It's a Monday night in October and Greenwich Village's Le Poisson Rouge is packed. There's a lively buzz in the air as a crowd of varying ages eagerly awaits the night's only act: U.K. darling Jessie Ware. It's a small venue for Ware to be performing for her third album, but she wanted to give her New York fans an intimate show, one worthy of the new record's personal nature. Those devotees filling every corner of the underground venue are just the ones lucky enough to have nabbed tickets before the show quickly sold out.
As she tells me later, Ware is nervous; she doesn't want to disappoint her American fans, and she's still finding her footing when it comes to performing songs about her husband and her newborn daughter, and revealing herself so completely onstage. But anyone lucky enough to be in attendance would never know—Ware possesses that rare substance that cannot be taught, even to the most ambitious or label-loved artists of today: star quality. Even when things go wrong during the show, Ware handles it with charm and grace, entertaining the crowd with one-liners about how she cut her hair for her gay fans even though her husband hates it. (She even indulges an intoxicated fan who makes her way onstage with a ballsy request to sing "Wildest Moments" with her.)
The crowd sings along to every word of her three-album discography, including hits like, "Running," "Tough Love," and "Say You Love Me." The real crowd-pleasers come in the form of her newest tracks, though—the irresistible, shout-inducing "Midnight," the sultry "Selfish Love," and "Sam," a beautiful ballad about her husband and daughter. The last one is a particular relief to Ware, who wasn't sure how her audience would feel about a song relating to her newfound family. (The collective tears and swaying bodies betray that she had nothing to worry about.)
A few days after the show, we catch up on music, motherhood, and the balance she built with Glasshouse.
WILLIAM DEFEBAUGH So, Jessie. Tell me about the last two years and the creation of Glasshouse.
JESSIE WARE The last two years have been amazing and unsettling years of my life I think, and I think I felt like I had something to prove with this record to make the best record possible but also show that I’ve become a better songwriter and show this really strong urge to become a mother that it was like well, I want a lot and I’m going to try to do it and I have done it and I look back I can’t believe I’ve done it because I’m so exhausted now, I’ve spent all my energy. But the outcome was pretty phenomenal.
WD What was the most challenging part?
JW I think the most challenging part was readjusting to how to make my job—which is an unusual, creative job on strange hours—to fit that in within being a new mother and putting a little baby first. And still trying to be creative. Actually, I think that weirdly being so focused and scheduled with an approach going into the studio, I didn’t find myself in the studio for more than five hours. I was very strict when I had to finish, very strict when I had to start, so I could still be my daughter’s mom. It actually really worked, and I think loads of the songwriters really appreciated it because there was such a focus in the room. There was no time to piss about.
WD I read somewhere that you started the album and then restarted. Is that true?
JW I started writing an album back in the studio after touring the last record and I was feeling really motivated but had this strong desire to be a mom and resentment to have to rush [the album]. I was trying to rush it and I didn’t think I was making my best music. I was trying to listen to songwriters I was working with that I thought knew best, to make things work quicker. I was just so desperate to be a mom and it wasn’t working. It didn’t work. Some stuff stayed on, but it just didn’t have enough of my voice, and it took my friend Benny [Blanco] to remind me. He was like, “I don’t know why you lost yourself, what happened?” I lost myself out of fear and it took my friend to remind me to actually do it, that I had my own thoughts, that they had value, and I could be creative and not have to worry about this need for a single to work. It’s quite a lot of pressure to be in the music industry, and you always feel like it’s your last chance, like you’re only as good as your last song. You worry that people are going to give up on you, and fair enough, but I think I had forgotten about how to show my artistry from the first record that felt the least premeditated, with no agenda, when I was making music slowly, sheer creativity and fun. I had to remind myself of that.
WD It’s interesting because from an outside perspective hearing that struggle and then listening to the record, songs like "Sam," which are so personal and have to do with you being a mother, really make the record so powerful.
JW Yeah, absolutely. I was worried people wouldn’t be interested in me writing about being a mother. But it got to the point where I didn’t really care because I was feeling so inspired and it was making it so easy to write. And it was essential that she was part of the story: her and Sam, my family. It made total sense that that was what I would write about.
WD And it made it more authentic. In any artistry, people can tell when you’re not writing from that place.
JW A lot of times, I haven’t written about a specific thing, it’s more of a vague thing and people have really enjoyed the songs, but there's something so unashamedly personal on this record, and I think that, judging by the fan reaction, it’s what they wanted me to do. And I’m really happy they wanted that.
