The Party’s Not Over Yet: Jessie Ware on her new Platinum Pleasure release and finding her voice
Throughout The Great Pause of 2020, the forced reflection we all shared meant many began to seriously ponder what was really important. In a year like no other, the power of connection, love, joy and liberation in a time when we were disconnected, alone and confined was explored by many in many different ways. We found new ways to connect and celebrate; we treasured love and joy like never before; and we reflected on how we liberated ourselves and found new avenues to let go.
In the same year, we were also treated to a slew of records which helped guide this. We had genre-defining releases such as that of HAIM, innovative steps forward from Charli XCX, heart wrenching emotional voyages care of Phoebe Bridgers, and many, many tributes to the dancefloors we all longed to return to. These tributes came from all different sides of the dance/pop intersection, with ingenious women leading the charge: Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Roisin Murphy, Lady Gaga and Jessie Ware all unleashed their homages to dance, good times, connection and the thrill of it all. The latter’s doubled as her biggest release to date in her career so far, which has seen her become a celebrated singer and songwriter, adored alt-pop figure, podcast host, author and globe-touring artist. Titled ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’, Jessie Ware’s 2020 release was one of pure dance-oriented joy.
A steamy, unashamedly sexual, yearning and ultimately cathartic release, ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ was the culmination of years of Ware’s hard work. She’d gone from a star on the rise with her debut album, Devotion, in 2012, to an artist searching for meaning and to speak her truth five years later on 2017’s Glasshouse. While still critically acclaimed, the response to Glasshouse wasn’t as expected, and Ware even contemplated throwing it in altogether. However, in 2020, she returned in full force and emancipated from the tethers that bound her to her journey so far, and took it upon herself to rewrite the rulebook on her own terms. Now, armed with the power that only comes from truly backing yourself and doing things on your own terms, Ware was ready to create what would become her very best release yet.
Connecting with fans all over the world, new and old, Ware’s ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ quickly became one of the year’s most well received albums, and was included in many end-of-year lists as one of 2020’s finest. And, not one to let her fans down, Ware wasn’t quite ready to wrap up the party some 12 months later, releasing a “Platinum Pleasure” deluxe edition of her 2020 masterpiece.
The record, which was released after a dripfeed of singles which whipped fans into a frenzy for the first half of 2021, is a victory lap for Ware. Not only comprising the original tracklisting, it includes five more original songs and an official release of a remix courtesy of Endless — all of which hold their own in the mix with the album’s first iteration. From the infectious ‘Please’, to the steamy ‘Hot N Heavy’, the yearning and deeply emotive ‘0208’ featuring Kindness to the almost jarring gentleness of ‘Pale Blue Light’, the Platinum Pleasure edition of ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ is the perfect antidote to another confusing, unprecedented year and another powerful tribute to the dancefloor. Here, we speak to a very-heavily-pregnant Jessie via Zoom on the eve of not only her album release, but her debut book, Omelet, finding your voice, new meanings and why she has the best job ever.
It’s been such a crazy year. Has the album in its original form taken on any new meaning for you yourself looking back now?
Yeah, I think that’s been inherited by the fans and the kind of meaning it’s taken on with them. [The album came] out in lockdown and it kind of gave this space for the record that wouldn’t have been there if I’d been touring it, or if we’ve been in a normal space. I feel like it gave it more of a focused attention and people could live with it and really appreciate it. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, does it? When we’re so fast paced, but now we’ve all had to slow down.
So for me, that’s been a huge benefit of the record coming out at that time, even though that’s like the only benefit of COVID. I feel kind of a bit cheeky for saying that even. For me, I think just seeing how people interpreted songs, like ‘Save A Kiss’ — during lockdown, it was not a song that was intended to be written for a pandemic. It was me apologising to my family for being away from home all the time, because I’m working too hard. That was it, but now I can’t really think of it as anything other than us all being a part. It’s quite amazing how music can kind of move and change, even for the writer! That’s amazing.
Do you think that there’s a point with any of your songs really, but particularly these ones where it does become not just yours anymore? You release it and it does take on a life of its own in so many different people’s lives. Does it feel that way for you as well, Jessie?
