- 29 Jun 20
Jessie Ware discusses her superb new disco-pop album What’s Your Pleasure?, her frustrations with lockdown life in the UK, and what the future might hold on the touring front.
English singer Jessie Ware has delivered perhaps her most perfectly realised album yet with What’s Your Pleasure?, a beguiling collection of thumping disco-punk and catchy electro-pop. Completed with a number of different producers, it most notably bears the influence of James Ford, the cult producer who – as well as being half of Simian Mobile Disco – is celebrated for this work with the likes of Gorillaz, Klaxons, Foals and Florence And The Machine.
“James and I knew we wanted to make a disco-groove record,” explains Ware, speaking from her London home. “Before we even got together in the studio, we’d worked together for years on and off. We put together a playlist of stuff like Mary Jane Girls, Tina Marie, Donna Summer and Tom Tom Club. We were basically just DJing for each other, and I was adamant about making something more up-tempo.
“I felt that element was missing in my live show, and I thought it was something my fans would really enjoy. The songs didn’t need to be particularly autobiographical – they were a form of escapism, and there was a sense of celebration in parts. There are songs like ‘In Your Eyes’, which are definitely slower and moodier, and maybe a bit of a nod to my Devotion days.”
There’s a definite ’80s New York vibe to the album.
“Yeah, stuff from that period like Blondie,” nods Jessie. “There’s a song called ‘What’s Your Pleasure’, where I was trying to pretend I was Debbie Harry, and I’d absolutely love to hear Kylie Minogue singing on that too. I was just having fun, and I think I’d forgotten how that felt for a while.”
Ware was delighted to have Ford bring his distinctive rhythmic flair to What’s Your Pleasure?, feeling it was the perfect time for them to collaborate.
“James is brilliant, and he can do dance music, but he’s just got this great taste,” she enthuses. “I felt ready to do this project with him – it was the most confident I’d ever felt. He’s such a wonderful person in the studio, because he has no ego. I’d be there going ‘What about this?’ And he’d be either ‘That’s amazing’ or ‘Woah Nelly!’
“Sometimes I’d be there with Danny Parker, who wrote on the album, and James would start a synth thing off. It’d keep building while we went off into a dream world and wrote. It was really harmonious and kind of magical.”
Given the album’s upbeat mood, how does Jessie feel about releasing it in the midst of the Covid era?
“It’s not ideal, but I’m very proud of it,” she replies. “The songs take on a different meaning in lockdown. I made this record as a form of escapism, and I think a lot of people need that right now. So if a track on the album can provide that for three minutes or the whole hour, that’s amazing. It’s going to be interesting. If you take my current single, ‘Save A Kiss’, it’s weirdly apt for right now. That absolutely wasn’t in our mind when we wrote it a year-and-a-half ago.
“The lyrics go ‘Save a kiss for me tonight / Wait for me, no compromise / Promise you I won’t be long’. It’s that sense of people just wanting to touch and interact, and hold someone they’re missing. That was a complete accident, but it’s funny how music can adapt to somebody’s mood and situation.”
How has Ware found lockdown life in the UK?
“I’ve been very infuriated and scared,” she reflects. “My brother’s a doctor, he’s in anaesthetics. It’s been incredibly frustrating. So many healthcare workers and others are working so hard, and it was terrible that it took so long for us to go into a form of lockdown. But we’re all still trying to be as diligent as possible.”
I first became a fan of Ware after seeing her perform at Dublin’s Academy in 2012, on the tour for her debut LP, Devotion. A sublime slice of moody R&B, the title track in particular was a mini-masterpiece. It was produced by Dave Okumu, who has quietly built up one of the most impressive CVs in British music. He recently contributed to Ed O’Brien’s solo debut EOB, and is also a member of the brilliant art-pop group The Invisible.
“‘Devotion’ was the first tune I did with Dave, who’s been a kind of mentor to me,” says Jessie. “We were sending each other songs, and getting ready for this weird blind date of being songwriters together. He said, ‘Look, I started this idea and thought of you.’ A lot of that song had been thought up by Dave beforehand, through me writing emails, talking about myself and sending him tunes.
“We did that and then we worked on it together. It’s a different way of working to how I usually do it, but it was like he listened to everything I said and bottled it up into this one song. That’s why it’s the title track. It was like the most generous and beautiful gift to me, because he listened to everything I said. I can’t play instruments, so he listened and created this soundtrack for all my references and desires.”
What were the specific references Jessie had for the song?
“Definitely Sade, whom I adore,” she recalls. “Also, it was around the time that first Weeknd mixtape, House Of Balloons, came out. I was just like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I was also thinking of that hushed quality you get from Aaliyah singing – she’s there right in your ear. But yeah, Dave’s an incredible musician and artist.
“He and Leo from The Invisible play on this album as well. I got them to contribute to tracks like ‘Ooh La La’ – Dave does some proper shredding on that. And Leo’s an incredible drummer; they’re just brilliant musicians.”
Finally, as we look ahead to the second half of 2020, Jessie – like all other musicians – is trying to figure out what the future might hold in terms of touring. She’s hopeful next year might see some kind of return to normal service.
“I’m gutted about not being able to play live,” she acknowledges. “We were supposed to be touring in October, but we’ve moved it to 2021. At the same time, it’s sensible. We need to sort this out and be imaginative about other ways to get our music across. As for how those gigs next year will look, I’d like to think things will improve and we’ll be getting back to some kind of normal. Obviously, I’d ideally like everyone to be safely able to get close together, to sweat, cuddle and all the rest. I really hope we can get there.”
- What’s Your Pleasure is out now.