Jessie Ware on Her Best, Most Classically Disco, and Melancholy Songs

“Everyone knows me as kind of melancholy, a bit miserable, [and for] soul songs, so What’s Your Pleasure? was slightly off-piece for me, but it feels so good.” Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images

From the outside, Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? looked like a return to her bearings. The English pop singer-songwriter got her start singing on dance tracks, like the SBTRKT collaboration “Nervous,” before becoming known for powerful, evocative R&B. Last year, for her fourth album, she stepped back onto the dance floor, delivering a ballroom’s bounty of songs. It was the best full-length set of new disco music in a year full of it, born from a pivot only a consummate pop star could execute. Despite her familiarity with this world, Ware insists it’s the kind of music she wouldn’t have been able to make for just herself until now. “It was this thing that made me feel confident and empowered and like I really deserved to be here and doing this job — ‘cause for a while, I hadn’t felt like that,” she says of the album. Now, a year after What’s Your Pleasure?’s June 2020 release, that inner attitude has doubled. And so, she released a deluxe, What’s Your Pleasure? The Platinum Pleasure Edition, on June 11, adding eight more songs from the era that she finally feels comfortable sharing alongside the rest. The world was ready for a song like “Please,” the deluxe’s vibrant, sweaty lead single, a year ago, but it didn’t yet align with where she was at: “Maybe I’m stupid, because people seem to really love it, [but] personally, I wasn’t ready for that song yet,” she says. When she first wrote it, she thought a dance diva like Kylie Minogue could’ve sung it. “Now I hear it, and I think, Was that really stupid that I didn’t put that on there, or is that just some kind of accidental genius that I did delay it?

The Platinum Pleasure Edition makes the latter case. Along with “Please,” the additional tracks include sensual jams like “Eyes Closed” and “Hot N Heavy,” fan-favorite 2018 one-off “Overtime,” Kindness collaboration “0208,” and a remix of album single “Adore You” by Chinese musicians Bibi Zhou and Sihan. It feels like the after-party extension of the original album: looser, sexier, and altogether more heightened. But while Ware, 36, notes that the album is coming out as dancing becomes more of a possibility for many of her fans, she doesn’t see herself back in a club soon. During a late May video call from her London home, she bounces on a pregnancy ball, eight months pregnant with her third child with husband Sam Burrows. That hasn’t stopped her from working otherwise — Ware released her memoir, Omelette: Food, Love, Chaos and Other Conversations, in the U.K. on June 10 (available in the U.S. October 12), and is continuing to tape her acclaimed podcast, Table Manners, where she and her mother, Lennie, host a dinner conversation with a guest. Ware is even inadvertently multitasking on this very call: first, giving signed photos to a delivery person; later, answering the door to a new neighbor, there to explain that she’s taking care of a sick parakeet in Ware’s front yard. “I should be out there helping the bird, like, survive,” Ware laughs afterward, “but I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve got work to do.’”

After the book, deluxe, and baby, it’s onto the next album for Ware. She promises another musical shift on her What’s Your Pleasure? follow-up — another reason she wanted to release deluxe tracks now. “I don’t want [the next album] to be a 2.0 What’s Your Pleasure?,” she says. “I felt like we could extend the celebration, because hey, maybe they won’t like the next record!” (Doubtable.) In the meantime, Vulture spoke to Ware about all facets of her decade-plus career, from early music to What’s Your Pleasure? to Table Manners and Omelette.

Naughtiest song on the Platinum Pleasure Edition

“Eyes Closed” is very much like the naughtier sister to “What’s Your Pleasure.” Also, I’m really glad that we got “Overtime” on the deluxe, because I felt like it was maybe too after-party for the original What’s Your Pleasure?, but it feels like it fit in so much better with this world: a bit more acid-y, slightly more ’90s. “Eyes Closed” has that slightly dominatrix, commanding role in it, which seems to be the thing that makes me laugh when I’m doing it, but I quite enjoy it. I can’t wait [until] when we’re performing it and everyone’s in the audience, probably mostly gay men, being like, “Close. Your. Eyes.”

