Jessie Ware cuts right to the chase when talking about the imagery and inspiration behind her new album What’s Your Pleasure?
“Oh my god, so much imagery. So much filth in my head!” the singer-songwriter tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below).
“I mean, in my head, I was somewhere between (legendary and scandalous nightclubs) Studio 54 and Berghain in Berlin. That’s where it was. It was intentionally cinematic… I was imagining it in the club, but in my perfect version of a club, that, you know, would be selling a dirty martini and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps (chips).”
What’s Your Pleasure? marks the British star’s fourth studio album, and it debuted on the Official U.K. Albums Chart at No. 3 – her highest charting effort yet (and fourth top 10 in her homeland).
Ware says it’s her “dream for this record” to play at Berghain’s Panorama Bar and cannot wait to bring the album to life on the road in a live show.
“You know part of the reason why I’ve done so much choreography on this record, on the visuals,” Ware says, “is because I’m going to do that in the live show. I’m going to have a damn good time with all my fans, and they’re gonna know the dance routines because they’re not too hard, because I can do them. And that’s how it is!”
Below are some highlights from Ware’s chat with the Pop Shop Podcast, including her further thoughts on the beginnings of the album (and who told her ‘let’s go disco, let’s go boogie, let’s go house’ on the set), her ideal stage setup for her upcoming tour, and how she thinks Rosalía is “killing it” in her shows. Plus, Ware, who is also a very successful podcaster (as the co-host of the food/chat show Table Manners with her mother, Lennie), discusses how the podcast has influenced her music career and how she’s not quite sure if her recent guest Josh Groban knew she was also a singer.
Does Ware remember the moment in which she decided the vibe and direction of this album?
I knew before I even did my first session with (one of the album’s producers) James Ford. We talked. We are friends. And I said, ‘I wanna make a dance record. And I wanna do it sophisticated. I wanna do it like a Jessie Ware dance record. And I wanna have fun.’ And he said, ‘I wanna hear you on a dance record. I wanna do this too. Let’s go disco, let’s go boogie, let’s go house.’ And that’s what we did.
So we kinda knew what we were doing, and I felt like I was in great hands with James. And he reached out to producers like Morgan Geist, whose in New York, and Midland, whose actually down the road from me (in London). And so it was wonderfully collaborative. Then I’d reach out to Kindness, or Joseph Mount from Metronomy. It felt like the old days when I would just kind of be like, ‘hey, do you wanna work together?’ And you’d just say, ‘yeah! I think, yeah, I would like to work together!’ And it was really nice.
Did she have imagery in her head when were making the album?
Oh my god, so much imagery. So much filth in my head! I mean, in my head, I was somewhere between Studio 54 and Berghain in Berlin. That’s where it was. It was intentionally cinematic, and that’s what I went full whack with the ol’ strings and horns, with Jules Buckley, whose an amazing composer, who I’d worked with when I’d been touring. I’d done this mini-tour with (superstar DJ) Pete Tong that everyone knows, and I’d been singing kind of dance classics, and it was really fun, and Jules was the composer. I was like, ‘I’m gonna have that, and I’m gonna have that, and it’s gonna be great!’ And so for me, absolutely, I was imagining it in the club, but in my perfect version of a club that, you know, would be selling a dirty martini and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps (chips). You know? Like, that’s it.
On what Berghain is like:
I actually think that phones aren’t even allowed. I’m not sure. Berghain is a place where you don’t know — much like Studio 54 — you don’t know if you’re going to get in. So there’s this line, and you gotta hope that you look right or you’re with the right person to get in. And it’s like this kind of myth around it. It’s fact. And there’s this Panorama Bar (in Berghain) that so many of my friends have DJ’d. I remember my friend Julio Bashmore, who I did songs like ‘Running’ with, and ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ with, and ‘Sweet Talk.’ Very much on the first (album). And he’d fly to Berlin, and he’d get up at 6 o’clock to have his Corn Flakes, and then he’d pop off to go and do a kind of sunrise set at Berghain. I mean, he could have chosen to stay up all night and, I don’t know, do naughty things and whatnot, but yeah, that’s how we do it. I love this feeling that’s all about dance. It’s all about keeping people dancing.
