“Honestly, I was trying to rush this record. I felt like: ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it done!’ In hindsight, I realised I was only rushing because I wanted to have a baby. I had this massive urge and the thought of having to wait three years felt so shit.”
It’s been three years since Jessie Ware released her second album Tough Love. Described by Pitchfork as an album that “moves into the territory of real, messy love” Tough Love was the critically-embraced follow up to Jessie’s landmark debut Devotion in 2012. Signed to the influential London label PMR, Jessie’s deep roots into UK music saw collaborations with SBTRKT and Disclosure bear fruit before her acclaim reached international levels. With both albums now gold-certified in the UK, a million albums sold worldwide and her influence undeniable, Jessie has spent the last three years working on her third album Glasshouse. The album is an exploration of family; both in the sense of the LA studio that became her home during the recording process and in the sense of the family Jessie has created in recent months. Almost curtailed by pressure from every side and with looming deadlines sabotaging Jessie’s creative process, Glasshouse is an album that may not have come together. Not until a defining moment in Jessie’s life where the stress and anxiety of delivering the record fell away and her songwriting began to coalesce around new themes after giving birth to her baby.
“I’d been feeling this sense of pressure and fear, and when the baby was two and a half months I went to LA to write. I played Benny [Blanco] some of the stuff I’d written before, and he said, “What were you doing? Where did you go? Why aren’t you doing what you were doing on Devotion – go back to that old sound, that’s what makes you so great.” I don’t know why I ignored that place; it’s the most comfortable for me. I’d been losing a sense of myself… Thank god for Benny.” Glasshouse was largely recorded with Jessie’s long-term friend and collaborator Benny Blanco out in California. Like Dave Okumu and Two Inch Punch, Benny has been working with Jessie for almost a decade. Meeting to write and record at Benny’s LA pool house, Jessie and her collaborators became something of an extended family.
When tracks became over complicated, they were stripped back. Jessie spent hours listening to her musical heroes: Joni Mitchell, Nina Simon, Carole King and Aretha Franklin. She wrote with a renewed confidence. “It became an album for my husband and my baby. It’s an apology, a confession, a love note, a declaration… It shows all my fears and all of my emotion.” Midnight, the first single taken from the record, is Jessie’s unapologetic fight for a relationship. The visceral anger and tension in the single are perfectly counterpointed by the B-side Selfish Love where Jessie’s homage to 60s Latin Jazz singer Astrud Gilberto tells a seductive tale of warring lovers. Written with Blanco and Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Adele), the singles both play with the challenges of maintaining a relationship through difficult times. “I was worried I’d have no will or want to go to the studio, but in a crazy way it was the opposite” explains Jessie, “The baby drove me, I became so focussed’. In January, she went into sessions with songwriter James Newman and producer and writer Starsmith. ‘I said, “Listen, I don’t want to do a pop thing. I want to do a track that makes people feel something, let’s not try and write for radio’.
With that agenda in mind, Jessie set about creating a collection of songs that is emotive and real, true to herself and her original impulses as a songwriter.
Running throughout Glasshouse is a deep rooted sense of emotional honesty that comes from Jessie reuniting with the people she most feels most at comfort with. Jessie has returned to the most important collaborators – and crucially, friends – from her Mercury nominated debut, Devotion. Teaming up once again with Kid Harpoon, the pair dug deep and created the delicate ballad ‘Alone’, an emotive and impassioned ode to finding the time to be with loved ones. On working with Kid Harpoon, she says, ‘I knew we had another song in us like Wildest Moments. I felt we had it and we just needed the time to do it’.
Collaboration and curation were key to bringing Glasshouse together. For a studio version of fan favourite ‘Last of the True Believers’, Jessie tapped close friends Felix and Hugo White (The Maccabees). “It was a song for Sam, my husband, about escaping this weird world I work in. I haven’t given up on these songs from the past and I have my best friends and favourite people on them.” Also appearing on the record is Ed Sheeran who co-wrote the album’s closing track ‘Sam’. The track also features a slew of world-renowned musicians including Pino Palladino, Chris Dave and Nico Segal. “Watching these incredible musicians together was just beautiful” says Jessie.
From jazz improvisations to innovative house music, the influences on the album are a reminder of the musical journey Jessie’s been on over three albums. Your Domino is a dance floor ready track reminiscent of the Julio Bashmore-produced If You’re Never Gonna Move from her debut. She’s also worked with Norwegian DJ and Kanye collaborator Cashmere Cat. It’s a fitting union, with dance always having been of huge importance. She reconnected with her school friend and now husband – who so much of the new record is about – at drum and bass nights in Streatham, and some of the earliest moments of her career were spent performing at Boiler Room sets and providing vocals for pioneering electronic artists like SBTRKT and Joker.
It’s taken a transformative period for Jessie to reconnect with her roots. Glasshouse is a record that celebrates Jessie as a songwriter while contemplating her future as an artist. These new elements mix with original sensibilities, smart attention to detail and powerful lyricism. The album is reflective but forward-looking. After a spell of recent live shows, this Autumn will see Jessie’s next UK tour begin. “I’m so excited to play live. I love the new stuff so much. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into it.” It’ll also be the first tour with her new baby. “I know that the first year of her life is going to be completely crazy, but I think we’re ready.”