Jessie Ware Is Here To Stay
Music

Jessie Ware Is Here To Stay

Jessie Ware's latest indie-pop album, Glasshouse, is a gorgeous ode to family and motherhood. A feeling of security and warmth permeates throughout as she sings about being alone together with her husband, finding a good man and starting a family, and the joy that thinking about her newborn daughter brings her. At the same time, Ware is acutely aware of how difficult it is to maintain intimate relationships — a tension symbolized by the album's title, which comes from a poem about building an easily-broken glass house, and by songs articulating the ways people can still be selfish around people they love.

Ware has been on tour for two and a half months supporting the album. As a performer, Ware's vocals and demeanor are cool, her pristine, soulful voice foregrounded over jazzy instrumentals. In conversation and to the audience at her show, however, she is bubbly, energetic, and immediately personal, speaking candidly with specific strangers in the crowd and spontaneously adding a song to her set. At one point, she asked a group of girls if they all came together, telling them that they were dancing so well as a group that it seemed like they had been friends forever. She also turned to a couple in the crowd, telling them she was happy to see them kissing during her song, and that she hoped she wasn't embarrassing them by calling them out.

Ware is just as funny and relatable as we chat about the pressure to write a radio hit, finding a fan base that really supports her, and what she hopes her daughter will hear when she listens to the album.

Where does the title of your latest album Glass House come from?

It comes from a poem by Edward Thomas called "I Built Myself A House of Glass," and that was offered to me by my best friend Sarah. I was really struggling with a title for the record. I felt like it was a very autobiographical record, and it was my most revealing. It didn't feel like any of the song titles were enough to represent the story. I said "This album's about family, and my struggles with my husband, and my struggles with being a mother, and longing, and lust, and desire and frustration and fear. I don't know what to call it." My friend said, "Do you remember that poem that I sent you?" because she's an English teacher. And she sent it back to me and it says, "I built myself a house of glass/ It took my years to make it/ And I was proud. But now, alas! / Would God someone would break it." It's about this thing that is so beautiful and seemingly perfect, yet is so fragile and that you can't be too precious about, but is your everything. We abbreviated it to Glass House and it felt strong. It felt like it represented that world and my struggles and my celebration.

Photography: Tom Beard

It's clearly an album about family and motherhood, as you're saying, but it's also so nice that there's an element of your best friend in there too.

Yeah, family extends – I've relied on so many people in the last few years from when I was pregnant, when I was writing my record, when I was in the studio, when my baby was really young. My friends and my family are who allow me to do this job still. There have been times when it has felt impossible to be able to juggle both and it comes completely down to the support I have from friends and family.

You've said you wanted to be a small part of a bigger image for the album cover art. Why is that?

I was on album three and I felt like there were so many bigger things happening to me and around me such as becoming a mother and learning so much about myself. I wanted that picture to represent that this album isn't solely focused on me. It's about so many other things. I felt like I graduated in the third record to be granted that opportunity to be a smaller thing within the big picture.

Record labels do want your face on the cover. I dance between this pop world and this left world and I think that was my way of creating an artistic environment to represent a bigger story behind the album. We were shooting in this beautiful house and it was so visually exciting and signified stories around the record. I didn't necessarily want to shoot in a glass house, I thought maybe that would be too literal. I just love the colors and the palette of this house. It was so beautiful.

Photography: Tom Beard

When I listen to the album, I get this grandiose feeling of warmth. I'm thinking specifically of the lyric "Let's be alone together." How do you feel when you listen to the songs on the album now?

I've been performing them for nearly two and a half months straight now, and I'm so proud of the stories. I really feel like I mastered a better sense of myself and also my songwriting abilities. I learned from some great people. You just mentioned "Let's be alone together," and that's from the song "Last of The True Believers," and that's probably one of my proudest moments on the record. It's a song I wrote 5 years ago that nobody took any notice of when I played it the first time. People didn't get it. Maybe it felt too mature — that awful word. You're not allowed to feel mature! My sister is the person who reminded me of that song. She was like, "You haven't used that song," and I said, "Oh yeah, God, you're right!" And I revisited it, and it stood the test of time.

I've been opening the shows with "Sam," my song about my mother, and it feels very powerful and people listen and they hang on every word, and that feels like magic. It feels like it's resonated so well with so many people. I'm incredibly proud of it. I haven't listened to the album, but I play it every night.

You mentioned in another interview that as you were writing, you didn't fully realize how personal the music was until you took a step back and looked at all the songs. Does that happen often? Did it happen with the other two albums?

I think I'm always in such a rush to do things. I'm impulsive and I think that can be quite detrimental to me and my work. But with this one, I was in a kind of flurry and a blur of motherhood and lack of sleep, and I was just writing these songs and they were coming out and that was so satisfying, feeling like I wasn't struggling creatively. So when it came to compiling it, it was a surprise how much related to this whirlwind it was. I don't think it has happened like that before. I felt like it's been slightly more surgical, like I've known what to do. This was a big blast of emotion with a lovely surprise at the end that it had become a document of motherhood.

It's interesting that there are overarching themes that you're describing running throughout, but at the same time, each song is sonically unique. Did you select the songs for that reason?

