It might sound colorful, possibly action-packed. But no, says soulful British diva Jessie Ware, growing up the daughter of renowned BBC TV investigative journalist John Ware wasn’t what you’d imagine.
The family was never forced to watch his current-affairs show “Panorama” at dinner, she explains, “because he was never around at dinner—he was too busy working. And sometimes his programs were too violent and a bit scary when I was younger, because he was kind of a specialist on the I.R.A., and he also used to do stakeouts and stuff like that—he was always trying to get the bad guys. He even used to do a program called Rough Justice, which was about trying to help people that he believed had been wrongly accused of crimes, who were in prison.” She pauses.
“But no, we weren’t watching the news all the time. And I just wasn’t an avid news follower.”
Nevertheless, Ware—now 28—followed in her father’s footsteps. Fresh out of high school, she took a job with The Jewish Chronicle, then moved over to England’s now-tarnished tabloid The Daily Mirror, before graduating to behind-the-scenes television work at Love Productions. So she just couldn’t help it—she brought a discerning reporter’s eye to her recent U.K. debut Devotion (issued soon Stateside), and its relationship-dissecting overseas singles “Running,” “Night Light,” “Sweet Talk,” “Wildest Moments” and “No to Love.” One hit, “110%,” hit legal snags over a Big Pun sample and has since been re-tooled and rechristened for American release as “If You’re Never Gonna Move,” out now on an introductory U.S. EP of the same name.
Does Ware carry a pen and skinny notebook along on dates? And how could a prospective suitor be certain he won’t end up the subject of one of her songs? She laughs. “I don’t feel like any of my songs are mean songs,” she swears. ”So you’d be safe if you went out with me, because I just don’t write mean songs. And in fact, I was a little worried about that at the beginning, as well – I was like ‘What if I want to write a song that reveals too much?’ But I learned that you can always hide it, and you never have to tell anybody who it’s about.”
The Sade-influenced singer will reveal one source, however. “Night Light” was inspired by her longtime beau, who has stood as her romantic beacon for years. “We’ve actually been going out since we were 18, but we had two years off,” she reveals. “And in that time, he kissed loads of frogs and so did I, so that gave me a chance to write about other people apart from just my boyfriend on the album. My boyfriend is wonderful and I live with him, and he works at a school and he doesn’t do anything in music. He can’t sing, harmonizes in and out of tune, so our relationship is wicked, it’s really good. We actually went to primary school together, as well, before high school, so we’ve known each other for a very long time.”
How on Earth did Ware go from newspaper work to pop stardom? Long story, she sighs, before penciling it in. As part of a school course, the teenager approached The Jewish Chronicle: “I thought, being Jewish, that maybe they’d let me do a placement there,” she recalls. But she wound up with a permanent position, covering the local synagogue beat. No blue streak stories, she adds-just nice, ho-hum assignments, complete with salmon and bagels in the office every morning.
Soon, the cub was recruited by The Mirror. And no, she says, she never got to speak to the daily’s then-prominent personage Piers Morgan, never even got to meet him. Her biggest story: Covering a notorious British footballer switching from a beloved team to a villainous one. She got to interview several of the key people involved, including angry fans, which only whetted her appetite for more. The Rupert Murdoch-focused phone-tapping scandal had yet to materialize, she says. “So I didn’t see any of that kind of stuff happening. But it’s pretty disgusting, isn’t it? It’s scary what lengths people will go to, just to get news.” And no one has hacked into her cellphone yet, she believes, hopes, “because I’m not famous enough.”
Next? “I wanted to move from print journalism to broadcast, so I took a job with this crazy director, with a view to kind of work up the ranks and finally direct my own programs,” Ware says. That’s where her tale takes an unusual turn. An old friend from school who’d heard her sing as a kid, folk-rock artist Jack Peñate, needed a background singer for a one-day radio session, and thought of her. “He was just like ‘Can you do it? Do you mind?’” she says of that fateful exchange. “And I said ‘Of course I’ll do it! It sounds brilliant!’ So I took a day off work and went to sing for him, and it was just the funnest day ever.”
Next, Peñate invited his new protégée on American tour as backing vocalist. Again, she agreed. Again, she had a total blast. Word of her proficiency spread; Soon she was guesting on tracks by Joker, Sampha, SBTRKT and Katy B, and the prospect of a career in journalism began to pale in comparison. “Before I knew it, I was earning—well, not a lot-but enough to just about live as a backing singer,” Ware chuckles, glad she took the fabled road less traveled. “It was such a wonderful time, and I was really proud of that—that I’d taken the risk to do it. And the next thing I knew, I got signed because of the song I did with SBTRKT.”
There was only one hurdle left. Sure, Ware had a great old-school-soul-steeped singing voice. But what would her own music sound like? Alt-rocker Dave Okumu (of The Invisible) set her on the right track when he signed on to produce most of “Devotion.” “He just reassured me that it wasn’t about having to be so original, it wasn’t about having to write the most metaphorical lyrics,” she remembers. “It was just about being honest and being true to what you want to say. It all sounds really corny, but it just made complete sense to me.” Tinkering with him in the studio, often by sonic trial-and-error-method, she adds, “was just a really wonderful way for me to work out how to become the artist I wanted to be. It was really nurturing.”
Ware doesn’t even mind the years she wasted pursuing journalism. It means she’s no Simon Cowell-hatched spring chicken, she cackles. “But I like being older, you know? I feel like I was always going to feel more comfortable being older than when I was a teenager, or when I was in my early twenties. I felt really uncomfortable at university, and now I feel like I’m finally coming into my own of being….well, okay with myself….”