"I've done enough ballads in my life..." Jessie Ware talks re-releasing What's Your Pleasure? and her plans for the follow-up
When the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic set in, the instinct of most of the entertainment industry was to throw everything, even projects that were locked and loaded, into the deep freeze.
Musicians and bands have complex album roll-outs, which normally involve a lot of travelling and a fair chunk of live shows, neither of which have been possible over the last year, so lots have opted to hold fire and wait until a version of normality returns.
When it was put to Jessie Ware that she might push back her fourth album, What's Your Pleasure, from its slot at the end of June 2020, she flatly declined. That meant an album that had been written for sweaty dancefloors and designed for festival fields had to find a home inside living rooms and kitchens.
But find a home it has. Written with and produced by James Ford, whose credits include Arctic Monkeys, Friendly Fires, Foals and so many more, the album was an upbeat collection with dynamic grooves and elegant soul. It's yielded nine singles, sold handsomely and has been successful enough to demand a new deluxe edition, What's Your Pleasure?, The Platinum Pleasure Edition, which is out now.
We spoke to Ware about why she wanted to expand the album and how its follow-up is progressing...
This is something of a victory lap for What's Your Pleasure?, it's a nice position to be in...
"It's had such an insanely positive reaction, in spite of the fact it came out in such an odd time. It's been a year since the release, but people have been desperate for new songs and I really wasn't ready to leave it alone..."
You put it out during the height of the pandemic, was there any pressure to move it?
"There was one offer to move it and I was adamant that I wasn't going to do it. It was such a desperate time and I think it would have incredibly selfish to move it. I was appreciating music so much in lockdown, I'd never relied on it more. It was a total no-brainer for me to hold the date."
How do you look back on making the record? What kind of experience was it? Stressful? Relaxed?
"It was the most wonderful thing. It reminded me of making my first album and it's made me understand how I work well now. It was me and James in his attic with a very small selection of songwriters. It was incredibly nurturing and intimate and that's how I work best. I know how to enjoy making a record now."
You worked with lots of different writers and producers on your previous record, Glasshouse, did you know that you didn't want to repeat the process?
"Glasshouse was such an odd experience. I was very pregnant for some of it, then I had a baby and I had to bring my daughter to Los Angeles at three months old and then again at six months old. Though she did get good at flying, it was quite disorientating and that whole album making is a bit of a blur. It's much easier to make a coherent record if you stay with the same person."
James Ford has worked on some very big records, Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine, Foals, what's he like to work with?
"He's incredibly relaxed and has the smallest ego I've ever known in a producer, despite how huge he is. He really enjoyed it too, because we were writing together and it gave every song real ownership and pride for him. He's very easy to work with and he respected and celebrated my ideas. I'm going to do the new record with him too. Songwriting and producing is a very strange and intense relationship. You're working long hours and honing in on creativity and it gets incredibly intense. You've really got to get on."
He made this way as a DJ as part of Simian Mobile Disco and your first forays were with SBTRKT, does having that shared path help?
"He's got such amazing taste and he loves dance music. I told him 'I want to make a Jessie Ware dance record', I wanted elements of disco, house, groove and soul, and that's what he wanted to hear from me. He's a wizard with beats and synths, and I'd sing over it. It worked so well."
You got to put down some strings in Abbey Road, which for any music fan must be a big deal...
"That was a really lovely moment. It was right at the end of the album, just before Covid, I got to watch an orchestra go to work, which was incredible. I felt like I was making a Bond theme."
When were these new tracks done? Do they come from the album sessions or have they been made since?
"Some were done as part of the first sessions for the album and it's quite weird how they suddenly make more sense now. Some have been written later on, and a few are tracks I've been dropping to keep fans happy."
You've not been able to tour the record as yet, but you're booked to go out in December, you must be very excited...
"I'll believe it when I see it. It still feels like it could easily not happen. I want everything to be so fun. Loads of energy, loads of dancing and I feel like fans have had so much time with the record that they'll know it inside out. I'm 35 weeks pregnant, so I'm not ready to start rehearsing and practising dance routines. I'm worried it'll wiggle the baby out! We'll be rehearsing in November, it'll be a very intense month and then we'll be good to go."
Have you started planning the set? What's Your Pleasure? kind of has a groove of its own, do your older songs need to fit around that?
"I feel like I'd love to just do What's Your Pleasure? in its entirety, but I will honour my past records too, they'll just have to fit in the world of What's Your Pleasure?. I have to play the songs people know me for. There will be plenty of old fan favourites."
That tour bookends your year, how is 2022 looking? Are you busy?
"Judging by my diary, very busy, it doesn't stop. Festivals are coming in now. I've not got any tours booked for 2022, but I imagine there will be more, and I'll have a new record out."
How far along are you with that?
"I've written a lot of it. I need to have the time to produce it and finish it. We're doing well, it's 75% written."
Have you found inspiration easy to come by? It must be hard when we've been ordered to stay put...
"I've worked with the same people, albeit not in the same room. I've been working over Zoom with Shungudzo Govere and Danny Parker and because we know each other inside out, it's been okay. I wouldn't want to do with anybody else. I'm hoping they can come over and we can write together in October. It hasn't stopped me from being creative, but the tone is different, the feeling of separation makes for interesting results."
What are those sessions like technically? Are you forever having someone's Wi-Fi drop out?
"You get used to it. James is so technical that I don't notice. It's a bit of the pain in the arse and the demos you get are very, very scratchy. 'Eyes Closed' from the Deluxe Edition was written over Zoom and it's come out nicely. I'm in the room with James and you get a bit of face to face with that. But I want to get Shungudzo and Danny in a room, so we can carry on and so we can celebrate what we achieved on What's Your Pleasure?"
No artist wants to make the same record twice, so having achieved great results on this album, will it be a challenge to know what to change?
"It's why I did the Deluxe. I'm adamant that the new one won't be What's Your Pleasure? Number Two. It's still going to be high-energy, I want to keep that going, I've done enough ballads in my life. Maybe there will be a few more live instruments and some different kinds of rhythm."
As well as releasing your deluxe edition, your book is also out this week and you've got your podcast too. It's a lot...
It feels wild at the moment. I've got so much going on. But when I go into that room to write music, I really appreciate that and there was a time when I'd stopped appreciating that. I love making the podcasts and I've found a good balance. I also can't believe I've fitted the book in. I'm trying to cram everything in before I give birth. This album and the podcast have given me such confidence, I really felt like I could do anything/ Writing a book is not as fun as writing a song, but I'm really proud of myself for doing it. It was such a daunting thing, but it's not as good as writing disco."