Jun 17, 2021
By Conrad Duncan
Photography by Carlijn Jacobs
Issue #68 – Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
In an age of social distancing, Jessie Ware’s fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, is an epidemiologist’s nightmare; an ecstatic celebration of packed sweaty dancefloors, passionate kisses, and insatiable longing. The disco-inspired record, which landed on many Best of 2020 lists and has just been reissued via a deluxe edition as What’s Your Pleasure? The Platinum Pleasure, is also a step removed from the brooding soul for which she made her name. Ware had always been a funny, gregarious presence in person, yet her music had long felt best-suited for quiet introspective moments. The rapturous response that welcomed What’s Your Pleasure? suggests that critics and fans had been waiting for her to explore a more playful persona.
“I’ve said it before but it made me feel like a new artist again,” Ware says of the reaction, speaking from her study in London on a dreary winter’s evening. “As an artist who’s on their fourth album and as a 35-year-old woman in music, the buzz starts to dwindle,” she adds. “It felt like this new injection that was really amazing, especially because it was fully on my terms.”
When Ware first emerged in the early 2010s, her debut album Devotion found a sweet spot between critical acclaim and commercial accessibility—cool enough to be nominated for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize while also securing recognition from the pop-focused BRIT Awards. However, that balancing act proved hard to maintain and by her third album (the underrated Glasshouse), she found herself losing favor with both critics and the record-buying public. Her response, in her words, was to lock herself away from her label and to tune out the “noise” from the music industry. What’s Your Pleasure?, produced with musician and friend James Ford, was to be a record for her—a committed exploration of a love of dance music that had long been present in the background of her career.
Ware says the album was produced in almost complete contrast with the nights of excess and romance portrayed in its songs. “It was James and I very much on a 10-4 basis—we both have families so we’d dip into the studio and work in the daytime,” she says. There, they dreamed up escapist fantasies inspired by the queer dancefloors of ’80s New York, the camp disco of Fern Kinney, and the effortless cool of Róisín Murphy. When the album was finally released in the middle of a pandemic, its timing was a mixed blessing—appearing at a time when most dancefloors around the world were closed but in the middle of a surprise disco revival.
Ware describes the similarities between her record and those by pop heavyweights like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga as “weird serendipity” rather than a planned approach. “It did kind of feel like we were all huddled in a boardroom meeting talking about each other like ‘she’ll take a more French disco-house approach…,’” she jokes. “I wish that had been the case because I would have been in a room with Lady Gaga and Róisín and Dua and Kylie [Minogue].” In fact, Ware admits that she even considered trying to get Minogue on the album’s sultry title track. “Kylie has those moments like ‘Slow’ and ‘Confide In Me’ where you just want to make love to her…she just oozes that sex,” she says, adding that the two of them have discussed the possibility of recording a new song together.
The current state of the music industry may be deeply uncertain at the moment—with scaled back release schedules as labels wait for a more opportune environment for new albums—but Ware suggests that her fans may be hearing from her again sooner rather than later. The six months following the release of What’s Your Pleasure? would have been spent on tour in normal circumstances. Instead, Ware has had time to consider a follow-up. She describes the new album, which is apparently halfway done, in vague terms—“more live,” “upbeat,” “more pace”—and notes that many of the same collaborators have returned, including Ford, Metronomy’s Joe Mount, and songwriters Alexandra Govere and Daniel Parker.
“What’s Your Pleasure? awakened a confidence which has been so incredible for me as a songwriter and an artist and a mother and a woman and all of that,” Ware says. “I think we can keep on going and the fact that we’ve been having to do the majority of sessions over Zoom and it’s working—that’s really interesting.”
As for when it will be released, she has no clear date in mind but reassures fans that she isn’t planning to hold anything back: “I’m so not precious about keeping music from people so as long as my label is cool with it, I’ll be putting stuff out.”
[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
Read our 2014 interview with Jessie Ware.