WD And that's how you know they're true. There’s always that tricky thing when you’re an artist because if you change too much you’re worried people will just want was already working, just keeping doing the same thing.
JW I think my main focus for this record was to become a better songwriter, and I felt that was what I was struggling with; I wasn’t allowing myself to give away everything out of fear, and that was the main focus from the beginning before I became a mom and I think that’s what I’m very proud about with this record. I’ve succeeded in doing that.
WD And where does the name for Glasshouse comes from?
JW It’s inspired by a poem this English poet called Edward Thomas who wrote a poem called “I Built Myself a House of Glass” and it is a really beautiful poem that talks about this fragility of this beautiful thing, and I think for me this has been some of the best few years of my life, but also the most delicate—learning how to be a better friend, learning how to be a better wife, I’m learning all the time how to be a better songwriter. There’s been a lot of growth on this record, and that title felt like it had a strength about it, but also a vulnerability. It’s been eye opening, but I think I’m a better artist for it.
WD And speaking of a the song "Sam," you cowrote that song with Ed Sheeran, correct? How did that come about?
JW I’d written with Ed already on my last album on "Say You Love Me," and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work with him because he’s just so gifted, but also so confident. We were in the studio again, working on his record. I had started this song, but the chorus was really generic and it didn’t really feel special, so I asked if we could look at it and he helped me. I think that really helped paint the picture because I was two-three weeks away from giving birth and I think that it was perfect to finish the song that way and make that chorus as impactful as it is.
WD And what other songs on the record are the most special and personal to you?
JW "Thinking About You" is about my daughter and I’m really happy that people are liking it so much, because it’s not just a mother talking about her daughter, it’s about being somebody missing somebody they adore and feeling guilty and wishing they could do more. "First Time" I really like, it's about me and my husband making more time for each other. There’s one called "The Last of the True Believers" which I wrote after my first record, and it didn’t really makes sense on my second one, so my sister reminded me of it and I’m so glad she did because it’s a brilliant song and I felt like it completes this record far more than the last record.
WD How has it translated into the live shows? How has it been performing these songs?
JW It’s been good. I think I’m still trying to find my feet and trying to understand how I want to deliver this album visually. It’s been a pleasure to see people enjoying the songs and singing them so loudly and passionately and it’s been reassuring for me. When I did my first London shows, I was hesitant and nervous, felt like I lost my confidence and now, especially during the American shows, it felt so special and I feel like the American shows have made me have even more confidence in the record and how to perform it. Especially with the New York crowd, I want to have fun with them because I care what they think, and I adore them, and I miss them, and I think they get it also. That was a funny one because loads of things went wrong and I had to chat a little bit more than I was going to, but it kinda worked out. When that drunk girl got on stage and sang, that was amazing. It was such good fun, it could have gone terribly wrong, but it was just hysterical.
WD Have there been any moments of feeling frustrated by double standards in the music industry in terms of how things would have been different of you were a male artist choosing to have a kid?
JW I think I was more worried about how I’d be perceived having a kid. I think lots of people were very much like, “You’re gonna need some time.” I think what I did in reaction to that was like, “No, I’m gonna make a record in my first year and it’s gonna be my best one yet.” I think people have been really respectful and really impressed with how I’ve done this. I think it was my own insecurities, being worried that people were going to think I wasn't going to have the same drive, but actually [my daughter] has made me even more fiercely ambitious.
WD What do you want people to take away from listening to Glasshouse?
JW I hope something resonates with them, something about longing or love. I think there’s a song for everybody on there, but it's also a very personal record for me. You know, "Wildest Moments," that’s about my best mate, but so many people make it about a relationship. That's what I hope I can do with this record; even though it's my most personal, I want it to touch people in the same universal way. And then understand me a bit more, because I think it was time for them to meet a little bit more of me in the music.
WD It almost seems like the first few records were more for your fans, or the people who were listening to them, and this one feels like it's about you.
JW I think you're right, but wow, they way people sing "Sam" back to me...I thought that would be such a difficult song to sing because it's so personal, but when I see people's eyes when I’m singing it, and they're there, they understand it. And they don't have a baby coming along, they don't have a Sam, and that's okay; I appreciate how much respect they have when I sing. It's been really special to see them perform the songs and see how people react to them and it just felt so positive.