What's Your Pleasure?
When it came to crafting her fourth album, Jessie Ware had one word in mind. “Escapism,” the Londoner tells Apple Music of What’s Your Pleasure?, a collection of suitably intoxicating soul- and disco-inspired pop songs to transport you out of your everyday and straight onto a crowded dance floor. “I wanted it to be fun. The premise was: Will this make people want to have sex? And will this make people want to dance? I’ve got a family now, so going out and being naughty and debauched doesn’t happen that much.” And yet the singer (and, in her spare time, wildly popular podcaster) could have never foreseen just how much we would all be in need of that release by the time What’s Your Pleasure? came to be heard—amid a global pandemic and enforced lockdowns in countless countries. “A lot of shit is going on,” says Ware. “As much as I don’t think I’m going to save the world with this record, I do think it provides a bit of escapism. By my standards, this album is pretty joyful.”
Indeed, made over two years with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and producers including Clarence Coffee Jr. (Dua Lipa, Lizzo) and Joseph Mount of Metronomy, What’s Your Pleasure? is a world away from the heartfelt balladry once synonymous with Ware. Here, pulsating basslines reign supreme, as do whispered vocals, melodramatic melodies, and winking lyrics. At times, it’s a defiant throwback to the dance scene that first made Ware famous (“I wanted people to think, ‘When is she going to calm this album down?’”); at others, it’s a thrilling window into what might come next (note “Remember Where You Are,” the album’s gorgeous, Minnie Riperton-esque outro). But why the sudden step change? “A low point in music” and "a shitty time,” says Ware, nodding to a 2018 tour that left her feeling so disillusioned with her day job that her mother suggested she quit singing altogether. “I needed a palate cleanser to shock the system. I needed to test myself. I needed to be reminded that music should be fun.” What’s Your Pleasure?, confirms Ware, has more than restored the spring in her step. “I feel like what I can do after this is limitless,” she says. “That’s quite a different situation to how I felt during the last album. Now, I have a newfound drive. I feel incredibly empowered, and it’s an amazing feeling.” Here_,_ Let Ware walk you through her joyous fourth record, one song at a time.
Spotlight “I wrote this in the first writing session. James was playing the piano and we were absolutely crooning. That’s what the first bit of this song is—which really nods to musical theater and jazz. We thought about taking it out, but then I realized that the theatrical aspect is kind of essential. The album had to have that light and shade. It also felt like a perfect entry point because of that intro. It’s like, ‘Come into my world.’ I think it grabs you. It’s also got a bit of the old Jessie in there, with that melancholy. This song felt like a good indicator of where the rest of the album was going to go. That’s why it felt right to start the record with that.”
What’s Your Pleasure? “We had been writing and writing all day, and nothing was working. We'd gone for a lunch, and we were like, ‘You know, sometimes this happens.’ Later, we were just messing about, and I was like, ‘I really want to imagine that I'm in the Berghain and I want to imagine that I'm dancing with someone and they are so suggestive, and anything goes.’ It's sex, it's desire, it's temptation. We were like, ‘Let’s do this as outrageously as possible.’ So we imagined we were this incredibly confident person who could just say anything. When we wrote it, it just came out—20 minutes and then it was done. James came up with that amazing beat, which almost reminds me of a DJ Shadow song. We were giggling the whole time we were writing it. It's quite poppy accidentally, but I think with the darkness of all the synths, it’s just the perfect combination.”
Ooh La La “This is another very cheeky one. It’s very much innuendo. In my head, there are these prim and proper lovers—it’s all very polite, but actually there’s no politeness about. So it’s quite a naughty number. The song has got an absolute funk to it, but it’s really catchy and it’s still quite quirky. It’s not me letting rip on the vocal. It’s actually quite clipped.”
Soul Control “I had Janet Jackson in my head in this one. It’s a really energetic number. There is a sense of indulgence in these songs, because I wasn’t trying to play to a radio edit and I was really relishing that. But it’s not self-indulgent, because it’s very much fun. These are the highest tempos I’ve ever done, and I think I surprised myself by doing that. I wanted to keep the energy up—I wanted people to think, ‘When is she going to calm this album down?’”
Save a Kiss “It’s funny because I was a bit scared of this song. I remember Ed Sheeran telling me, ‘When you get a bit scared by a song, it usually means that there’s something really good in it.’ My fans like emotion from me, so I wanted to do a really emotive dance song. We just wanted it to feel as bare as possible and really feel like the lyrics and the melody could really like sing out on this one. We had loads of other production in it, and it was very much like a case of James and I stripping everything back. It was the hardest one to get right. But I’m very excited about playing it. It has the yearning and the wanting that I feel my fans want, and I just wanted it to feel a bit over the top. I also wanted this song to have a bit of Kate Bush in there and some of the drama of her music.”
