Jessie Ware on “What’s Your Pleasure?” – The Extended Interview | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Jessie Ware on “What’s Your Pleasure?” – The Extended Interview

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Aug 03, 2021 Photography by Carlijn Jacobs Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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It is an unfortunate coincidence that in a year when dancfloors around the world were closed, Jessie Ware produced one of the best dance records in recent memory. Her fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, is an ecstatic celebration of sweaty clubs and passionate romance that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve: the sharp, art-world disco of late ’70s New York, the flirtatious pop of ’00s Kylie Minogue, and the open-hearted anthems of Robyn. It was one of 2020’s highlights and also marks a turning point in Ware’s career, moving her towards a sound more in-tune with her outgoing personality.

Following 2017’s Glasshouse, Ware’s career had felt in retreat, trading the club-adjacent pop of her early work for a more conventional radio-friendly sound. What’s Your Pleasure? (which was recently reissued via a deluxe edition as What’s Your Pleasure? The Platinum Pleasure) reasserts her place in alternative music. It’s fortunate too that the album has also sparked a commercial renaissance, earning her two Brit Award nominations and her first UK top five album in eight years. Jessie Ware is back on top—and she’s doing it making the best music of her career. [The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length. It is an extended Q&A of the interview that was the basis for our print article.]

Conrad Duncan (Under the Radar): Hi Jessie! This would be quite an innocuous starting question in a normal year but how has 2020 been for you?

Jessie Ware: Well considering… I feel like I can’t complain, I was able to put a record out and I think it reached people in a different way to the usual more orthodox way. I feel really appreciative of that. I mean, there’s a frustration there but I feel really lucky that I was able to work on just music and keep going. So yeah, it’s a frustrating year, it’s definitely going to be remembered as an odd one but I feel pretty lucky.

Dance music has always been an influence in the background of your music. What made you want to bring it to the foreground on this album?

I think I needed a pick-me-up, to change route—even though it was returning to something, like you say. I needed something different and it was a perfect remedy to that kind of frustration with making music. It’s also been a real gift to me as a songwriter for understanding myself and my fans better. I thought this was the record that the fans wanted and I made it with them in mind. I think that worked out alright, they seem pretty happy.

There’s been a narrative around this album that it’s a bit of a reset after your third record [2017’s Glasshouse], moving away from a more mainstream sound, and yet it’s been possibly your most successful record in some ways. Did the response to it surprise you?

It’s funny because I feel sad for my third record because it’s become a kind of narrative that, I don’t know, that it’s miserable and unsuccessful. I think I looked at that and I had to go to the studio and make an album that I was going to… it’s not that I wasn’t proud of Glasshouse, this is the tough thing with it.

I think I’m not surprised that this record did almost better. I’ve said it before, it made me feel like a new artist again. I had that buzz around me that as an artist who’s on their fourth album and as a 35-year-old woman in music, the buzz starts to dwindle. It felt like this new injection that was really amazing, especially because it was fully on my terms.

I sort of locked myself away from the label and I didn’t listen to the noise from the industry that you can get pulled into. It was James [Ford, producer] and I on a mission just to make people dance and for me to fall back in love with that. I think people can hear that, it cuts through the bullshit. That has probably been the success of it. So yes, I’m not surprised by it but I am

appreciative of it being successful.

Let’s talk about the writing process for it, how did the songs come together? What were you looking for in them?

It was actually the complete opposite of what is portrayed in the record. It was James and I very much on a 10-4 basis—we both have families so we’d dip into the studio and work in the daytime. James is from an electronic dance music background too [as a member of Simian Mobile Disco] and so I think we’ve both got quite good taste in that respect. We wanted to feel like it had relevance in a club. That was our intention even though it couldn’t have been less naughty and wild the way that we made it. We wanted this flirtation and this kind of alter-ego which I haven’t really shown before. The intention was to make people dance and feel sexy.

