, has there been a time when you lost your enjoyment of listening to or creating music?
I think I got a bit stuck in a rut for a while but then luckily I had the podcast that became a distraction which then with the success of it allowed me to feel a different way, when going into make music. I think initially, when I started making music, I was terrified. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like I was going to get found out. I didn’t think I was enough. I don’t think I allowed myself to show enough because I was stopping myself out of fear. I remember those early days of just being like, oh my god, I’m going to get found out what am I doing? I couldn’t even enjoy the moment because I didn’t feel like it was deserving of me. I didn’t deserve to be there. Yeah, which I look back on and I wish I just enjoyed it more. I guess it’s just hindsight and I’m still here, and I’m still doing it. So it’s all okay.
What was it about the podcast, which recently helped you with coming out of that?
It was just another avenue of thought, a distraction and creativity in a very different way. I was in charge of it and it was something that I thought of that I executed and it very quickly became a success. But I felt in complete control of that because it was just me being me very much warts and all. There was an acceptance that if I show more of myself in my music, I’ll be okay because people seem to like what they’re listening to. I think it was a really reassuring thing for me and allowed me to push harder into creating music, more open to music that showed more of myself.
Do you have any specific songs or artists which bring you this sense of hope or break through sadness?
Usually you indulge in the sadness and you put something on to be more miserable but I’d probably put Last Summer on by Donna Summer and go for it and have a bloody good dance! I think now I switch and put on dance music or reggae. I think reggae can solve a lot of problems.
You’ve mentioned previously Róisín Murphy as an influence on your music, an artist who really forged her own path and freely experimented and brought different sounds and textures into pop music. Could you tell me what drew you to her as an artist?
I remember her Overpowered record coming out and just thinking that it felt so artistic, thoughtful and futuristic. She was so fashionable it was completely authentic and creative, then the music was dance pop future and I was just enthralled by her. I love how she’d never compromised. I just find her a fascinating artist and think she’s one of the best dressed people in the fricking world. It’s effortless for her. I think she’s a pure creative and I love hearing her on a beat. She’s got such great taste in music, art, style, all of it.
Do you find you have many people that inspire you like that? Mentors in a sense?
Look, I’m lucky to know Róisín a little bit now and she’s always been so wonderful to me. People that I really look up to and who I haven’t met are Sade and Annie Lennox. The style and sophistication and classiness with their music, their voices are so tasteful and beautiful, those are the kind of women I look at.
Do you feel like you are in that role yourself with mentoring other artists or helping them express their craft and joy?
I’d love to feel like anybody could come and speak to me and I’d love to be a big sister to people. There’s a group of people in music and we message a lot, we check in with each other. If I can help somebody else I will. I think everyone knows that if they wanted to ask me a question, they could get to me and I would give them the time of day. You know, it’s such a hard industry to navigate and it’s also a wonderful industry to be able to make music but I think sometimes it can feel quite overwhelming how you navigate it. So I’d love to be able to be a mentor to other people.
I’ve been thinking about how pop music has recently been seen in a different light by critical publications, for example Beyonce’s Renaissance being named Pitchforks album of the year. It seemed you got a taste of that change in critical reception with your release of What’s Your Pleasure? I was wondering what you’d thought about that shift.
It’s funny because I’ve always felt embraced, critically they’ve always been pretty generous to me. I think I’ve always made a level of pop. Funnily enough when I was trying to make something less commercial in the sense of just doing it for myself and there being no agenda of trying to please a radio station I then made probably my most popular record.
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So, for you it’s always been seen as accepted? It just feels like people are allowed to listen to more different kinds of genres now within experimental or alternative communities. It’s not seen as something to be judged. You can listen to really experimental music, but then also listen to really pop music.
How old are you?
I’m 25.
You fucking baby [laughs] I mean, you look at people like Whitney Houston, she was making pop music, which was one of the greatest soul singers as well. Aretha Franklin was making pop music but she was making soul music, but it was popular. You know, I think it’s always been acceptable. I think that yeah, sometimes pop gets a bad name. But you look at people like Charli XCX. She’s probably one of the most experimental pop artists but I still regard her as a pop star, you know? Rina Sawayama. I think pop gets a bad rap because it means it’s popular and that I think growing up even I had an issue with being regarded as a pop star because I didn’t believe that I was one. I thought I was more alternative. But actually, I think being a pop star is a bloody great thing if it can work out well. David Bowie was making pop music but he was also making the most avant-garde, brilliant music. I think that growing up as well, without sounding condescending, you realise that there’s a world outside blogs, indie and alternative and rebellion. Like, I definitely found that anyway. What are you listening to that is pop?
Charli XCX for sure but also I’ve been listening to loads of Sophie Ellis-Bextor at the moment.
A good song is a good song and a good song will always live on. Murder on the Dance Floor... these are great songs. That’s why they come back. That’s why Sophie is a bloody TikTok star again, with Murder on the Dance Floor, it’s a fucking great song.
I think it comes down to universality. Pop music transcends niche areas of your life and it can be applied to so much.
I was wondering about the new album, how it’s felt for you going through the process again. And have you changed anything to make sure that you enjoy it to the best of your ability?
I feel like I’m having more and more fun with every record that I make. I feel unstoppable at the moment which is an amazing feeling. I don’t need to worry about what the next record is going to be. I don’t know what it is going to be yet. But I feel excited about experimenting and trying. One thing I’ve really learnt to do, which I didn’t do at the beginning was to enjoy the moment that you’re in right now. People are loving the record. I’m thrilled with the record. I’m excited for people to hear it. I’m going to enjoy this moment without trying to think about the next record just too soon. I’m really going to just relish the world that I created and people living in it for a bit and then we’ll think about the next project. I can spiral out of control where I’d be like, oh god but but but but what if what if whatever and it just doesn’t help.
Do you apply that kind of feeling of like day to day enjoyment to your life in general outside of that?
I try, I try.
And finally I was wondering what were going to do with the rest of your day which is going to make you feel happy.
Oh, God, I’m going to finish chatting about myself in about two hours. I’m going to see a friend I haven’t been able to cuddle for a few months. I’m going to put my kids to bed. I’m going to have an early night. I’m going to probably watch something. I mean really boring shit, that wholesome good boring shit.
Sounds lovely.
No, wait, putting my kids to bed is not boring. No, I’m going to just enjoy that. I’ve done a full day of work and it’s lovely. But I get home and just switch off. I mean, maybe I ’ll just get a cookie for myself in an hour.
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