“I’m trying to do this remix album, which I probably shouldn’t say because I don’t know if it’s gonna happen, but actually – fuck it, I’ll make it happen!” she tells NME down the line from her home in London. We’re on speakerphone, as Ware is washing up having just stuck a batch of cookies in the oven. “The alarm’s probably going to go off,” she admits at one point.
We’re speaking mid-way through lockdown, with Ware in full swing promoting her new album virtually. “It’s the most unique, bizarre way of promoting a record,” she says. ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ feels a world away from Ware’s previous release, ‘Glasshouse’. While its predecessor was filled with lush synths, soulful vocals and deeply personal lyrics about Ware’s experiences with motherhood and family, ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ is a joyful collection of strutting dance smashes. Produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, it combines her distinctive, powerhouse vocals with lashings of slinky funk and ‘80s disco.
Work started on the album in summer of 2018, with Ware knuckling in Ford’s North London studio for the coming months (asides from a brief period of maternity leave in March 2019, when Ware had her second child); and she admits the album’s been ready “for a while”. This is one of the reasons she was adamant not to push its release back, as so many artists have during the lockdown – and likely one of the reasons she’s already anticipating what’s coming next.
You had to push ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ back because of the pandemic. What was it like making that decision?
“It was kind of out of my control, it was the warehouses not being able to get physical copies. I was really annoyed about it because – I mean, it’s a minor, it’s two weeks late [Ware later pushed the album back a third week, so as not to distract from black voices on Juneteenth] but I was absolutely adamant that I wanted the record to come out without a delay. I definitely wasn’t gonna push the record back like all the big guns. My record company did call me, and they were like, ‘do you want to delay it, we’ll respect your decision if you do?’ But I said, ‘No! give the people some disco and groove!’”
When you wrote it, were you trying to sort of evoke a certain place or memory through the music?
“There are definitely nods to a world that I wished I would have been a part of, that ’80s New York disco scene. I wanted that lushness and melodrama that I’d heard in some of those older songs, like ‘State of Independence’ by Vangelis. We wanted it to have that slight freshness with the sounds as well, with lush backing vocals and I actually had [acclaimed conductor] Jules Buckley do all the orchestral arrangements and strings. I’ve never ever been able to do that before, and it was just so magic.”
Did you ever think about bringing in any guest artists to appear on the album?
“For me to work with Kindness [who has a co-write credit on ‘Step Into My Life’] was a really big thing, I love them. They’re so talented and I’ve been mad about their work for so long. And for a second I really wanted Kylie Minogue on one of the songs for a long time. And I still think potentially I will ask her to be on one. I think that maybe I felt like it wasn’t necessary…I wanted to present the record like this, but there’s still the chance to reimagine them with other artists…”
When you say re-imagine the songs, do you imagine a new version or remix of each?
“Yeah, whether it be dub – I mean Benji B did a dub remix of [album track] ‘Mirage’ because Benji produced ‘Mirage’. I just kind of thought: I’ve done this slightly accessible record of disco and dance, but I wanted to make it slightly deeper and be able to get properly in the clubs with some of the remixes.”
You’ve said you were worried that on your third album, ‘Glasshouse’, that you were potentially being a people-pleaser. Do you regret any of the decisions you made?
“I don’t regret. I don’t think I can regret, because I kind of think everything happens for a reason, however naff that sounds. And also, I made a record that I needed to make, which was about me struggling with motherhood. In the industry there’s a lot of back and forth, and sometimes there is a form of compromise, maybe not for every artist but I’ve definitely found that; but I just kept everyone at bay on this one [‘What’s Your Pleasure?’] and it seemed to work a treat. I can’t say I regret anything because it’s not worth it; but I felt like I was getting into this kind of hole of bitterness and lack of confidence.”
“But you know, I still listen back to ‘Glasshouse’, and I’m incredibly proud, but I just don’t think people were that interested in hearing an album about motherhood and the difficulties; and you can’t please everybody all the time, but I needed to write that. And I think it really helped me develop my songwriting and knowing how much I wanted to push, how much I wanted to show of myself.”
Were you disappointed by the reception to ‘Glasshouse’?
“I try and avoid reviews, because I can’t do anything about a review. Once the album’s done, that’s it. And I feel like I had some really incredible moments on that record, and they’re still celebrated, you know? There’s a song called ‘Selfish Love’, I got to sing it in bloody Spanish as well! We had quite a lot of fun with things like that. There’s a song called ‘Sam’, which I’m incredibly proud of, and a song that I wrote about my daughter called ‘Thinking About You’; she must have had it played to her in the car and she bloody asks for it every time we drive now. For me, that album was for my family and for me, so maybe that’s why it didn’t resonate as much, maybe it was too insular, I don’t know; but I’m still super-proud of it.”
Your Podcast, Table Manners, which you present with your Mum, has been a runaway success. When you started to get all these millions of listeners, did you ever consider making that your full-time job?
“No and thank god; because otherwise I wouldn’t have made, I think, one of my best records; but I think for a moment when I was really low about music, I thought potentially I would sack it in. I’ve always thought Table Manners is such a big part of my life now, but it would never be a full-time job. I’d have to do something else as well, and luckily, I get to do music; but if I didn’t have music I think I’d probably have to do something else, otherwise potentially it would take the enjoyment out of it. It’s still got to feel like it’s this slight treat when you get to have Carly Rae Jepsen round for quiche.”
Did you find with the podcast being so huge it brought a new wave of fans to your music?
“I’m kind of yet to see that. God, imagine if I had like 12 million people buy my record on week one! It blows my mind how many listens and downloads we’ve had, and if that could translate into record sales I’d be a fucking happy woman. I don’t think it will, but I am interested see whether some of these diehard Table Manners fans that haven’t heard my music maybe give it a try if I ram it into their ears enough through the next few months…you may hear quite a lot about my mother promoting my record for me on the podcast!”
– Jessie Ware’s fourth album ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ is out now