Jessie Ware has made her third album and her first baby, recording and touring the former with the latter. On stage in London she told the crowd that this new life meant, “I have some things to write about now.” Typically subtle and sultry, the new record Glasshouse is also disarmingly personal, with songs addressing her mother, songs about the effects of parenthood on her marriage, songs about the guilt of leaving her daughter. And yet for all the sophisticated polish of her music, Ware is still anxious, cheeky, apologetic and sweet, one of few pop stars that you genuinely want to be mates with. We emailed mid-tour as she sat at home in London before traveling to Brussels. Her family were out, and it was a rare moment of silence.
How are you feeling, right now? Where are you, what can you see, what are you wearing (not in a creepy way)?
I’m just sitting in front of a quite miserable beetroot, ginger and apple smoothie, my vocal steamer that looks like a bong, some dead flowers. It’s not the most exciting view, apart from my Sade poster, that’s nice.
What was your experience of pregnancy and birth and all that? Did it change you?
I got really obsessed with my pregnancy and saw this kind of Ayurvedic guru, a birth guru called Gowri Motha who I absolutely adored and he promised that I’d have a really wonderful, relaxing birth and I’d just breathe the baby out – well, I didn’t breathe the baby out, I BEGGED for drugs. I wasn’t allowed them because I’d done this stupid sodding natural birth plan, so the midwives wouldn’t give me an epidural. Anyway, I did live through it and Gowri was amazing in hindsight, and I actually had a great pregnancy. I was quite strict on myself (apart from drinking wine because that’s all I craved)… and the birth was nine days late. I fell out with my mother because she kept joking that I was overdue and I was highly sensitive. But actually the birth was probably the best thing me and my husband have ever done. We actually ended up using the TRX band that he uses as a personal trainer and hooked it over the door, then squatted her out. It was pretty magical. I had the most amazing midwife who was a lovely guy from Spain called Emilio and it was just really, really special. I felt so, kind of… present. I’m really happy I was present, maybe it’s quite good that I wasn’t on loads of drugs. At one point I did feel kind of like I was at Secret Garden Party chugging on gas and air, then vomiting straight after. That was kind of cool.
Did you have a ‘birth playlist’ and if so what was on it? (ps. I did and you were)
Oh my god, thank you so much for putting me on your playlist! I did have a playlist! I thought about it really late and just kind of did it quite slap-dash. I put Sade on there, ‘Diamond Life’. I put Paul Buchanan from the Blue Nile (who’s actually on my record) on there. He’s got this amazing solo record called ‘Mid-air’ which is kind of like a lullaby. I used to use it to go to sleep on planes, so I put that on while I was having contractions and thought I was really bossing it. But that was a really gorgeous time, we’d done all the beanbags and low-lit lighting and aromatherapy, so ‘Mid-air’ was a really beautiful moment (but that was before the pain got ridiculous). Quite embarrassingly but maybe quite wonderfully, my baby emerged to a really muted version of ‘One Love’ – Bob Marley. I think Bob Marley must have been put right at the end of the playlist after Frank Ocean and… I don’t know, it was not my best curation to be honest but it did make me laugh that she came out to ‘One Love’ whilst I was screaming.
What do you remember of those early days with your daughter? Because – you were working all through, right?
I remember feeling guilty about not working but then also feeling guilty when I was working. I guess I just felt guilty the whole time, really. I think I felt I had a point to prove that I wasn’t going to take a year off and be just a mother, however that does actually sound pretty bloody wonderful. I felt like I needed to prove to everybody that because I’d made this decision to have a baby during writing my third record that I was going to deliver that record efficiently and it was going to be my best work yet and I could show them all that I could do it all, because they may have doubted me. So I had this crazy drive and ambition and now looking back, now that the record’s been out for a couple of days I actually don’t know how I did that because it seems a bit mental. I mean, I know how I did it, I had a lot of bloody help! I had my mum and my husband being absolute diamonds. I didn’t feel as confident as I thought I would when I became a mother. I felt like I was in a bit of a fog for the first six weeks. I was quite worried that I didn’t know what I was doing… that’s subsided a little bit. I absolutely adore being my baby’s mother but she scares me a bit. I think she’s quite similar to me, so she’s incredibly stubborn and strong-willed. But I’ve definitely felt the guilt come in again when I feel like I’ve been away from her too much. She’s started to develop favourites, going back and forth between me and my husband. It definitely hurts a bit more when she’s favouring daddy for a bit – it just makes you feel even more guilty.
I remember feeling guilty about not working but then also feeling guilty when I was working.
As you get older, what are the most important things you’re learning about love, and family? And how does this contribute to your work?
I think that I have a bit more of a purpose for my work now, because of my little girl, and a bit more of a drive now because I just want to make her so proud and motivated herself to try and work as hard as she can to achieve what she wants. I want to be an example of that. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a really hard year for family. Even though it’s been magical, I feel like in some ways by working so hard I’ve neglected that, in a sense. I know it’s only for a short time and even though we’re together pretty much all the time, it still sits slightly uncomfortably with me. It also makes you think that nothing else really matters as much as family and love. However hard I’m working it actually could be so much more simple and it could just be family, and I’d be pretty satisfied and happy. I think she’s definitely made me better at my job but those early days when she was just born I don’t know what was going on. I was doing sessions, but I was making sure I was only doing them for a really short amount of time because I wanted to be there in the first bit of the day, be her mum, then go when she was sleeping, and be back to give her food, bath and bed. I stuck to that and people really respected that and I appreciate them being so respectful and supportive of my system of how to juggle it at the beginning. I feel far more focused – Annie Mac told me I’d feel like that, she said “You’ll work harder and better” and I really believe that has happened since my daughter has come along. I wrote most of the record since she’s been alive.