Yes, and I love it. I think my job as a musician is to make music for others as well. Yeah, you’ve got to love it and you make it for yourself and you’ve got to really enjoy it, but that’s my offering to people. That’s how I communicate with people and my fans and it’s the greatest honor to be able to do that. To be able to offer something up and for them to own it and then to take it and then to choose to share it with somebody else. That’s the beauty of this job.
This platinum edition is so exciting because these songs are brilliant in their own sense, they’re not just offcuts left on the studio floor. Can you talk to me about why you were including these or what you felt you still needed to have to say this time around?
I felt like I just wanted to keep the energy up and I wanted to keep it going. I don’t think it was necessarily about saying anything. I do feel like with a song like Please, I was reticent about putting it on the first record. I think it would have stood out like a sore thumb amongst What’s Your Pleasure?, maybe I’m wrong because people have really dug it.
I love it.
And I love it, but I think it had to take a whole year of people loving this record for me personally, to feel confident enough to bring out a song like Please, which felt out of my comfort zone. And now that I can hear it, I’m like, “That’s so fucking stupid!” I was overthinking it. The mood for the Deluxe was definitely like late, late, late night and a bit more kind of acidy. So it felt like it was in a slightly different well to the What’s Your Pleasure? Like a different decade. So that was something that really was important to tie them together. I’m always quite obsessed with there being a coherency and it not just being like someone’s put together. I think that’s when people really celebrate an album and that’s what people have done here because they can listen to it from start to finish and it has a journey. And I think the Deluxe does that too.
You’ve teamed up with the visionary that is Kindness, who I believe is one of the most underrated talents in the world. I thought it was very interesting because they did work with you on Step Into My Life, correct? But they’re also credited as a feature artist, the only feature artist credited here. Can you talk to me about why Kindness and why this song?
Kindness is a friend of mine and they are very underrated, as you have said. They’re very talented. I felt like we did many, many songs and they spent lots of time with me and lots of the songs didn’t make the record. And so, I love this song. Now I know that 0208, for me, it’s more like an R&B interlude in the record, and it’s a very personal song. It’s about me being a teenager, ringing up my now-husband and us being teenagers. Everyone’s had that feeling of not wanting to put the phone down to that person, we’ve all had that feeling. So for me, Kindness tapped into that with me and so willing to make something quite sentimental. We wrote it ages ago. For me to have Kindness as the only featured artist, it was more to celebrate Kindness as the artist that they are and also the fact that their production on that tune, it’s so spectacular. If you listen to that with headphones on, it’s like it takes you to another world. I’m just proud of my friend, and it was a very small offering of just celebrating an artist that I love and a producer that I love.
As I was researching for this piece, I read about you discussing the gratitude that you had for that formative scene of the Disclosure guys and SBTRKT, and that dance scene that really kind of did make space for you in the early days — and this beautiful kind of almost full circle moment of now revisiting it on this album. How has it been for you personally to be able to revisit those sounds where it might’ve essentially all begun for you?
I think it’s just really lovely to have it in a time where I now feel that I’m not this nervous artist that’s kind of apologising for being in the room. They’re all my friends, and I keep on getting memories hit back to me of that time, that crazy time when Disclosure and I were out with our first records and it was wild! I’d go from performing on a stage for my record, to then going and playing at their gig in a club next door or at a festival and us dancing. It was just fun and it was wild. I adored it, it was so warm and sweet. But, all those years before, I didn’t have the confidence that I have now. It’s been really nice to revisit it, but more on my terms as an artist and as a 36-year-old woman who is making her decisions. James, my producer, is so brilliant at including me. There’s no ego -not that there’s ego with Disclosure or SBTRKT- but we collaborate. I’m not a named producer, but like we produced the things together, and it’s very much a collaborative effort. James is the producer, don’t get me wrong, but he listens and I feel like my voice and my opinions are valid and that’s taken a long time.
Disclosure is such a good example of that. It’s this thing where producers are able to almost give the people that they’re working with almost like a buy-in. They’re able to say, “This is just as much yours as it is mine.” And then you start to really connect, and it sounds like that’s what’s happened with James and you creating these songs, and even with Kindness as well.
