Jessie Ware only recently learned what “wig snatching” means, and fresh off the European leg of her current tour, I’ve taught her “guncle.” The 33-year-old British songstress takes full advantage of this latest lesson in queer-speak, breaking from our phone chat just long enough to inform her gay brother, Alex, he’s a guncle (“I’ll take that,” he says). With Ware’s nearly-two-year-old baby girl in tow, the siblings have just arrived at a Palm Springs lodge they rented, a family vacation before Ware’s Coachella performance.
For her solo live shows, Ware’s culled a set list encompassing her three musically varied releases: her debut Devotion (2012), which features her breakout single “Wildest Moments;” her even-more sophisticated Tough Love (2014); and last year’s experimental Glasshouse, a collection so deeply personal she tells me she wants to turn around and record a full album of escapist club music next.
Though jet-lagged, Ware discusses her plans to start watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, her supportive friendship with Sam Smith, and how the queer community helped her through a very challenging time.
Speaking of your brother, is he dating one of your gay fans yet?
No, he isn’t dating one of my gay fans yet. But he was on tour with me and we were in Berlin, and I could see it was a really gay crowd. It was such a wild night, and I was like, “Listen, guys, my brother’s looking fab tonight, it’s Berlin, a lot of very handsome men out there; who would be up for taking my brother out?” It turns out that my brother had been on a date with one of them previously in the day, and Alex texted me after the show, “I don’t need you to pimp me out. I’m fine.” But I have tried. There’s been some admirers, but I definitely think he’s enjoyed — I’m sure he’s definitely used it to his advantage before. But no, we don’t have a new guncle to add.
“Taking in Water,” a song from your first album that’s about your brother’s struggle to come out, is so special and has meant a lot to many queer people.
You’re making me wanna put it back in the show. I haven’t got it in the set. I haven’t sung it for years, and I love that song. I remember how much people loved it, and you’re making me think maybe I should practice it with my band.
I’m sure that would make a lot of gay people very happy. By the way, I hear there’s been some wig-snatching going on at these performances.
Oh my goodness, the wig snatching has been a revolution and also so fun.
Didn’t someone throw a wig on stage at your Manchester show?
I’ve had multiple wigs, thongs, bras. The first wig I accidentally dragged around with my heels like a dead cat. I hadn’t seen it come on the stage, and then I walked around with it. It kind of ruined the wig-snatching moment; it wasn’t as fabulous as it could have been. But it did make everyone laugh.
A wig is one thing, but what prompts a fan to throw a thong on stage?
I don’t know if they’re all just trying to entertain me and they know I find it hysterical… but you know, it’s not just gay men — I think maybe that was from a gay woman, and that was fabulous.
Or a drag queen.
Or a drag queen! Absolutely. I’d kind of love it to be from a drag queen, but I didn’t see any in the audience. When the song “Midnight” [the first single from Glasshouse] came out, I had been away [from touring] for a bit. I came back and “Midnight” was this kind of fierce diva moment for me. I really sang out, and I think my fans really enjoyed it.
The online world has always been pretty positive for me, but just hysterical — memes and gifs. I feel like such a fucking old woman! It was just so fun, and I didn’t know what wig snatching was. It comes from RuPaul’s Drag Race, right? And I feel really bad because RuPaul has always been really sweet. From the beginning, RuPaul would retweet videos of mine, and I think some contestants have performed some of my songs on the show. So, I need to watch it because I had to Google what “wig snatching” meant, and it was kind of embarrassing. It made me feel very straight and very old.
You kept Whitney and Barbra vinyls in the recording studio while making Devotion. For Glasshouse, which divas were guiding you?
I think spiritual guides for Glasshouse were probably Carole King and Nina Simone, even though you probably can’t hear that in the record. And Joni Mitchell. I really got obsessed with the art of songwriting. That was something I felt I needed to improve upon, and I really appreciate what [those artists] were doing.
When we spoke in 2012, you couldn’t quite explain why the queer community connected with you. Six years later, has the root of that bond become clearer?
If I’m being honest, I still don’t know why they embrace me, but I enjoy it. It’s been so important to my shows: It’s given me energy, it’s given me confidence.
When I was a rabbit in the headlights [starting out] five years ago, they gave me the confidence I needed to feel like I could go into — as much as it was maybe tongue in cheek for me — that diva mode, which I think they really celebrate. And I tried to do that for this show. It’s almost escapism and it’s fun, and that’s how a live show should be. I’ll never forget how loyal they’ve been; that counts as something when you’re three albums in and fans come back from five years ago.
Sam Smith is a devoted fan and has been tweeting about you since the beginning of your career.
He’s a really good friend of mine, and we’re so proud of each other. He’s so supportive. And I love that all his backstage shots are of him in, like, the highest heels — that I can’t even wear — and a wig. Seems like every day he has a different wig and a different heel on. Above all, he’s a really good friend. He’s at the end of the phone [when I need him] — like I am for him when he has worries and he wants to complain about this bloody industry. It’s a tough, old industry, and he’s incredibly supportive, and I love him. I love him so much.
What industry challenges have you had to deal with?
Sometimes the business side of the industry was [eclipsing] the creative side, and it took me to really just stop and be like, “I feel a little bit dead on the stage.” I was lacking confidence. I just had a baby; I thought people were going to judge, however stupid that sounds. It’s a very male-led industry — straight, male-led industry — and they have opinions. And those seep into you whether you like it or not. I’m a pretty strong woman, I think, but you can’t help but have that. You come back from having a baby, and I felt I had so much to prove. I had to kind of be — pretend to be — this superwoman who could do everything. It was just … it’s been exhausting.
This record was really important for me to write because it was documenting a stage in my life which was new. And I have all these emotions and feelings, and I think sometimes you feel a little bit dead, you run out of new feelings. Having a child was a different kind of love, which was so inspiring and amazing to write about, but also the most challenging. I think what’s next for me is, I wanna make a record that’s pure dance, and I think it’s because of the queer community.
What, personally, inspired this upcoming dance detour?
I think it’s a reaction to doing something so autobiographical for this third record. I don’t feel like I need to do that again. I wanna test myself — it’s a challenge. I see the reaction to songs like “If You’re Never Gonna Move” and “Midnight,” these more bombastic, uptempo things — I hate the word ‘uptempo;’ it doesn’t make it sound as important — but I feel like I really wanna enjoy that soul boogie. Can I say ‘disco’? I don’t know.
Club music! Which is where I came from! Sometimes you kind of forget — I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I have a lot of love for that world that embraced me at the beginning, and I feel like I wanna go back to it and enjoy it and dance.
Who are your dance divas?
Chaka Khan. Any of the Whitney upbeat stuff. I love Róisín Murphy, I love Tina Marie.
Sounds like this album could help loosen you up.
And I think that’s what I need! This job is supposed to be fun, and sometimes you forget. It’s something that especially the queer community will enjoy. I’ve done enough mid-tempo ballads. It’s time for a bit of a switch-up.