How famous do you want to be? Is there somebody you see who’s doing it perfectly?
I don’t know if I want to be that famous, to be honest, but I would love to have more people know about my music. That may mean that I’d get more famous and I don’t know how I’d deal with that. I think I’m more aware of the fame thing now that I have a daughter because I want her to feel as anonymous as possible, because she didn’t decide to do this. I think it’s already quite weird for my husband when people recognise him, they’ve asked for his autograph and stuff… and I don’t want this weird bit of the job (which is completely fine by me, people are so lovely to me) to become a normality in my daughter’s life. I think for me it’s about feeling like my songs are reaching more people, but I guess that makes you more famous. I don’t know who does it really well. I mean, I’m kind of obsessed with Victoria Beckham’s children. I know everyone knows what they look like and everything but, they just look like the most polite children in the world. I kind of always model myself on this idea of Sade and Annie Lennox, because I didn’t know who their children were or what they looked like and they were able to be thought of as singers and it wasn’t about the celebrity aspect… I dunno, it’s kind of a suck-it-and-see but, so far it’s going okay.
What is the perfect song?
I think ‘Waiting In Vain’ by Bob Marley is a perfect song. I think it’s got the right amount of romance in it and longing, and yearning and bitter-sweet brilliant melodies. I mean, I’m just gonna list some of my favourite songs but I think… ‘Nothing Compares To You’ is a pretty perfect song, along with Sinead O’Connor’s video. Just brilliant on both levels. The perfect song I think is something that moves you, resonates with you and fucking has a bit that you really wanna bloody sing. Actually – I think ‘Running Up That Hill’ is a perfect song, sonically it feels still so fresh and it’s got the best backing vocals. That “Come on baby, come on darling’” – I like the theatre of it and it’s just a really amazing concept and melody. So yeah, scrap everything else. I reckon just Kate Bush – ‘Running Up That Hill’.
What makes you angry? Feel free to go into detail.
I’m trying to be a bit less of an angry person, I think I’m a bit of a control freak so at the moment I’m really not enjoying other people’s incompetence, when it’s out of my hands, it’s really not that fun. I mean… Donald Trump makes me pretty bloody angry. He kind of amazes me – every week it’s something new. But I’m trying to be a bit more of a peaceful person so maybe I shouldn’t be focusing on him…
Are you a political person?
I’ve never really regarded myself as a particularly political person but since I’ve been doing the press for this album lots of people have been talking to me about going to the women’s march and that I was very vocal about supporting Sadiq Khan, and being a Labour supporter and I guess… I don’t feel like I’m particularly political, I just feel like I’m a little engaged. I have opinions and I have a platform that I use and that can rile people up. It can also hopefully inspire them to even just engage a little more. I think since having my daughter I think I’m slightly more worried about the future of this world than I was before.
I remember years ago discussing antisemitism with you. Is that something you still knock up against?
I think there’s still really kind of casual antisemitism that is around, like – I dunno if it’s just me but when people say how many ‘shekles’… the implication that Jews are tight, it really pisses me off. I’m sure the Twitter trolls will come after me again and if they do, bring it on. It’s fine, I’ll deal with them. Or my mother will.
Do you still feel nervous about performing? How do you deal with that?
I still feel nervous but I’m trying to kind of channel it into nerves that are quite positive. I’m trying to really, really change my attitude to performing and not feel like “it’s now or never, you can’t mess this up”. I have to remember the fact that your heart is going like the clappers is actually adrenaline and it’s a positive thing, it means that you care about what you’re doing still. I was really nervous before the Islington shows I did and luckily enough I had a Guardian reviewer who couldn’t stand me on the first night! I think I was just kind of finding my way and I’m still kind of learning how to get back in the saddle, really. It’s been a while and I didn’t tour the last record that much but it is the best part of it. I feel so lucky doing this job and having people pay money to come and see me… and I’m gonna bloody enjoy that because you never know when it’s going to be over. So I’m just going to try and be in the moment a bit more, if that doesn’t sound too mumbo-jumbo.
Do you have any career regrets? How about huge ambitions left to fill?
A few regrets about how the last campaign rolled out but I don’t think it was completely detrimental. I’ve definitely grown up a bit and feel like I understand the industry this time round, and I’m more able to make better decisions now but that’s come with time. The ambitions that I’ve got are about playing in the States. I’ve got this hunger for the States, just because my audience is so fun there… There’s always the pressure of having a hit there (which I’ve never had) and I feel like until I have a hit I won’t be at ease. That would make everyone relax a bit! But what is a hit? It’s all a bit hypothetical.
What does the world need now?
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. I think that’s it. Loads of it… and I’ll leave it there I think, before I go on an angry rant or something.