New song you can’t wait to play live

I’m really excited to do “Soul Control.” I feel like that should be the opener of the whole show, just ’cause it’s exciting and slightly frenetic. Also, I’m interested to see how we can do it, but “Remember Where You Are” has got such an important place in my heart. I think “Please” is gonna be really fun live too, just ’cause there’s so many different voices. The whole point of What’s Your Pleasure?, and then the deluxe, was that it had this togetherness, and it was very much an interactive conversation with my fans and with another person. So I want people shouting the lyrics at me, I want them doing the dance routines from the videos, I want it all. I want us to just be at a party, having fun, flirting together. Everyone knows me as kind of melancholy, a bit miserable, [and for] soul songs, so it was slightly off-piece for me, but it feels so good.

Song that reminds you of your older dance music

Maybe “Overtime” in the sense that it feels like — maybe it’s because it was done with [production duo] Bicep, who are so amazing, but I’d just yet to meet. I met them at the Brit Awards the other day, I had to Google what they looked like. [Laughs] I walked over and was like, “Just wanted to say hi,” and they just gave me this big hug. They were like, “That song’s really good.” That’s how I started, singing as a vocalist on these dance tracks, and so I feel like maybe that’s the closest to that feeling, because it was a beat that they sent over to James [Ford, Ware’s main What’s Your Pleasure? co-writer and producer] and I. That bass line is so commanding. I think the other ones are too cheeky and confident to be within the old world, because [laughs] I was so petrified when I was younger and I was singing.

I knew [“Overtime”] was a good song, and I’d listened to the fans who had a frickin’ hashtag going, #JusticeForOvertime, and I thought, Oh, bore off, I’ve just given you a whole new album, it’s bloody doing well, everyone loves it. And then I thought, Oh, I can put it on the deluxe. It actually makes more sense with songs like “Hot N Heavy,” “Eyes Closed.” Hopefully people are going to be very happy that it’s on some form of vinyl and they’ll stop bloody moaning about justice for “Overtime.”

Most classically disco

I’m still learning about disco, and there’s so many different elements of it. “Spotlight” feels quite disco, but then actually no. “Step Into My Life”? I don’t even know if you’d call that disco, really. That’s the thing: I feel like it was me being greedy as per usual, and taking in lots of different references, from groove to soul to disco to house. [“Spotlight”] was very much inspired by Fern Kinney and “Love Me Tonight” and that kind of feel. That thing of, you could be on the dance floor, but yearning.

Least classically disco song

“Adore You” feels like it’s in another world, but I love that because I love Joe Mount from Metronomy. It was like, “Here we go, I’m having a baby, and I’m just gonna put some music out because I like to put music out on Valentine’s [in 2019], after ‘Valentine’ with Sampha.” It was this very intimate moment that Joe and I did, about me waiting for my son to be born. It is slightly other-dimensional to the rest of the record, more of a vintage feel. I like that, and I like that I didn’t have to commit to one sound, ’cause I didn’t want to feel like I was making a retro record, per se.

Also, that [“Endless”] remix is so good! Honestly, that’s when remixes are so worthwhile. A lot of the time they’re a waste of time, aren’t they? God, I shouldn’t say that, but you know what I mean? Like somebody hasn’t cared enough, they’ve taken the check. That one just felt so honest and sensual and beautiful. That’s been the beauty of being able to collaborate with these people [Bibi Zhou and Sihan] that I’ve never met, [who are] in China, and us having this really wonderful connection through the song and [Zhou] completely reimagining it.

Most melancholy song

There’s a few, isn’t there? There’s “Strangest Feeling,” “Devotion.” “Tough Love” — I don’t know, maybe that’s not that melancholy. Yeah, [laughs] lots of misery. I feel like the most [is] probably from the first record, like “Swan Song” or “Devotion.”

