Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware

Photographer Agata Pospieszynska
Stylist Ben Schofield
Words Daisy Stenham

“Sorry,” Jessie Ware apologises for speaking in a loud whisper – she’s camped out in the toilet of her Prague hotel room; her baby daughter is asleep next door and she doesn’t want to wake her.

Tulle dress by Molly Goddard at BrownsFashion

Dress with pearl embellishment by Sonia Rykiel, Oversized droplet earrings by Chanel

You feel immediately relaxed in the company of her voice: sinking deep into the silk-soft consonants, occasionally roughed up by a faint London grit. “But it’s ok, you can shout,” she adds laughing, and it’s infectious: a warm collapse that seems to leak through the phoneline.

Such is the sobering reality of doing a gruelling world tour with an eighteen month old – and being Jessie Ware. Balancing motherhood with the demands of her career is clearly hard work, “but when it’s working, it’s the most satisfying thing”. This is the woman who wrote her (third and latest) album Glasshouse while heavily pregnant; recorded with her newborn in the studio; and has since toured with her, from as early as eleven weeks old “living like we’re camping out of a bag”.

But pregnancy has brought its own challenges: “I mean people were supportive when I was pregnant,” she says, “but it was always this sort of unknown. I think lots of people expected me not to come back to work, and I think they underestimated my ambition basically. And the fact that I had to work.”

A year and a half into the gig, “I don’t think I have the balance sorted at all.” She’s the first to acknowledge her privilege and credits the support system around her that makes it work. But since making the record it’s been harder. “Not because people aren’t supportive, but promoting a record is all encompassing, and our schedules are all over the place, and it’s not like you’re going to turn down opportunities. But it’s ok,” she adds ruefully, “we manage, we make it work. It’s just a bit of a shitter a lot of the time.” After playing Coachella, she won’t see her daughter for three weeks, which she says, “is just completely filling me with dread.”

 

Herein lies the inescapable charm of Jessie, her down-to-earth honesty about everything, as imbued in her music (the whole album is a vulnerable and poetic rumination on motherhood, marriage and love). She is deliciously candid: open without being indiscreet; warm without being cloying. You do feel as if you could genuinely ask her anything, impressive for a long-distance call. Any advice for future career woman? “You can do it, it’s just going to be bloody hard.”

Jessie’s adoration for her daughter is palpable – she pauses to check on her, laughing that “the poor kid will wake up to a boiled egg” from the local supermarket. Credited as her muse and much of the album’s inspiration, Glasshouse is a love letter to her family. “For me there was something beautiful about being able to document this incredibly special moment in my life,” she says, “and now every time I see it, do it, it shapes those feelings, and that’s incredibly powerful.”

In both her work and in past interviews, Jessie hasn’t been afraid to examine her experience of motherhood: the guilt, anxiety and pressure; the seismic ways in which parenthood changes you; the highs and lows, underscored with beauty and fear. The title of the album references a poem by British war poet Edward Thomas – “I Built Myself a House of Glass” – echoing the idea that anything precious we make for ourselves is inherently fragile; that to love comes with risk.

Although motherhood is a central theme in this album Jessie remains conscious not to be pigeonholed for it. “I am proud of being a mother,” she explains, “but I think I accidentally encouraged that conversation to be the only conversation about this record… It’s almost made me want to rebel against that momentum and do a total escapist album, even though I love what I did… You just kind of want to do something different next time.”

Tulle blazer by Simone Rocha, Wool trousers by Proenza Schouler at Harvey Nichols

Dress with pearl embellishment by Sonia Rykiel, Oversized droplet earrings by Chanel

Jessie sees the nuances in relationships, the complexities and fragilities in love – of any kind. And it’s this ability to see the cracks in things, to find the poetry in the everyday, that makes her music so affecting. “I think people can mostly relate to those confused feelings,” she says. No wonder Pitchfork magazine has coined her the “mastermind of heartbreak elegance”.

This level of personal exposure in her writing is a departure from her usual style and one that’s paid off. Did that feel liberating or exposing? Both. “It felt exciting, like I had the confidence to be able to say this; I had something new to write about.”