I was supposed to play Berghain. You can play the Panorama Bar. There was talk with the promoter in Berlin that I was gonna play it, and then I don’t know, I got moved to another venue. I don’t know what happened, whether it was a capacity thing, or something. I got moved to another venue, and so I still am yet to play Panorama Bar. And this is like my dream for this record to play there.
Have she actually been to the club?
No. But I’ve heard plenty a story.
What has she imagined in terms of performing these songs live? Is it total maximalism on stage?
No. Well, I don’t know. It’s definitely a different setup (compared to previous tours). I really learned the hard way that touring with a full band is quite costly, and you can lose loads of money, and it’s really sad that this is the reality of being an artist that isn’t massive, but people really still like to watch me. But anyways. So, I kind of learned that, and decided that I wanted to do something that felt more economical. And I think people are far more forgiving about things being on (a pre-recorded) track (as opposed to having live musicians).
At the beginning of my career there were only four of us on stage. I was triggering things with my MPC (drum machine) and it was kind of allowed? And then I think I got into this purist version where I was like, ‘oh, everything must be live!’ No, it doesn’t! You see Rosalía killing it with dancers and loads of backing tracks and she’s killing it, and she’s singing and it’s got a vibe. And so I watched Rosalía, and I was speaking to Kindness actually, who was, you know, really saying, ‘you need to be less purist about this, like, it’s too expensive to play with (a) full band.’ So… the beauty of this record is that I can go with a DJ, on my own and do (shows), if I want. Or, I can bring my two trusty backing singers who are gonna do the dance moves with me, and then that will be a slight more of a vibe. And then if we really wanna go there, and somebody wants to pay me the big bucks to be able to afford to play, we bring in musicians, of course!
My dream would be to have a couple of musicians. Like, a DJ/electronic wizard and two BVs (backing vocalists). And we’d do choreography. You know part of the reason why I’ve done so much choreography on this record, on the visuals, is because I’m going to do that in the live show. Because I’m going to have a damn good time with all my fans, and they’re gonna know the dance routines because they’re not too hard, because I can do them. And that’s how it is! So it can kind of grow, and it can grow, and it can grow. Or it can shrink. And it will still sound bloody good, ’cause I can sing live, so that’s it.
Has Table Manners has influenced her musical career in any creative or business sense?
Yeah, it’s taken the business aspect out of the music, which is what I needed. Because I was doing this podcast that’s doing really really well, and I was enjoying it, and it felt fun. And I think music and the business side, and the money side, got really heavy for a bit. And that’s not fun. And then that just ruins creativity. So, the podcast has been incredibly empowering for me as an artist, to really feel like I can let go and feel free and creative again. So that was really amazing. And then, you know… I think people have come to the podcast that maybe didn’t even know anything about my music, and then really liked the podcast, therefore potentially were like ‘oh, I’ll give Jessie’s music a listen because I have her in my ear every bloody week anyway.’ So I think that’s been really interesting to see how that’s worked. I can never tell how much that’s impacted on, you know, the listens of this record. But I think it definitely probably has helped. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded 75,000 bloody sales of my record in first week like we do on the ol’ podcast, but you know, we’re getting there!
Josh Groban was a recent guest on Table Manners, but Ware isn’t too sure he knew she was also a singer:
I don’t think he knew who I was, it was hysterical. I don’t know… Josh was charming and so sweet. And I loved how he’d got into cooking in lockdown. I can’t remember what he’d been cooking, but he was having a lovely time with it. But yeah, I just got (laughs) the impression that I don’t think he knew — I think he just thought he was on the phone (with) two Jewish women that wanted to chat about food a bit. It was funny. It’s funny … Maybe he knew! Maybe he knew!
In addition to the Ware interview, Pop Shop hosts Jason and Keith review chart news about Dua Lipa scoring her third No. 1 on the Pop Songs chart with “Break My Heart” and Drake breaking the record for the most top 10s on the Billboard Hot 100 with his two new top 10s hits. Plus, Jason shares his quick hot take on Taylor Swift’s surprise new album Folklore.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)