I wouldn’t have been able to write “Please” when I was 28. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I wasn’t confident enough. I think, for me, many times I write songs that have felt like there could be a barrier between what I was saying, and not giving away too much. And I always thought my voice suited melancholy songs and notes much better. I was obsessed with Sade. I kind of took on all those more somber songs that she has that are so beautiful — rather than like “Smooth Operator” or “Your Love Is King,” I went more for the other ones, like “No Ordinary Love” and “Cherish the Day” and “Jezebel.” I also think the Weeknd, House of Balloons had come out and it was all this impactful, melancholy R&B that had feeling, and I was just mad about it.

Hardest song to sing

I haven’t tried any of these new ones that are coming out. And I really struggled with “Say You Love Me” for a long time, but I can do that now. It’s muscle memory. “Tough Love,” I may have taken down a half-tone or two before, live, ’cause I was too scared that I couldn’t hit those notes. It was an absolute bugger. If you get it on that first like, [singing] “It’s already the time” — if you get it, you’re okay. [Laughs] But I hate that feeling. You’re like, Am I gonna get it? Am I gonna get it? And then if you get that first note, you’re like, Okay! I can relax now. Otherwise, you’re waiting for that second verse to redeem yourself.

Best love song

I think the current favorite is “0208,” which I did with Kindness [on The Platinum Pleasure Edition], just because it’s about my husband; it’s about us being teenagers, not wanting to get off the phone. It pulls me back to that time. We’ve had so much time together [since knowing each other in childhood and marrying in 2014], we’re now having our third baby, but that brings me back to that teenage infatuation, excitement, and anticipation.

[To her husband nearby] Sam! Which is one of my most romantic songs, babe? [Sam responds out of earshot.] No, not Tracy Chapman, one of mine! [Sam responds again, out of earshot.] Oh, no, that’s — I mean, the most heartbreaking song for me is “Thinking About You,” from the last record [Glasshouse]. It’s about my daughter, and not feeling like I was making the right balance of being her mum and working. My daughter really wants to hear it, ’cause my husband had played it to her when she was in the car and said, “Mummy wrote this song about you.” And she loves it, but whenever she asks for it to be put on, it’s really bittersweet. I almost can’t listen to it, ’cause it makes me feel too guilty about that time. But I’m glad that hopefully it feels like a celebratory song for her. Maybe I’ll get to that point where I can celebrate it too, but it still feels quite hard to hear. But I’m always touched if she wants to hear it, it’s very sweet.

Sam Burrows [in background]: “Sam” is quite romantic as well.

Jessie Ware: “Sam”?

SB: “Sam” is quite romantic.

JW: Okay, Sam is saying that “Sam” is quite romantic. I don’t know …

Table Manners podcast guest you want to have back

Dan Levy is like God’s gift, was just so charming, and I feel annoyed that we had to do it on Zoom. Sometimes the Zoom ones aren’t as fun. We [Ware and her mother and co-host, Lennie] usually cook, so it was so wonderful meeting him, but then I just wish we could’ve cooked for him.

I wish that we could do the Dolly Parton one again so I wasn’t so starstruck. You’re going, “So, Dolly? What did you think?” She’s such a pro, but I think I didn’t relax enough with that one because I was like, I’m speaking to Dolly Parton, this is so weird. But she was charming.

Song you’re proudest of

I felt like we really pushed it with “Remember Where You Are.” If I can make a whole album of “Remember Where You Are”s, I’d be really happy. I mean, I love my records, but this was right at the end of the album, and I thought, Okay, we’re on a bit of a roll, and this feels really good, and it feels effortless. And writing music hasn’t necessarily felt that effortless; it’s been a job, and it’s been hard. That one I’m incredibly proud of. I think “Wildest Moments,” as well, because it really captures my relationship with my best friend, and those highs and lows of female relationships that can be so intense. They feel like breakthroughs in my songwriting.

[“Remember Where You Are” is] this calm, grounding moment where there’s a togetherness, but in such a grandiose, choirs-of-togetherness [way]. Also, there’s a hint to maybe the next route of where things will go for the next record. [That song] felt like it was written within this world of What’s Your Pleasure? — even though it’s slowed down, it’s slightly more groove-led, and felt like it needed to be on there. It hopefully will feel, then, like the continuation onto the next record will make sense.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jessie Ware on Her Best, Most Disco, and Melancholy Songs