No, definitely not how I thought. Since Devotion, my first record, I've tried to never pigeonhole myself so I can always feel like I can do whatever genre I want. I came from an underground dance world, and in the first record I had fucking notes of Disney songs! I had mid tempo ballads. And then I had kind of a hip hop phase. I feel like I never really put restrictions on my genres and sonics. It keeps me interested and excited. Maybe the sonic changes represent the different emotions I was having at the time, going up and down. There was no steady flow.

You've said you felt pressure to write a pop hit, but then you slowed down. Do you feel like radio songs are different from what you wanted to make? What was that tension like?

I think there was no expectation of me and then [Glass House] kind of exceeded expectations. Nobody would work with me at the beginning, it was just a few people. Which made it so special, that first record. I appreciate all the opportunities I've been given, but I think sometimes you can get carried away, and taken on a journey that maybe wasn't intended and it becomes an unconscious pressure to deliver these "hits." Who knows what a bloody hit is. I have my beautiful fans who love my songs, but when you talk about a hit, you talk about this radio play. I haven't had that and at times I felt not good enough for not having that but it's a madness. It's this intangible, ludicrous thing. It's your own worst enemy. I've definitely felt the pressure.

I love pop music and radio music —

Me too!

You've said you felt pressure to write a pop hit, but then you slowed down. Do you feel like radio songs are different from what you wanted to make? What was that tension like?

I think there was no expectation of me and then [Glass House] kind of exceeded expectations. Nobody would work with me at the beginning, it was just a few people. Which made it so special, that first record. I appreciate all the opportunities I've been given, but I think sometimes you can get carried away, and taken on a journey that maybe wasn't intended and it becomes an unconscious pressure to deliver these "hits." Who knows what a bloody hit is. I have my beautiful fans who love my songs, but when you talk about a hit, you talk about this radio play. I haven't had that and at times I felt not good enough for not having that but it's a madness. It's this intangible, ludicrous thing. It's your own worst enemy. I've definitely felt the pressure.

I love pop music and radio music —

Me too!

But the whole history of who sings what song for the radio and how that relates to the idea of artistic integrity is very interesting.

I find it completely interesting. I love it. I love the stories of a bunch of people trying a song and it doesn't work and then one person tries it and it just works. It's sometimes magic.

Doing this tour has been a bit of an eye opener. A lot of the shows haven't been sold out and that's been a bit of a first for me. The audience has been stronger than ever in their feeling and my connection with them. Some of my favorite shows have been the ones where there have been 150 people and everyone's warned you that it's going to look empty out there. We've had the most magical time. It's a strong reminder of staying true to yourself so you never regret what you do and what you put out. If you're proud of it, then hopefully it will rub off on other people. If it doesn't, at least you like it.

You took your daughter to the Women's March when she was 10 months old. Do you feel hopeful for her future that it will be different from what women now face?

I think we're having to live through some difficult and worrying times but I'm hoping by the time she is a little woman, there will be change. I think we're in a transitional time at the moment and I'm so glad people are becoming more engaged and vocal, but it feels like a bit of a shit show at the moment, doesn't it? I think you've got to believe that there will be a change and we won't be having to still march for equal rights [in the future].

Photography: Tom Beard

I was just talking with one of my friends about the #MeToo movement. Obviously it feels like much needed justice seeing so many men get called out for their behavior, but we don't feel like the daily violence we've faced has lessened. We're still waiting to not be cat called or mansplained to, to feel safe walking home at night. Sometimes it's hard to feel hopeful.

Yeah. And I think you get tired. Which makes you thankful for the young voices and their energy and how they're fighting for you and can maybe sometimes articulate things better.

Do you think about your daughter listening to this record? What do you hope she hears?

Yeah, I do. I have a song about her called "Thinking About You." It's become quite hard to sing it on stage, to be honest, because I'm away from her. She's not on this tour. It's the longest I've been away from her and I feel incredibly guilty and sad. And then on the other side, I sing, and my job is to sing. I sing to these amazing crowds and that's kind of like therapy.

I think about her listening to the album when she's older and hopefully it justifying the amount that I worked. I struggle with the balance. I'm completely scared of not being in a job, and so I work hard, but I don't feel safe within this job, weirdly, even though I feel so much love around me and that's so nice. I do think about her listening to it, and I do hope she's proud of me. I hope she understands that she is the reason it was made and she is my muse for this record.

That's so sweet!

It's like when mothers say "I gave birth to you!" I'll be like, "I wrote a song about you!" and she'll be like, "I don't give a shit! I don't care!"

I've read you talk about feeling impermanent in the field but feeling more permanent now after this album. What was that transition like?

Did I say that? God. I feel like I got to album three and I've improved as a songwriter, and I've been doing this for a while now, and I still have so many ideas. I'm already thinking about record number four. I can't believe I'm saying that — that's four albums! If it stops there, it stops there and I'll be proud of that. It's four albums. But I think that I've built a fan base that I don't believe are going to let me go. And I think that that is something very important in this day and age. The way people consume music is often faceless, isn't it? I think that there's something to be said for an army of people being so ready to come see me sing live and support me. I felt the fans have become far more passionate. They're there, they're invested. Hopefully that means I'll be able to do this forever for those people. There's something really amazing and encouraging about that.

Photography: Tom Beard

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