Jessie Ware: When Ed Sheeran and I started writing, I didn't expect anything to happen but it worked a dream
Jessie Ware tells Andy Welch how her collaboration with the world-famous troubadour came about and why she's feeling much more confident ahead of her gig in Belfast later this month.
Jessie Ware is just about to start getting ready for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, where she's going to "look at a load of super-hot women in their lingerie".
"My husband has never been so jealous in his life," cackles the singer. "I didn't realise until recently the invite said I could take a guest, but he's busy. Poor him."
The night off comes during a rare week of downtime, and it might be her last for a while, as she prepares to hit the road on tour, including a stop at Belfast's Mandela Hall on January 20. Last year was taken up with not just writing and recording her second album, Tough Love, but also getting married to the aforementioned Sam, a fitness instructor.
"There was a very intense three months, where I was promoting the record just after getting married," says the London-born 30-year-old. "And, of course, as soon as I got a week off, I got a cold, but that's just how it goes. At least it shows I worked very hard."
There's something quietly old-fashioned about Ware and her career. On one hand, she works with the likes of The Invisible's Dave Okumu, with whom she wrote most of her debut and invited back for Tough Love, as well as Miguel, Ed Sheeran, Dev Hynes, Benny Blanco and Japanese duo BenZel; cool collaborators in anyone's book. On the other, she earns comparisons to queen of late-night vibes Sade, and seems to avoid being hugely hyped, relying more on word of mouth to share her music. "It's really quite exciting. I think the record is there for people to discover and it still hasn't reached everyone," she says, which could just be putting a positive spin on the fact her records don't sell in the hundreds of thousands - but there is truth to her claims.
"I have people that I never expect to like my music come up to me and say they like it. Maybe they only know one song, but either way, it's building all the time and I can feel it," Ware continues.
"The first thing I did when starting the release of this second album was put the song Tough Love out on the internet. Straight away, there was a reaction from fans. It felt really nice to have music people were receptive to."
It's a stark contrast to the reaction she got when releasing her first album, when she wouldn't have blamed people for "wondering who the hell the serious girl in the polo-neck was, semi-vogueing and miming in videos", as she did in the promo for Running.
"It's very easy to forget what you're doing and working towards, and what's happening, because you're so engrossed in the day-to-day work.
"I think I appreciate it most when I see friends who tell me what they've seen or heard - you know; songs on adverts here, posters there, that sort of thing.
"Tough Love made me realise I have a bit of a fan base who would hopefully want to hear new music, and hopefully there'll be more new people listening second time around too."
Ware's modesty is interesting.
She seems racked with doubt, explaining she was nervous about her voice appearing as clearly and high in the mix as it does on Tough Love, compared to her more subdued performance on her debut.
When it's suggested her voice is likely her best asset, and fans might even be happier that it's more audible than before, with less arrangement around it, she blushes, and says she hopes she didn't appear "cocky" having her voice as a focal point.
She's refreshingly normal, basically, and while the charts are full of pop stars talking about the alleged importance of their music in the grandest terms, someone as talented as Ware playing down their achievements is almost quaint - and definitely refreshing.
Her grounded nature could be down to a number of things.
Ware is slightly older than many pop stars on their second album, and had other jobs - a brief stint as a journalist, a film production company and singing backing vocals - before her solo career took off.
Compared to her debut Devotion, released just after the London 2012 Olympics and nominated for the following year's Mercury Prize, Ware says making Tough Love was easier, in the sense that she worked on it consistently, while with her debut, she snatched days here and there while working as a musician with other artists, namely school friend Jack Penate, and Man Like Me, while also featuring on tracks by SBTRKT and another school friend, Florence + The Machine.
"I felt so much more confident this time, and I didn't overthink it. Some of the best songs on the album came from when I didn't even know I was writing an album, so it was definitely freer with Tough Love, before I started putting myself under immense pressure because I'm such a worrier," says Ware.
"There was something very nice about being able to think about a band playing the songs, and what the songs might be like live. It definitely feels like I've developed and achieved something better through having some experience under my belt."
Her collaboration with Ed Sheeran - they wrote Say You Love Me together - happened while in New York.
"We have mutual friends, but we'd never hung out," she explains. "But one of the guys from BenZel had worked with him before and contacted him, and he said he'd come over for the afternoon after he'd finished his day, just to hang out.
"Then we started writing. I didn't expect anything, really, you never can when writing with someone new because it just might not happen, and we only had a really short amount of time, but it worked a dream."
The track is among Ware's best, along with You & I (Forever), about her and written with Miguel.
"I worked with Miguel on his remix of Adorn, so I asked for the favour to be returned on my album. He's on the video too, as he was in London that day, and now he's a real mate."
Ware's tour will take her from the UK to mainland Europe - "We're playing Paris on Valentine's Day, which seems pretty perfect" - and she will also perform in Russia for the first time, where, as she does in Poland, she has a considerable fan base.
"Then I'll be off to America and festivals, and basically touring for the next two years, before doing it all again. In the meantime, I want to keep writing and stay creative," she says.
"That's the plan, anyway."
- Jessie Ware plays the Mandela Hall, Belfast, on January 20. For details, visit www.mandelahall.com. Her new album, Tough Love, is out now.
From budding journalist to a career in music ...
Jessie's older sister Hannah is an actress and stars in the US series Boss and Betrayal, and appeared in Shame with Michael Fassbender
As a journalist, Ware wrote for The Jewish Chronicle and the sports pages of The Daily Mirror
She performed on the Polish version of The X Factor in 2014, performing on the television programme with the winning contestant Artem Furman
She worked for a time at TV company Love Productions, where she was once a colleague of Erika Leonard, better known as 50 Shades Of Grey author EL James
Ware contributed a song to Nicki Minaj's third album The Pinkprint, called The Crying Game