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Jessie Ware talks ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’

Jessie Ware has her fingers in a bunch of pies and if her podcast is anything to go by, they’re probably all perfectly crispy on the outside and filled with flavourful, seasonally fresh fillings to bite joyfully into. She’s best known for her upbeat dance anthems, which are inspired by her teenage years partying in the rave and club scene.

She began as a backup singer for friend, Jack Penate, who was touring, supporting Miike Snow in the United States. The promise of performing, creating and travelling with a live music troupe was exciting enough to lure the young graduate away from a secure, predictable job and life in London. Fortunately for music lovers globally, her bravura paid off and she has established a solo career that’s seen her perform throughout the UK, AUS, Europe and Australia.

Her multi-talented world takeover is underway, but it occasionally has to accommodate putting her kids to bed and hunting down perfect ham-and-cheese croquetas in Barcelona.

“I probably don’t sit and reflect on my achievements enough,” says Ware from the bathroom of her London home. “My husband says I’m never in the present. I’m always thinking about the next thing.”

Ware is secluded in her bathroom while her children eat dinner with the nanny downstairs. This proves to be the only quiet place she can be assured of not being distracted nor imposing on her family while meeting her current album promo obligations.

“Whether I’m having breakfast and thinking about lunch, or whatever, I don’t stop enough. I am excited about it all though and I do appreciate that I get to do loads of great stuff.

“I was about to do law before I got a record deal. I wanted to study Family Law. My mum’s a social worker when she’s not hosting a podcast with me. My brother has a proper job as a doctor. For me, the fact my sister and I are both in arts and music is very odd considering nobody else in our family is. I totally went for the sensible job, but then I got very, very lucky and was pulled into this industry.”

It was after a long tour with Penate, supporting Miike Snow in the US that Ware was introduced to Sampha and SBTRKT. After doing vocals on the SBTRKT single ‘Nervous’ in 2010, Ware co-wrote ‘Valentine’ with Sampha, which was released on by label Young Turks in 2011. The success of both singles lead to an eventual deal with PMR Records. “It wasn’t like I was searching for a deal. It was very lucky, really.”

The latest album, What’s Your Pleasure? is a nostalgic, pulsating distillation of clubbing in the 1990s. It’s glamorous, colourful, seductive and energetic. It’s not all disco lights and glitter balls, though.

“Club music is so energetic, moody and euphoric. You go through all the emotions when you’re in the club. The last song on the record, ‘Remember Where You Are’, came about after watching a lot of Handmaid’s Tale and this sort of dystopian world invaded my imagination. I’m really proud of that song, it feels really apt for now.”

Ware’s dance music career has been rivalled by her career as a podcast host and foodie more recently, with the launch of Table Manners. The premise is that she and her mother have dinner with a celebrity and proceed to discuss all manner of food, creativity, life and love. So successful is it that the show is currently in its ninth season, with guests including Florence Pugh, Josh Groban, Ellie Goulding and John Legend.

“…I’ve got the Mayor of London sitting in my mum’s living room, and I do have these pinch-yourself moments of thinking this is incredibly unique.”

“We had John Legend over Zoom because of lockdown,” she recalls. “I just swore the whole time because I didn’t know how to ask questions, I have so much respect for him! I’m so embarrassed, I just swore and swore. I had so many questions for Tracey Thorne from Everything But The Girl that I just sort of barked all these questions at her because I wanted to fit everything in. I absolutely still get starstruck. It’s one of these things where I go, right, I’ve got Dua Lipa for dinner at 6pm or I’ve got the Mayor of London sitting in my mum’s living room, and I do have these pinch-yourself moments of thinking this is incredibly unique.”

Ware manages to keep up regular podcast episodes along with making albums and she’s just announced tour dates for the UK in April 2021. She does all of this while raising two young kids (four years old and 15 months of age), seemingly with ease.

“I just make it work. I like having more things to juggle, that’s how I thrive, really. My career began before I had children, but I feel like it’s still on the ascent. I don’t want to stop anything, which makes it a balancing act I get wrong some of the time. Lockdown has been really helpful as far as I’ve been working evenings when the kids go to bed and spending time with my husband.

I got sent the vinyl for the album to sort of test it out, and now my four year old points at it and I think they enjoy listening to mummy’s album. You know you’ve written a good song if your kids are dancing to it.”

The kids love dancing to Ware’s album, but it drives her crazy that her kids won’t appreciate her cooking, nor that she is a bestselling author of a cookbook.

“They don’t give a shit,” she laughs. “It drives me bloody mad. They’ll always eat daddy’s food or grandma’s food. I was always a foodie, the more the better. The podcast came about because I thought, how can I put my greatest love, food, into something I can mask as work. So, this has worked out a treat.”

Ware admits she has no patience for baking (“my cakes always have something wrong with them”), but she’s a sucker for Ottolenghi’s vegetable based recipes. “Tomatoes seasoned with oregano, thyme, a bit of garlic on relatively high heat…they come out so sweet,” she enthuses.

On tour, Ware embraces the opportunities for discovering food and dining venues on the road. “I remember asking Iggy Azalea how she eats on tour when we were both in Ibiza years ago, well before the podcast. She said she bought a slow cooker on tour. Can you imagine Iggy Azalea popping on a casserole in the morning before she does her gig? That really blew my mind. I don’t think anyone wants to smell a casserole first thing though, you know?”

Ware and her guitarist set out to find local spots instead. Of her favourite foodie cities, she namechecks “the whole of Australia”, Poland, America (“there’s always somewhere to discover via Twitter”) and Spain.

“I’ve had the best ham and cheese croquetas in Barcelona, and these lobster croquetas from Bar Canete are world standard.”

Ware says she’s “desperate” to come to Australia and, like many dancefloor divas inspired by Ware’s new album, I’m dying to get out my sequinned jumpsuit, 10 inch heels and red lipstick.

“I have loads of fun with my stylist, Nell Kalonji,” says Ware. “I’ve always worn really tailored outfits but this time, I wanted to load on the more-is-more jewellery and I’m really enjoying my wardrobe. The thing with this record is that it feels so free and fun. This record feels so colourful, so my clothes and makeup really need to accompany that.”

During lockdown, Ware and her family moved into their house. As they’ve been unpacking the vinyl collection, she’s been spinning Scott Walker, Solange, Jay Z and Bill Evans.

“I love playing vinyl. I’ve been listening to loads of Nigerian funk and Khruangbin, I love Khruangbin,” she adds.

The only thing more desirable than talking about vinyl records and Khruangbin is breakfast for Ware, so having trapped her in her own bathroom for almost an hour, I release her to her toast and Ottolenghi’s tomatoes left over from the evening before – perhaps not the disco goddess life encapsulated on What’s Your Pleasure? but one that is full of colour, nonetheless.