Yeah. And I think I needed to just kind of dial it back. I didn’t want to go all over the world and work with all the super producers. Even though like Benny Blanco is one of my best mates, he drives me fucking mad in the studio, we want to kill each other. But I still love working with him, but that’s not how I wanted to do this record. I wanted to be near my house. I wanted to be near my children. I wanted to not have this pressure on me that I was flying across the world to make “a hit”. I wanted to make music with a friend in an attic and dance.
I love this because to me, you’re talking about how now you’ve got the confidence and you wanted to do things on your terms. It feels almost defiant or even rebellious to do that when there would be so much pressure to, I guess, make a particular type of record or follow down a particular path. You were even saying around when Glasshouse came out, that you felt like you were being put into a serious Debbie Downer kind of bracket, and you’ve really busted that open now. Do you feel that now that’s completely been taken back on your terms?
Yeah, totally. I feel sad for the Glasshouse album, because I feel that this album, of course has overshadowed it and that’s absolutely fine, but it kind of becomes like a binary, kind of opposite: one feels like a failure, one feels like it was a huge roaring success. Whereas one was a stepping stone to being able to make this record and decisions to make, and actually, I feel like my songwriting really improved on Glasshouse. I think I was kind of bold in the fact that I didn’t think people wanted to hear an album about a woman struggling with being a mother. I didn’t think people were interested in that and that’s absolutely fine. People want to dance, especially this year. God, imagine if I brought out Glasshouse last year!
I never wanted to be pigeon holed, even on my first record, Devotion. There were references from so many different places, whether it was electronica, it was R&B, just classic songwriting. Pop, hip-hop, all of that it’s on there. I think when I started to get pigeonholed into this pop lane, it didn’t sit right with me. I don’t know what kind of artist I am. I don’t think I’m necessarily a pop artist, but I know that I’m making popular music at the moment, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the stuff that you hear on the radio all the time, and that’s how I like it.
In a way it kind of sounds like What’s Your Pleasure wouldn’t have been able to exist without Glasshouse. You did learn a lot in that time to be able to know who you want to work with, you know that you want to work closer to home. You want to be closer to your family, all that stuff you wouldn’t have learned had you not gone through that. Is that kind of how you’re reflecting in that way now?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it propelled me to make different decisions: move labels, leave management, change lanes. I’m one of the lucky ones where I was allowed to do that because I could have got dropped, I could have. But I had people that kind of have belief in me and I’ve had that from the beginning, and they’ve had almost more belief in me than I did. I just needed to take the initiative to have the belief in me and now that’s there, which is great and very, very reassuring.
You’re releasing this new edition into just as a crazy chaotic world as you released the original one. What do you want fans to be able to take away from it this time round? What’s one thing that you want your fans to be able to connect with this time?
I think to connect with that optimism that we are nearly out of this situation, maybe. Plain and simple, it’s more music for my fans that have been so incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of the first round. That is what it is. There’s nothing else to read into it. It’s fucking music there for you, there you go and I’ll have more music next year! And I’ll probably have more music at the end of the year! I think times have changed where you kind of have to go and hide away. I’m not overexposed so I think I’m okay. Weirdly, I’m not overexposed because I have a podcast, I have a book!
You’re pretty exposed actually, but in a good way!
I’m exposed but potentially there’s no fatigue around me yet. You know when you’re just like, “Oh jeez, I have to do that bloody face again.” People are still discovering me. That’s really exciting. I’m going to new territories with this music. Australia was not interested in me in the last two records and now we’re chatting, which is lovely. I just think that you don’t need to go and hide away for two years and live underground and then be like, “Bang I’m back!” It doesn’t need to be like that. I make music. People like music. People ingest music now, they want it all the time. It’s insatiable, people’s appetite for it. Because of things like Spotify and streaming, you don’t have to do it in a traditional sense. And so for me I’m like, “I just want to give the music to people. There you go, enjoy it. There’s some more music.”
‘What’s Your Pleasure? The Platinum Pleasure Edition’ by Jessie Ware is out now.
Interview by Emma Jones