It was becoming a parent and the concern for her daughter’s future that galvanised more of a political drive in Jessie. As a UK ambassador for Unicef, she spent her last trip working with refugee children in Bangladesh. Last year she was spotted with her daughter at the Woman’s March. Her social media is peppered with socially conscious posts – from supporting NHS doctors (her brother is one) to vote remain and engaging young Labour supporters (she was an active campaigner for Sadiq Khan in the 2016 London mayoral election).

If she could ask one thing of the current government? “Jesus, one thing! I actually don’t even know where to start.” Then quickly, “Actually, no, one thing. Fucking reverse Brexit. That’s what I would say, or sod off and let someone else sort it out!” There’s that delightfully unfiltered mouth and wry sense of humour that give her an edge without compromising her signature warmth.

Jessie stresses how positive the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been in empowering women across all industries – but like most she remains frustrated that we still have to contend with these issues. Quoting Meghan Markle, she is keen to impress that “it’s not about giving women a voice; they’ve already got it. It’s about empowering them.” What would she say to her daughter about being a woman in 2018? “It means that we still have a long way to go until things are equal.”

Her current female icon is Emma González, the teenager “speaking so articulately about the Florida shootings. She’s bloody brilliant. I think she is the most articulate girl. Regardless of her age, she’s so articulate in getting her point across. She’s so inspiring.”

It’s no surprise that her mother, Lennie, a towering figure of respect in Ware’s life, is a social worker who brought up her three children in Clapham whilst working – and somehow managed to cook them dinner every night. “I feel like I really appreciate that now. Because I know the balance is so difficult, but she kind of made it look effortless.” It is to Lennie who she attributes her work ethic. “She had complete belief in us. I absolutely felt like I could do anything I wanted.” At one point, Jessie was training to be a journalist, following an English literature degree and a post at the Jewish Chronicle – perhaps the investigator runs in her blood – her father, John Ware, worked as an award-wining Panorama reporter.

It’s clear that family is at the centre of everything she does. Her brother is on tour with her, and she hosts weekly podcast Table Manners with her mother, inviting a pop culture smorgasbord of guests (from Sandi Toksvig to Ed Sheeran) to a conversation and home-cooked meal around her Dalston kitchen table. It’s hilarious: warm, sharp, intelligent comfort. You really do feel like you’re in her kitchen, eating Lennie’s Lebanese lamb as the pair take the piss out each other, racketing from candid confessions to funny quips about veganism with Annie Mac, and serious insights on the NHS with Ralf Little. Dream future guests include Larry David and Oprah.

Tulle dress by Molly Goddard at BrownsFashion

Monogram lace dress by Gucci

It’s no wonder Table Manners is such a success – there’s a lightness about her that doesn’t make her silly; a lack of pretension that feels wholly unaffected. She’s through and through a people person. Naturally, it’s in the kitchen where she spends most of her time at home, constantly cooking. “I feel like our whole world revolves around food.” Her death row meal would have to be her mother’s chicken soup and chicken liver pate with matzah, washed down with a dirty Martini, followed by Christmas dinner. Next, a glass of fizz, a bottle of “the most expensive red wine because, fuck it, you’re dying and why not?” And she’d finish it all off with an Irish coffee – if she could manage. (She apologises mid-way through for speaking while eating the “loud” salad her husband picked up for her).

It soon becomes apparent that Jessie’s husband, Sam (a personal trainer), is captive in the bathroom with her. Met aged nine, together since seventeen, and married for four years, their relationship is often described as one of school-day sweethearts. The stirring song “Sam” on Glasshouse, a raw reflection on motherhood, has reduced even her own band to tears during a live performance. Jessie says dryly that the secret to their long-term relationship is “probably laughter… and all the distance.”

Friend and collaborator Benny Blanco once said about Jessie, “She knows how to party, she knows how to stay in, she knows how to be an adult, she knows how to be a kid.” and it’s these qualities, the sum of all parts, that make her quite so beguiling.

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