Cheers to your new album “Glasshouse!” Your daughter was a newborn when you were writing and recording the album. I read that you said having a daughter has made you more focused. How so?
When I was writing the record I was really aware that I wasn’t in a position where I could take a lot of time out. I didn’t feel like my career was set in stone, that I could afford the luxury of being able to be a mother solely even though I really respect people who can do that. It’s never a good time to have a baby but it’s certainly never a good time to have a baby when you’re in music and you’re a woman. It’s just hard. It’s very male-dominated. Everyone was very supportive, but I thought I’d begin some sessions maybe three months after the baby was born and they were like, “Why don’t you just see how you feel?” and I was like, “No, no. Now I’m going to make the best album, and I’m going to do everything.” I managed my time quite well in the studio because I felt so guilty about being in the studio so early on. I thought, “If I’m going to be here then I’m going to do four or five-hour chunks and that’s it.” She did make me more focused. She’s not with me at the moment. She was in Los Angeles with me but it’s hard. This is a new way of working and I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to have her with me but it’s also quite hard touring with a daughter and jet lag and stuff … I don’t know what my balance is yet, but she’s definitely made me more focused and I think I know myself a bit better as well. I feel more confident with who I am.
Does the guilt of loving what you do and also loving being a mom ever go away?
Is anyone a mom here? Does the guilt ever go away? No. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. So, I may as well do both as well as possible and hope for the best. It definitely makes you question things. If it’s going to take me away from her for a very long time then you do question that. It’s very important for me to tour the States because I love the States and I love my crowds here. They’re my best crowds and I probably shouldn’t say that. They’re smaller than my Europe crowds but we just have this magic together. So, for me it was really important to do this tour but I could have easily been like, “You know what, it’s gonna be three weeks away from my daughter, I’m gonna sack it.” Things like that are hard so I just drink dirty martinis and get through it. [This] is a really good one, as well. It’s very cold.
Are you finding the music industry changing with more female producers and songwriters?
I’ve worked with the most amount of females on this record ever. And I feel like there’s a real rise in really brilliant songwriters: Julia Michaels, she’s an artist now, but she was songwriting and she’s still songwriting. We’ve worked together on records— and Sarah Aaron who does all those amazing Zedd tunes that get in your head like “Stay” and “The Middle.” She wrote “Alone” with me. They’re these bright young things that are fearless and have so much confidence. You work with Ed Sheeran and he’s the most confident songwriter I’ve ever worked with. It has been a pleasure to work with more women. There are so many more female songwriters doing really well.
What are the differences between working with a man and a woman in the recording studio?
This doesn’t have to do with men or women but the person with the loudest voice usually gets their point across. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the best idea. I think maybe there’s a bit more sensitivity with women in the studio. You don’t need to bully someone into an idea. Watching Julia and Sarah work has definitely inspired me. I’m an older woman to them. I feel like I should have more confidence, but I don’t have as many hits as them. I’ve learned a lot from their unashamedly confident approach. I wish I’d done that a few years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t have had as many painful songwriting sessions.
From Sam Smith to Adele, you collaborate and are friends with a lot of talented musicians. What are some common traits of those who are successful in the music industry?
I think that a self-belief and a kind of decisiveness that they know themselves. Somebody like Ed Sheeran, he just believes in everything he does. And it’s not arrogance; he knows he’s good and he trusts himself. I’m a worrier, I’m neurotic, I’m eager to please. I think there’s an inherent self-belief.
I read you played some music for your producing partner, Benny Blanco, and he said, “You can do better than that.” How do you balance sticking true to yourself and trusting a producing partner who wants to take you out of your comfort zone and pushes you?
He’s like family now. When we work in the studio, we work as him being Benny Blanco. The majority of the time he’s just one of my best mates so when I was playing him music I wasn’t playing it to him as the producer. I think he spoke to me as the friend and was like, “That isn’t good enough.” I trust him and there was no agenda for him. He was referencing stuff from my first record which is not pop hit material but he was like, “That was you. That was your sound.” I’ve definitely had people forcing me and they kind of wave and dangle that carrot; there’s always that thing of how people say [I’m] underrated. It’s very nice but it’s that thing of “if you do this then you’ll get a radio hit.” I was really enamored by that for a moment and scared and felt like I needed that. I think that I just know who I am, and I know what my crowd is like and regardless of whether it’s a radio hit or not — I wouldn’t know what a radio hit is — I think people smell that a mile away.
If you have a bad day in the studio, how do you reset and pull yourself out of it or how do you stay in a creative zone if it’s a good day?
