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Jessie Ware is a proper pop star. With her soulful, melancholy vocal, effortlessly elegant songwriting skills and, of course, that striking slicked-back hair, she marks a new era for pop. Her outstanding debut album "Devotion" combines the ultra-modern feel of downtempo R&B and British electronic music.
South London born Jessie started singing at school, inspired by the romance of her mother's Frank Sinatra and "Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter" tapes, appearing in musicals and picking up some classical training along the way. Jessie cut her teeth as a vocalist when she wrote the track "Nervous" with SBTRKT. She then hooked up with Sampha, who had also sung on "Nervous," to write "Valentine," one of last year's sweetest tracks, all breathy vocals and beautiful simplicity. Armed with those two songs and riding a growing wave of hype, she was snapped up by brand new British label PMR. With her name on everyone's lips, the time seemed right for an album. But, despite another big guest spot on Joker's "The Vision" and standout vocals on a number of tracks on SBTRKT's debut album, Jessie wanted to make sure she was truly ready to go it alone,
"I wanted to combine electronic with a more classic songwriting," she explains. "I didn't want it to feel too 'of now', so that's why I went back to beats and grooves of things I loved before, like Prince and Chaka Khan and Grace Jones. I wanted to make downer R&B, and songs that are beautiful and bittersweet, like Sade. It was just about mixing it up in the right way."
Her debut album "Devotion" contains that effortless poise within 11 laid-back, soulful pop songs that run the spectrum of sweet and dark. "I feel like I've been allowed to push it with the melodrama," she smiles. "Like [early single] 'Running' was me thinking of Whitney Houston's 'Queen Of The Night' and romantic film scenes from the 80s, where the guy sees the girl at the prom..." The title track, she says, is the first song she wrote with Dave Okumu from the Invisible, who would become a key part of the making of the album. "That's why I wanted the album to be called that, because it's where it started. That's when I felt like a singer, and could express myself in the way that I wanted, with the music I wanted."
The upbeat nu-soul swing of "Sweet Talk" ("one of my favourite songs") is about someone trying to pull you in even though you're trying to stay away, sung with flirtatiousness, but also a hint of danger. "Night Light" may seem dark, with its remarkable and dense shimmering layers and lines about shadows and ghosts, but actually, Jessie says, "the essence of it is very sweet. It's about my boyfriend, and being scared of the dark, and him just... being there."
"Devotion" takes a look at other relationships, too, not just romantic ones. Next single, the tentatively desperate "Wildest Moments," is of particular significance to her. "It's about a tempestuous relationship with my best friend. We love and hate each other. I never fight with anybody more than her. It's about those extremes of being amazing and awful together."
"Taking In Water," meanwhile, all powerful choral melancholy, is a message of support for her younger brother. "I'm proud of that one because it's really emotional. My brother was going through a hard time, and I love him dearly, and we've never been very good at speaking to each other, so I put it in a song. I don't even think he's heard it!"
Pulling it all together with a uniquely Jessie Ware sound were her producers Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon. "They've been my three people for this album. I like that they all bring something different out in me."
With one of the year's finest albums under her belt, the only way is up for Jessie Ware. "I want to be a pop star, in the classic sense, like Annie Lennox, or Sade, or Whitney," she says. "There's something classy about them. I'm going for the big ones!"