Who or what were the touchstones for the record? If you were to do a mood board for What’s Your Pleasure?, what would be on it?

Fern Kinney was on it. [Jean-Michel] Basquiat, Blondie… Róisín Murphy always because she is the ultimate icon I feel. It was very much a kind of ’70s/’80s New York dance scene, which I wasn’t a part of. I think I was watching a lot of Pose at the time and Paris Is Burning and very much enjoying that.

The visuals for the album do lean notably queer, was that a conscious decision?

Yeah, there was a total nod to my queer community, which has been there from the start. There was that totally in mind to celebrate them and thank them for sticking with me. Also to give them something with a bit of tempo, which I know they all bloody wanted.

The album also ended up coming out in the middle of a disco revival in pop music, why do you think that sound has come back?

It’s funny isn’t it because I’m sure none of us knew that 2020 was going to be such a shocker. I don’t know but all I know is that people latch onto this kind of music when they want to escape and when they want to feel something different. I think it was a happy accident that this all happened at the same time because it did kind of feel like we were all huddled in a boardroom meeting talking about each other like “she’ll take a more French disco-house approach…” It’s so funny, I wish that had been the case because I would have been in a room with Lady Gaga and Róisín [Murphy] and Dua [Lipa] and Kylie [Minogue]. Alas it wasn’t, it was just weird serendipity.

You said in an interview earlier in [2020] that you wanted to get Kylie on one of the songs, which one were you thinking of?

I always thought of her on “What’s Your Pleasure?”—either Debbie Harry or Kylie on that. Kylie has those moments like “Slow” and “Confide In Me” where you just want to make love to her, she just oozes that sex. I think, I hope, that we’ll go into the studio together—we’re both up for it. I think for a new song, it would have to be something original.

We touched on the less positive reception to Glasshouse a little bit earlier. Do you think people might be able to see it in a new light following this album? It feels stronger to me now as a counterpoint to What’s Your Pleasure?

I hope if people bother to go back to old records of mine they will see that there were elements of What’s Your Pleasure? within those records. That’s why I feel like the fans that have been with me from the beginning have relished this new record so much, because it still has those Jessie Ware-isms in it—if you’ll forgive me for talking in the third person.

I think… thank-you, I’m so proud of Glasshouse and the fact that I opened myself up on a topic that I didn’t feel that comfortable talking about—motherhood and struggling with that. I don’t think people wanted to hear that, maybe one person who’s a mother or a father did. Perhaps people will go back to it and enjoy it but if they don’t that’s okay too.

This leads onto the question of what comes next, whether What’s Your Pleasure? is the start of a new sound for you or a detour. Is that something you’ve thought about in the six months since its release?

Yeah, I’m halfway through my new record now and it feels great. It feels like an extension of What’s Your Pleasure? It’s part two but it’s not a B-side version of part two. It’s more live, it’s upbeat, it’s got tempo. It feels empowering writing it and I’m feeling confident. What’s Your Pleasure? awakened a confidence which has been so incredible for me as a songwriter and an artist and a mother and a woman and all of that. I’m feeling good about this new record.

Does that mean you’re working with the same people like James Ford?

Yeah, hopefully he’ll be doing it. We’ve written a lot of stuff together. And Joe Mount [from Metronomy], me and him have a really lovely song together again like how we did “Adore You” from the last record. It’s Shungudzo [Alexandra Govere] and Danny Parker and James and [Clarence] Coffee—who I adore—and who knows who else. It’s lovely. I think we can keep on going and the fact that we’ve been having to do the majority of sessions over Zoom and it’s working—that’s really interesting.

Is that something people can look forward [in 2021]?

Well, I’m so not precious about keeping music from people so as long as my label is cool with it, I’ll be putting stuff out. It’s the least an artist can do at the moment.

[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now, as a bonus feature. This is its debut online.]

Read our 2017 Self-Portrait interview with Jessie Ware.

Read our 2014 interview with Jessie Ware.

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