I think it’s being with the right people. I think it can be a chemistry thing where you don’t click with one person and that’s okay. They can click with loads of other people and you can love the other songs that they’ve done but it just may not work. And try not to be too hard on yourself about that. Maybe it wasn’t your fault. When you go out dating, you’re not going to go out and fall in love every time. So, I think there’s a similar approach you have to have with the songwriting. It can change in a second in the studio and you can’t put so much pressure on a day or a person. The next day you can have an idea like what the weather is like outside. You can write a really good song if it’s pissing down or if the sun’s out. You just don’t know … I’m such a worrier and I think, “If this doesn’t work then I’m not going to be able to feed my baby.” I need to practice what I preach… being in the present moment, enjoying what’s happening, not overthinking things.
You married your childhood sweetheart. At what point did you know you were in love?
A few dates in, I think. I just thought he was the coolest guy in the world. I still think he’s the coolest guy. Honestly, he doesn’t care what I do. I think he’d much prefer me to be a social worker and do something that’s a proper job. When everything gets a little crazy… I wrote this song about him called “Till the End.” He’s like this anchor. He’s just there and he kind of simplifies everything in the best way possible. He’s the best.
What’s the key to a successful relationship?
I feel like I can’t really give relationship advice because I’ve only been in one serious relationship but if it’s not fun, if it’s too much hassle and taking up too much of your energy, just let it go. I think you’ve got to do pros and cons. If they make you laugh and they make you happy… It’s the simple things. It’s what you’re stuck with at the end. What do you want? Do you want to laugh? You want to fancy them. You want to enjoy their company.
Since we’re in Chicago— on the roof at Cerise at Virgin Hotels — what was your experience like working with Chance the Rapper on “Wonderful Everyday?”
He is amazing. I don’t know if you know the story about how we met. I was at Glastonbury [Festival] and I was watching Sam Smith side stage. I was only watching a little bit of Sam Smith because he was clashing with Dolly Parton. I really wanted to see Dolly Parton, so I kind of did the friend thing and I watched Sam and supported him for like a good five songs. Chance the Rapper was there side stage and I knew who he was but lots of people don’t know it’s me when they meet me. I think everyone thinks I work in PR. So, it’s this thing of like, “What do you do?” And I go, “I sing.” And then they ask, “Oh, who do you sing for?” And I go, “I sing for myself.” They ask for my name and say, “Jessie Ware. Oh shit, I actually know your songs.” It is quite funny and it’s just how it works. I was there just going to enjoy the festival with my husband and Chance and I have this conversation like, “Who do you sing for?” and, “Oh, you’re Jessie Ware?” He was like, “I like you” and he couldn’t really compute. Anyway, then he started this mad Twitter thing being like, “I just met Jessie Ware. How can I meet Jessie Ware again?” Glastonbury is about a hundred thousand people plus. He was very intense, and I loved it. My husband didn’t love it so much, but I loved it. And then he was like, “Dude, I’m going to be in this studio in Islington,” which is near me on the day after. Sam Smith and I partied at Glastonbury and I had no voice left [the next day] because we were singing at the top of our lungs. I went to the studio very hungover and a bit shell-shocked and Chance is there looking lovely with his crew who are the sweetest … I croaked my way through it but I felt like it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. He’s doing amazing stuff and I’m so proud of him.
I love those stories about how people end up connecting and collaborating in the music industry.
Sometimes that’s the best thing about the music industry. You have these weird things that happen and it’s just really serendipitous and like magic. So yeah, I’m very glad that we met in a muddy field.
Speaking of hangovers. Do you have a hangover cure?
Marmite on toast. Do you like Marmite? It’s a salty spread. Vegemite does not cut it. It’s like the beefier version of Vegemite, and we really miss it on tour.
Your music touches so many people. Why is the song “Last of the True Believers” so special to you and your fans?
Should I tell you a story about that? I wrote that and played it to my label five years ago. When I toured the States, I was so bored of playing “Devotion” so I started putting it in the show. I was like, “This song is really important.” None of them got it. My sister reminded me of that song when I was doing this record and I thought, “Screw you all.” It may not have sounded like a radio hit but it has touched so many people and I love performing it. It makes me so happy. I think you’re going to enjoy it tonight and it’s such an important song. I pretty much cry every night. A good song is a good song. Don’t get me wrong, I am under a huge amount of pressure all the time. I put myself under pressure because you have to be relevant. I’m not stupid; if I’m not played on radio then I don’t get to tour. That’s how it is. In the States it’s a bit different. I’ve never played on radio here so it is just about my hardcore fans but there is the pressure, and sometimes I felt swayed and I felt compromised.
What do you want people to take away from “Glasshouse?”
It was my most honest record. It was done at a time of huge uncertainty and this kind of beautiful thing. I guess it’s my most vulnerable record. I would love people to take away that things aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. You’ll learn a little bit more about me that maybe I’ve been hiding for a bit.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I wouldn’t mind having a drink with Kanye just to see what’s going on. Do you know what I mean? But Barack, that would be lovely, and I would have a dirty martini. I feel like he would [too] because he’s that kind of guy. I don’t even know if it would be his tipple, but he’d do that for you.
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KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH at CERISE
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