Jessie Ware is a proper pop star. With her soulful, melancholy vocal, effortlessly elegant songwriting skills and, of course, that striking slicked-back hair, she marks a new era for pop. Her outstanding debut album Devotion combines the ultra-modern feel of downtempo R&B and British electronic music with the melodrama of classic stars like Sade and Whitney Houston. “I'm ready and excited,” she says, of her impending stardom, before chucking in an earthy, “And I got to make a bloody lovely record, with people who are lovely, so I need to enjoy it!”
But it nearly didn't happen at all. South London born Jessie started singing at school, inspired by the romance of her mother's Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter tapes, appearing in musicals and picking up some classical training along the way. But then she got to university and her life began to veer in a different direction. “I didn't think it was ever going to be possible,” she admits, having put her dreams of being a singer on hold. “It always broke my heart a bit. I couldn't even do it as a past-time, because it made me feel too sick to only half do it.”
Instead, she pursued an alternative career as a journalist - “I wanted to be a football reporter for a red top,” she confesses – until a chance phone call from her old friend Jack Penate changed the direction of her life again completely. He remembered she could sing from school, and asked if she'd do backing vocals for him on a Zane Lowe BBC session. She leapt at the chance. “I thought, this is brilliant, it's really fun, singing,” she recalls. “Maybe I could be a backing singer.” Jack took her on tour with him, at first around the UK festival circuit, then to America.
In the States, Jack's guitarist introduced her to the music of a new producer he knew, now going by the name SBTRKT. Appropriately, they ended up writing a song called Nervous.
Thankfully, and obviously, things didn't stop there. With her name on everyone's lips, the time seemed right for an album. But, despite another big guest spot on Joker's The Vision and standout vocals on a number of tracks on SBTRKT's debut album, Jessie wanted to make sure she was truly ready to go it alone, and to forge her own sound.
“I needed to take a step back from being a dance vocalist,” she explains. “As much as I love the underground scene and was lucky enough to be accepted by it, I wanted to set that apart and learn how to be a classic songwriter. It meant working hard, because I didn't want to put out crap. I wanted a bit of longevity. I didn't want to be a flash in the pan.”