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Showing Her Wares

7 February 2013 | 7:30 am | Cyclone Wehner

“Although my mouth has got me into trouble a few times recently, I think ‘cause I’ve been a bit more relaxed, I understand what I can and can’t say and understand when you’ll be misquoted.”

Jessie Ware never planned to become a pop star – even a credible one­. Yet the post-dubstep soulstress attracted rave reviews for 2012's UK top five debut Devotion. She was then nominated for the Mercury Prize. Today Katy Perry is a fan, while A$AP Rocky wants to collaborate.

The Wildest Moments vocalist, touring Laneway with an impeccable and full-bodied live show, still can't comprehend her success. “This has all felt like a complete gift,” Ware says. “I was just happy to be having an album out... It just felt all too good to be true. Now I'm at the BRITs next week or whatever and I'm up for 'Best Female' – and I've been around for a second. So I feel like people have been very generous and really supportive of me – and I really appreciate that. I didn't expect any of this.”

The South Londoner, glamorous in her signature big hoops and a white crochet-style number, is seated in Universal's Melbourne HQ. Ware has made it her mission during Laneway to bond with Poliça's Channy Leaneagh – she loved the inventive auto-tuned soul of Give You The Ghost. “She's really shy,” Ware reveals. “I met her on the first day and I made a proper beeline for her... But I haven't seen her about that much. She seems quite mysterious and she's so beautiful and [whispers] softly-spoken – and then I feel like just this crude, obnoxious girl compared to her!”

The self-effacing Ware comes from a middle-class Jewish family, her father the esteemed BBC reporter John Ware. She studied English Literature at the University of Sussex, but wearied of it. “It really put me off reading, totally – I mean, having to read three books a week, like Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, Medieval literature, which wasn't really my bag.” However, Ware was gripped by the existentialist author Kafka. The Brixton girl herself embarked on a career as a journalist, actually working for a tabloid – The Daily Mirror. Ware subsequently served as an assistant at the same TV production company as Erika Leonard, aka EL James, author of Fifty Shades Of Grey. She read Leonard's early drafts. The pair have stayed in touch via Facebook, though Leonard struggled to hear Ware's music, being unable to grasp YouTube – to the singer's amusement. “She's a very sweet woman – really lovely.”

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Ware sang backing vocals as a favour for her old school chum Jack Peñate. Next she found herself singing on SBTRKT's tunes, including Nervous, which led to further gigs with Joker and Sampha. Soon the tentative Ware had a new job – as a pro diva. She signed to the fledgling boutique label PMR Records, airing Strangest Feeling. Ware's exchanges with SBTRKT allowed her to develop a quiet storm, her electronica favourably compared to Sade. Notably, Ware avoided hiring 'hitmakers' for Devotion, imagining it would be, for one thing, “intimidating”. Instead she liaised with The Invisible's Dave Okumu (Ware's manager had bumped into him at Paloma Faith's barbecue), young Bristol house DJ/producer Julio Bashmore, and Florence Welch ally Kid Harpoon. 

Like Poliça, Ware, who cameo-ed on Bobby Womack's avant The Bravest Man In The Universe, has been identified as very alt. R&B. She's routinely tagged as 'post-dubstep', the amorphous term perplexing her. “Because I don't really reference dubstep as any kind of influence, the idea of being in post-dubstep – I don't get it.” Nevertheless, Ware's roots lie in club culture. She's hands-on in selecting remixers like Disclosure, their take on Running a hit in its own right. She duets on Katy B's newly circulated Aaliyah. 

Due to her background, Ware has more “respect” for journos than most artists, but she apprehends the media's machinations. “Although my mouth has got me into trouble a few times recently, I think 'cause I've been a bit more relaxed, I understand what I can and can't say and understand when you'll be misquoted.” And she's especially mindful of her banter at gigs. (In New York lately Ware cheekily cried “Fuck Big Pun!” in relation to belated hip hop sample issues with her popular 110%.) “That's when I was like, 'Shut up –,” she chirps, “there's always journalists around!'”

Jessie Ware will be playing the following dates:

Friday 8 February - Laneway Festival, Adelaide SA
Saturday 9 February - Laneway Festival, Perth WA