Just how personal is Jessie Ware’s new album? Consider this: In late August, weeks before the release of her third LP, Glasshouse, the singer is wondering how to tell her father about a song lyric he’s probably not going to love. The line is from the gorgeous, jaw-dropping album closer, “Sam,” which was named for Ware’s husband and co-written with Ed Sheeran, and it goes like this: “I hope I’m as brave as my mother/ Wondering what kind of mother will be/ I hope she knows that I’ve found a man far from my father/ Sam, my baby, and me.” She’s been putting off telling him about it, because, well, how do you explain that it’s not an insult?
“The thing is, my mom and dad broke up, and my husband couldn’t be further from him, that’s all it is — it’s not that my dad’s a bad person,” Ware, 33, tells EW. “How do I bring that up with him? I’ve never really been so revealing in a song. I feel like it’s a criticism of him, but it’s not meant to be. It’s just that they didn’t work out, and I’ve chosen somebody that isn’t like him. I’m really worried about this conversation.”
Glasshouse is full of moments like that — when Ware’s lyrics about motherhood and long-term commitment and intimacy feel like eavesdropping on a private conversation. And as effortless as the LP sounds, making it was often a struggle for the singer. After welcoming her first child late last year, Ware threw herself back into work, only to have friend and producer Benny Blanco tell her the early material wasn’t working and that she needed to start over and get back in touch with herself. Ware also battled the guilt many working moms feel as she balanced studio time with her home life, resulting in songs like “Thinking About You” — a track about being away from her daughter that at first listen sounds like it could be about an invisible, unrequited love. “That song feels really raw, and I think I’m going to cry when I sing it,” Ware says. “My husband cries when he listens to it because he knows it’s about our baby girl.”
Below, Ware makes EW a Musical Mood Board and shares — in her own words — the people, places, and pop culture that guided her creative process.
I started watching it on tour in America, and I’m just completely obsessed with it. It’s like an old friend. I love the characters, the songs are f—ing amazing. The Rayna situation last season? I’ve never sobbed like that at a TV program! It’s made me try to write and perform better. I’m also enthralled by [the city] — it’s this club I really want to get into. A lot of the songwriters that I’ve worked with on this record have gone to Nashville and done these writing camps, and I just find it really intriguing. I kind of wish I made country music. “Wildest Moments” was an attempt at country — ignore the production. I’d really love to hear Rayna Jaymes sing it.
That’s where [producer and friend] Benny Blanco told me that my songs sucked and that I needed to dig a little bit deeper and remember who I was and stop trying to write these songs that don’t have “me” in them. I’d been playing him these other new songs that I had, and he was just like, “They’re not good.” And I was like, “No, they’re really good, you just need to listen to them like four times, and then you’ll like them.” And he was like, “No, they suck.” I think I’d lost a little bit of myself. I’d forgotten who I was and what actually people liked about me. After that chat, I made a resolution that I was going to do whatever the f— I wanted, and I wasn’t going to second-guess it. I don’t need to to try and strive for the “hits.” I wrote “First Time” on my first session back after that.
‘Love Is Strange’
My husband I had nothing to do one day so we went to see this film. We didn’t have our child yet — those wonderful times when you were able to go, “What do you fancy doing today? Should we go to the cinema?” It was this charming film about an older gay couple, but there was a Nina Simone song in it, and it started this complete love of Nina Simone for me. She became a really important reference for this record. I love the simplicity of her lyrics. There’s also such character in her voice and the way she performed. She didn’t give a sh–, and I think that’s quite admirable. Something just came over her on stage — she seems possessed by her music when she’s playing. I kind of envy that.
‘Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’
My cousin — she had her baby four days before mine — recommended this book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We’ve been through it all with each other: the pregnancy, the birth, the not knowing what the f— you’re doing. I knew I was going to have to work very soon after [giving birth] — I’m the breadwinner and need to provide for my family. There’s such a guilt with that: I’m learning how to be a mother, but I also have this hunger and ambition. This book was a reassuring pat on the back. It wasn’t a self-help book, it was just really human and relatable. It reaffirmed that it’s okay for me to be working. Hopefully [my daughter] will have an amazing work ethic and be inspired by that.
It’s the best thing ever. It helps out when you have a kid and you’re in the studio and can’t go out. When Julia Michaels and I did our session together, we’d get Pinkberry delivered. It was a real novelty, and I absolutely abused it. I spent so much money. But it’s given me wonderful moments of relief, being able to order frozen yogurt and not leave the chair or my notepad.
I adore Julia. She’s this little rebel. She’s f—ing cool, she’s opinionated, she’s got amazing taste, she’s ridiculously talented. I learned a lot from her, and it was a real pleasure to write with her. I’m glad she’s doing the artist thing. I hope I get to work with her again, but she’s probably too busy being a f—ing massive pop star.
‘A Seat at the Table’
I was already a fan of Solange, but when this record dropped, it reminded me that the album [format] is still so important. I loved the musicality on that record. We’re constantly having this bloody worry about whether a radio station’s going to play you or not, and actually we’re so lucky that we get to do this body of work, this piece of art. She executed that so brilliantly.
‘West Side Story’
Memories of this record are entwined with memories of my daughter’s first year. She helped me create this album just by being in the world. West Side Story is my favorite musical, and two songs from it — “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty” — became these lullabies I’d sing to my baby when she was crying or when I was changing her nappy. It’s a part of this record now.
‘A Bigger Splash’
It’s a remake of [the 1969 film] La Piscine starring Tilda Swinton, and it became a massive reference for all my visuals [for this album cycle] — the styling, the shots, the costumes. You see it in my “Selfish Love” video. It’s a really amazing film, and it’s got this real dark humor about it. Tilda’s the queen.
We shot the album cover there at this incredible house called the Neuendorf House. I was doing my house up the year before and got really into interiors and exteriors. I was really obsessed with buildings like the National Theater in London. The Nowness Instagram really triggered me looking into these other worlds — it helped me shape how I wanted to present the record. It was a lot of late nights, breastfeeding or being up with the baby while scrolling on Instagram. I really didn’t want the cover to be all about my face. I’m not the most significant thing [in my life anymore] and that’s why I wanted to look like I’m a small part of this story visually.
I also really wanted a European element to it. Maybe because of Brexit happening? There were suggestions of me shooting my videos and album cover in Palm Springs and I was like, “I love that, but I’m European, and it’s so beautiful in Majorca.” I’m really glad it’s become part of this record with it being on the cover and shooting videos there.