Q&A: Jessie Ware brings her ‘Tough Love’ to America

English pop-soul recording artist Jessie Ware.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

Jessie Ware is exhausted. A few weeks back the 30-year-old English R&B singer was amid a promotional tour for her recently released sophomore effort, “Tough Love,” and though she fought off a few yawns and is feeling jet-lagged from the flight to the West Coast (a European run was first), it otherwise doesn’t show. The adrenaline from the previous night’s show in San Francisco — and the L.A. weather — is powering her through a grueling schedule.

For her new album, Ware took the sultry, electronic-soul that drove her 2012 debut, “Devotion” — which earned critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic — and gave it a bolder edge with the help of new collaborators like Miguel, Ed Sheeran and Benny Blanco, who has produced big hits for Katy Perry, Maroon 5 and Britney Spears.

“Tough Love” aims to make Ware more accessible to pop audiences, even if so far it has been overlooked by U.S. consumers (the album debuted at No. 50 on the Billboard pop charts last week). Before a sound check for a private event in Venice later in the evening and a sold-out show at the Tower Theater the following night, Ware discussed her new album, testing out the pop waters and breaking America.

You sound more confident on “Tough Love.” What triggered that?


I knew myself a bit better. I was completely in control of the first record, but a bit of experience helped me. Some of the people I worked with wanted to test me and see how far they could push me. That’s why I love collaborating. There’s a tension. You don’t always disagree or you completely agree and it’s magic, but in that tension everyone has a valid point.

Miguel, Ed Sheeran, Devonte Hynes and Benny Blanco had a hand in half the album, which may surprise listeners. How did that happen?

Through my friend Ben Ash [better known as artist-producer Two Inch Punch], they worked together when they were really young, before Benny was “Benny Blanco.” I met him a few years ago, and I was like, who is this cocky guy? He could come across very intimidating on paper, but I felt really at ease with him, and that’s to his credit. When it got to the point of starting to write for this record, I went and tried two weeks with them in New York. It was more to get away; there was no pressure. I still had loads of touring to do. I had just done Coachella. It was magic. I knew Benny didn’t want to make the music he was well known for, but I definitely think he helped guide me to create maybe more direct pop.

How did you keep the album sounding like you while working with new producers?

It’s my voice. I don’t think I’ve changed my style … but I’ve shown more of my voice. There’s a lot more people that I worked with on this record. But I was more decisive, and I knew what I thought, and hoped, my audience wanted from me after interacting with them for two years. This is an album I wanted to stand up for a long time. I wanted it to be something you can put in your car. I made a lot of it in L.A., so there is sunshine and optimism. I wanted it to feel vibrant but also not to impose itself too much.

The first album came during a wave of British pop-soul acts breaking big, but you were mostly overlooked. Do you think there will be more attention this time?

You never ... know what’s going to work. My first song to chart in the U.K. was “Tough Love.” Personally I thought “Wildest Moments” should have charted, but it didn’t do anything. It became this culty thing. And I love that it maintains this secret between me and my fans.

Do you feel that maybe there’s still something to prove to listeners?

I feel like there’s a real affinity with my American fans. ... I loved it when I toured the States and they’d be like, “Sing it, girl!” It gave me the confidence to push it a bit further on this record. “Keep On Lying,” I would have not have done that on the first record. It’s completely over the top. It’s me trying to tap into Boyz II Men and Kate Bush with a grime beat. “Kind Of ... Sometimes ... Maybe,” I couldn’t have written without Miguel saying, “You can get away with this, I want to hear you sing this.” Even the first show in San Francisco, immediately with “Champagne Kisses” they got it. They are punching their fists in the air — it’s what I wanted.

Does that get you more excited to go back on the road next year?

Having that show last night it doesn’t matter that I was jet lagged, and had minimal sleep. It was beautiful. I recognized people in the crowd, and that’s why you do it. You don’t do it to sell … loads of records or the numbers or units or whatever. You do it for that wonderful interaction that’s so magical.

Twitter: @GerrickKennedy