Even if she couldn't sing a lick, Jessie Ware would still be the most fascinating person you know.
She's chums with Adele and Florence Welch. Her sister Hannah co-starred on the Kelsey Grammer series Boss. She's held jobs as a sportswriter and a TV production assistant, where she worked alongside an aspiring novelist named Erika Mitchell — you may know her as E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey.
"It is quite funny, and I laugh at it always," Ware said during a recent call from her native London, where she was packing for a five-week tour of America. "I'm not interesting. I'm going to go home and try and catch up with Breaking Bad and eat fish pies. I'm not just rock 'n' roll."
Maybe not, but she is one of the most intriguing figures in modern R&B. The charming Ware, who turned 29 this week, has won acclaim around the world for her seductive debut album Devotion, a smart and stylish blend of indie pop, electronic flourishes and '80s- and '90s-influenced R&B. Ware has found herself among a class of singers (Miguel, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd) who are redefining make-out music for the Millennial generation, her breathy voice earning comparisons to Sade, Annie Lennox and Feist.
As Ware attempts to translate her huge U.K. success Stateside, she'll come to Florida for the first time next week, with a show Wednesday at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. During our chat, we asked Ware about the challenges of crossing the Atlantic, the appeal of Miley Cyrus and even the link between her favorite football club, Manchester United, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are excerpts.
From an outsider's perspective, what's the biggest challenge in connecting with an American audience?
I don't find it challenging, actually. I find it really wonderful, the opportunity that I've had. It seems people have come back to see me more than once, which I completely appreciate, because I probably sing the same songs. I'm touring with my first album. I really look forward to them and love them, and they're so open to me — open and loud — and that's what you want when you're on stage and you're a bit scared.
Did you find you faced any stigmas that you were fighting against as you made this push to cross over in America the way that you have the U.K.?
You know what? I realize it's a huge divide from the U.K., and I don't know if I'll ever really break it or do the crossover thing. But what I do find is I'm lucky enough to be doing my third tour this year, and that's enough for me at the moment. I haven't had to compromise myself. I realize it's just so huge, so the fact that I'm getting to go to new places ... it all feels kind of new and exciting. If I felt mean about it, then it takes the enjoyment out of going and traveling all across these places in America, which I never would have got the opportunity to go to if I didn't go on tour.
Do you have any theories about why some things translate across the Atlantic and some don't?
F--- no. I absolutely don't know. I think Americans are very, very warm and receptive to the Brits, and I think they like a good voice — that's what I seem to think. But f--- no. You let me know what the theory is, and give me a call, and I'll work hard on my second album to make it work.
It's funny, it works the other way, too. A couple of years ago, I was talking to another British singer about the same thing, and I asked what things are huge in America that just don't work in Europe — American country music, maybe ...
I wish we had more American country music! You have stations and stations for it, and we don't have any! I'd love that! I'm just obsessing over Emmylou Harris. So I wish that was the case.
Well, I have to ask you, then: You tweeted a few days ago, Where is Dollywood? Were you thinking about going to Dollywood on this tour?
Of course I was! I love Dolly Parton!
I don't necessarily hear the influence. Why do you love Dolly Parton?
Because she's the biggest soul sister around. She sings like she breaks a thousand hearts. I just love her, and I love the fact that there's a whole world which apparently her family runs.
I grew up not too far from Dollywood, actually. That was sort of our local theme park.
See? That's amazing! I've been to Disney Land and Universal Studios, but I've never been to where Elvis is from and where Dolly Parton is from. But it's very important in American musical history.
Are people in London as obsessed as Americans right now with Miley Cyrus?
Oh, yeah, people are obsessed. That whole Sinead O'Connor thing? It was in all the newspapers here.
Is there anything about being that sort of pop star that appeals to you?
I think she does latex better than I could ever do latex, and she sticks her tongue out better than I could. No, each to her own, absolutely. There's no doubt that Miley can sing. But I want to be very private, and I think that my boyfriend would freak out if I ever got that much attention, because I don't think he'd be able to have a normal life. In an ideal world, I'd be able to live a very normal life but be able to be this singer that gets to travel the world and have fans all over the place.
Let's talk about Devotion. Was there a void in the music world that led you to create the sound that we hear on the album?
I don't know what I was doing. I was just like, I'm going to sing what I feel like I'd like to hear in 10 years' time. I wanted it to feel a bit timeless. I was definitely listening to a lot of The Weeknd, and a lot of Sade.
The Weeknd was just here in Tampa. It was a great show.
Yeah, man, he's so good, and I really wish I would see that show. I saw his first show in London, and it was really exciting. He hadn't been signed yet, and you could just feel all the record label bosses were in the audience. His performance was amazing.
This new strain of electronic-tinged indie R&B that we're seeing with you, Miguel, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Banks — is there a connective tissue there? Are there sonic elements that you think you guys all share?
I love all those artists. I think Banks is a really exciting new artist. I've been listening to The Weekend, and Frank Ocean is beautiful. It's weird, because our albums were all coming out at the same time. It's been a happy coincidence. I wonder what it's going to sound like in a few years — once people have listened to Miguel's album for a bit, or Frank Ocean's album. I'm excited to see what artists do next.
How did you end up remixing Adorn?
I think lots of people think I just did it in my room. Miguel asked me to do it. His label came to me. I was like, "I can't touch that song. I don't think I should do it." And then I was like, "Actually, am I mad? I've got the chance to work with Miguel, and him to tell me how to sing? I'm definitely going to do it." So he was supporting Alicia Keys in London, and we met at the studio late at night and started the session about 11:30, and he was like, "It's just going to be really quick; this is what I want you to do." I was like, "Yeah, anything you want, mate. It's your song, it's so perfect." And then we ended up four hours later, drinking whiskey, and him really being so amazing in the studio. He asked the engineer, and he was so polite, "Do you mind if I take over?" That was his session, and hew knew exactly what he wanted. So I'm very, very lucky that I got to do that.
Let me ask you: They're both playing on the same night. You can get a ticket to either show. Who are you going to see, Miguel or The Weeknd?
Oh, that's so mean! Well, obviously, I'm going to see Miguel, because I've never seen Miguel perform live. But that's a really hard question.
I know you started out as a sportswriter and you're a pretty big Manchester United fan. How do you feel about Malcolm Glazer as an owner?
You know what? I think football has become so much about money, crazy money, and I feel like the Glazers always let (former manager) Alex Ferguson be the manager. I felt like Alex Ferguson was always the boss, he was signing people. So I haven't had too much of a problem about it. It's a bit weird, these people owning football clubs, and I wish it could not be all about money. But that's the way it's going for everyone, I think.
Malcolm Glazer owns our local American football team, the Buccaneers.
Oh, really? So, what, does he live there?
His family does. His family owns the Buccaneers.
Maybe I should invite them to the show! If I invite them to the show, maybe they'll invite me to a United match.
Yeah, maybe. I'll spread the word.
Spread the word, man!
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*