Adore You “I wrote this when I got pregnant. It was my first session with Joseph Mount and I was a bit awkward and he was a bit awkward. When I'm really nervous I sing really quietly because I don't want people to hear anything. But that actually kind of worked. I love this—it shows a vulnerability and a softness. Actually it was me thinking about my unborn child and thinking about, like, I'm falling for you and this bump and feeling like it's going to be a reality soon. I think Joe did such an amazing job on just making it feel hypnotic and still romantic and tender, but with this kind of mad sound. I think it’s a really beautiful song. It was supposed to be an offering before I went away and had a baby, to tell my fans that I’ll be back. They really loved it and I thought, ‘I can't not put this on the record, because it's like it's an important song for the journey of this album.’ I’m really proud of the fact that this is a pure collaboration, and I have such fond memories of it.”
In Your Eyes “This was the first song that me and James wrote for this whole album. I think you can feel the darkness in it. And that maybe I was feeling the resentment and torturing myself. I think that the whirring arpeggio and the beats in this song very much suggest that it’s a stream of consciousness. There’s a desperation about it. I think that was very much the time and place that I was in. I’m very proud of this song, and it’s actually one of my favorites. Jules Buckley did such an amazing job on the strings—it makes me feel like we're in a Bond film or something. But it was very much coming off the back of having quite a low point in music.”
Step Into My Life “I made this song with [London artist] Kindness [aka Adam Bainbridge]. I’ve known them for a long time. In my head I wanted that almost R&B delivery with the verse and for it to feel really intimate and kind of predatory, but with this very disco moment in the chorus. I love that Adam’s voice is in there, in the breakdown. It feels like a conversation—the song is pure groove and attitude. You can’t help but nod your head. It feels like one that you can play at the beginning of a party and get people on the dance floor.”
Read My Lips “James and I did this one on our own, and it’s supposed to be quite bubblegummy. We were giving a nod to [Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force song] ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home.’ The bassline in this song is so good. We also recorded my vocal slower and lower, so that when you turn it back to normal speed, the vocals sound more cutesy because it sounds brighter and higher. I wanted it to sound slightly squeaky. My voice is naturally quite low and melancholic, so I don’t know how I’m going to sing this one live. I’ll have to pinch my nose or something!”
Mirage (Don’t Stop) “The bassline here is ridiculous! That’s down to Matt Tavares [of BADBADNOTGOOD]. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and is just so talented and enthusiastic, and I also wrote this with [British DJ and producer] Benji B and [US producer] Clarence Coffee Jr. I think it really signified that I had got my confidence and my mojo back when I went into that session. Usually I'd be like, ‘Oh, my god, I can't do this with new people.’ But it just clicked as sometimes it does. I was unsure about whether the lyric ‘Don't stop moving’ felt too obvious. But Benji B was very much like, ‘No, man. You want people to dance. It’s the perfect message.’ And I think of Benji B as like the cool-ometer. So I was like, 'Cool, if Benji B thinks it cool, then I'm okay with that.’”
The Kill “There’s an almost hypnotic element to this song. It’s very dark, almost like the end of the night when things are potentially getting too loose. It’s also a difficult one to talk about. It’s about someone feeling like they know you well—maybe too well. There are anxieties in there, and it's meant to be cinematic. I wanted that relentlessly driving feeling like you'd be in a car and you just keep going on, like you’re almost running away from something. Again, Jules Buckley did an amazing job with the strings here—I wanted it to sound almost like it was verging on Primal Scream or Massive Attack. And live, it could just build and build and build. There is, though, a lightness at the end of it, and an optimism—like you’re clawing your way out of this darkness.”
Remember Where You Are “I’m incredibly proud of this song. I wrote it when Boris Johnson had just got into Downing Street and things were miserable. Everything that could be going wrong was going wrong, which is behind the lyric ‘The heart of the city is on fire.’ And it sounds relatively upbeat, but actually, it's about me thinking, ‘Remember where you are. Remember that just a cuddle can be okay. Remember who’s around you.’ Also, it was very much a semi-sign-off and about saying, ‘This is where I’m going and this is the most confident I’ve ever been.’ It was a bold statement. I think it stands up as one of the best songs I've ever written.”