A fast-rising U.K. star prepares for her album's U.S. arrival (to likely applause)
By Danielle Cheesman
Special to MSN Music
Unlike her fellow female artists from the U.K., Jessie Ware's Stateside success hasn't been aided by the help of, say, a "Saturday Night Live" performance (à la Adele, who still credits Sarah Palin for her boost in sales after appearing on the show the same night as the Republican politician back in 2008); or the co-sign of a rather inoffensive, small-risk rapper (like Jessie J and B.O.B's "Price Tag" collaboration); or even the placement of one of her songs in a major commercial (see Ellie Goulding's "Anything Can Happen" cameo in a Beats by Dre headphones ad).
In fact, her success can better be described using the title of one of her own tunes: "Wildest Moments." Despite being classically trained in primary school and going on to attend Alleyn's, a pro-arts "independent day school" in South London (whose former students include Jude Law and Florence Welch), Ware still opted to get an English degree at Sussex University. The one-time soccer journalist's "big break" only came when her schoolmate Jack Peñate asked her to do background vocals on a song that would later become the lead single from his second album. On tour with Peñate is where she met masked DJ SBTRKT, for whom she'd later lend her vocals (in addition to dubstep producer Joker).
The rest, as they say, is history, right?
Ware, 28, released her debut album, "Devotion," in the U.K. last August, led by single "Strangest Feelings," a song she -- ironically, and despite requests -- doesn't sing at live performances: "We didn't sell that many of them," she says, "so I thought, 'F---k it, maybe people don't even care about it." Five short months later, however: "I have had quite a lot of people saying, 'Oh, why don't you ...?' so I think maybe we'll relearn it."
"Devotion" will drop Stateside in April, but the work has already helped garner her two nominations for a BRIT Award, the equivalent of a Grammy, for both British Female Solo Artist and British Breakthrough. The album, with its calming quiet-storm soul elements, balanced by unpretentious electro-pop pulses, has already been dubbed "timeless" and likened to that of Sade. Ware's lyrics don't necessarily break the mold (in that they speak to the most universal of languages -- love), but it's her delivery, never rattled and always refined, that make even the downtempo tunes far from dull.
MSN Music: What's one of the weirdest things you've experienced at your U.S. shows?
Jessie Ware: People telling me I'm increasing their sex life, but that's pretty much why I wanted to make music! So people could kiss and have sex.
What's the greatest difference between the way the U.S. and the U.K. fans and press receive you?
I think the Americans are slightly more rowdy being that there's lots and lots of gay guys in the audiences [laughs]. [At a show] in Chicago, I said, 'Sorry, can I cut the lights on -- are there only blokes in here?!' And a guy shouted out, "'Cause the gays love you, girl!' It's been really fun. But I think sometimes I'll say something that maybe wasn't translated correctly in print, or sometimes can't be translated. I just need to learn to reel it in.
Live Music blog: Jessie Ware in concert
Which songs on the album were most difficult to write?
You kinda forget the ones that were difficult to write, but maybe "If You're Never Gonna Move" because I wasn't very confident in what I was trying to say. "Sweet Talk" and "Wildest Moments" kinda just came out, I don't know what happened that day. I don't have any rituals, but I have my Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand vinyls in the recording booth just so I can listen and if I f--- up, I can be like, 'Whitney wouldn't do that!' And I turn the lights off because in the studio you can look into the recording booth from the producing table, and I don't want them to see all the weird faces I make when I try to get into a song.
You've mentioned that "Night Light" is about your boyfriend but that he's not a huge fan of it. Is that going to stop you from writing about him? Taylor Swift does it all the time.
It's just not his favorite! But I think Taylor Swift is the one that's laughing; she writes such huge hits. I haven't written that many songs about my boyfriend, but he's someone that I love and care about and dream about, so there's definitely gonna be songs about him. And he's cool about it, as long as they're nice!
The Brandy album was sick. I'd absolutely love to work with her, but I think I'd be really scared to. She's the best and I think I would probably not say anything. And Solange, love her. The girl I've got on tour with me, Rochelle Jordan, she's got a beautiful voice. And I think Beyoncé's last album was wicked, too.
What songs are in your iPod rotation?
What's your theme song?
That's a pretty good question! Oh f---, I don't know! We tried to play "Eye of the Tiger" when we were doing our first gigs; it definitely didn't get me the good marks I was supposed to get. Mine would probably be Barbra Streisand's "I Am a Woman in Love."
What's your guilty pleasure?
All the reality TV shows. "Kourtney and Kim Take Miami" and all the English ones like "The Only Way Is Essex" and "Made in Chelsea."
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Whose career do you most admire?
Jay-Z and Sade. They've got such prestige and great reputations and then they're such wonderful performers live. They make such wonderful music and are still completely relevant.
Are you nervous about your Stateside album release?
I'm not nervous, because it feels really good that I'm coming here and loving it, and if people like it, they like it and if they don't, that's fine. I've got no expectations about how well it's gonna do.
Well, I hope you're prepared; you're about to blow up.
Oh, shut up! [laughs]