Jessie Ware has opened up about how a conversation with Universal Music UK CEO and chairman David Joseph proved pivotal in turning her career around.
The EMI-signed singer releases her fifth album That! Feels Good! today (April 28) and stars on the cover of our new issue to mark the occasion. In the feature, Ware is joined by EMI co-president Rebecca Allen, head of marketing David Balls and Fascination Management’s Peter Loraine.
Ware signed to EMI after a long association with Island following the campaign for her third album Glasshouse, which left her disillusioned with the music industry.
“I did it for the wrong reasons, I was trying to bang on the doors of these male suits and prove that you can have it all, do it all and still remain relevant, but actually it felt really impossible,” she told Music Week. “I was also reaching, and kind of failing, because people didn’t want to hear it and I was really blue and struggling. That was quite hard.”
When the Glasshouse tour finished, Ware parted ways with her previous management and thought seriously about pursuing other ventures. In 2017, she had launched the Table Manners podcast with her mother Lennie, where her friend Sam Smith was the first guest, and it was building momentum that would snowball.
But a frank discussion with David Joseph, who rubber stamped Ware’s move to EMI, would pave the way for a successful comeback with What’s Your Pleasure? which achieved a career-high chart position of No.3.
“David Joseph has always been incredible to me and I’ll never forget that he let me move labels when I was really desperate,” Ware said. “I was so unhappy and he could see it and he listened to me and supported me. He was kind when I didn’t think there was much kindness left. I respect him so much.”
“He’d given me a lifeline and I had to do the other bit,” she continued. “The big top dog at Universal was essentially looking out for me, he knew I was not happy, I hadn’t had a successful last record and he was still willing to let me try and pursue this. But he was like, ‘Jessie, you know, this needs to work,’ and I knew it needed to work too! Weirdly, it stayed with me, but it wasn’t driving the sessions, I wasn’t like, ‘Well, what’s DJ gonna [think]?’ I felt supported and like I could do my work and that was a really great feeling.”
Building on the disco-focused vibe of its predecessor, That! Feels Good! was made with previous collaborators James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine), Danny Parker (Shawn Mendes, Nick Jonas) and Shungudzo Kuyimba (Little Mix), while Ware added Stuart Price (Madonna, Dua Lipa) and Sarah Hudson (Dua Lipa, Katy Perry) to the mix.
“My last album is not a cold record, but when I started it I was quite frustrated and lost and needed dance music to pull me out of a fear of being in music,” said Ware. “The new record is a dance album in another way, it’s groovier, warmer, more colourful and even more confident. There’s an authenticity that feels really reassuring to me as an artist, I’m really making steps. I’ve earned my stripes now.”
Ware added: “It’s funny, I finally understand the artist side of myself and it’s taken me five albums, I feel lucky. I’m really comfortable in myself being an older woman in music, I feel very at ease and that’s a nice feeling.”
Ware has high hopes for the new album and is targeting a No.1 finish.
“I was in a much happier place going into this record, so I wanted it to feel triumphant, colourful and positive, without sounding saccharine,” she said. “It was really fun to throw everything at it and not think that anything was too much, to have different moments and personalities.”
Reflecting on the early parts of her career, she explained that any enjoyment of success was often hampered by anxiety.
“I used to keep worrying about what was happening next and I was so fearful of it all I didn’t actually enjoy the moments, like being up for a Mercury and having a Top 5,” she said. “This is such a weird job that can feel really taxing and stressful, I almost felt like time was running out. I wish I’d just enjoyed it more.”
Ware also spoke out about the difficulties that come with a pop career.
“I think it’s really hard to be a young pop star, I feel very lucky that I was not pigeonholed into it,” she said. “Then, when the label was surprised by the success of [debut album] Devotion, you feel this sudden pressure, like, ‘Okay what have you got next?’ It’s incredibly difficult, and I was older as well, I got signed at 27. Imagine being in your early twenties or even a teenager and having to make executive decisions about your career and life when you’re learning how to live.”
Now, though, the star is more confident than ever before.
“I don’t feel like I’m the most straightforward pop star, I was reluctant to enter into it,” she said. “It’s so weird that it took for me to be in my mid-30s to feel I can make the bangers. God, I’m making myself sound like a bloody old biddy! I’m an unconventional pop star, which means I can sit in different worlds quite comfortably.”
Read the full interview in the new edition of Music Week, out now. Subscribers can read it online here.
PHOTOS: Jack Grange