Andy Downing for RedEye
6:45 PM CST, January 10, 2013
London native Jessie Ware first visited America in 2009 as a backup singer for friend Jack Penate. By the time Ware returned for a second visit last December, she had moved into the starring role.
The singer's rapid ascent, which included the August 2012 release of her solo debut "Devotion" and a star-making turn at the recent Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris, has come as a surprise to even the singer.
"I kept thinking no one is going to give a [bleep] about what I have to say," said the rising 28-year-old soul belter. "I felt much more comfortable being like, 'I'm a backing singer.' I've never been that confident."
In a recent phone interview, Ware opened up about her early journalistic pursuits, the importance of breaking through to an American audience and the one celebrity fan who caught her off-guard.
Did you have any preconceived notion of what the United States would be like prior to that first visit?
I didn't have any preconceived notion apart from the thought I was going to see film stars everywhere. When I'm in the USA I always feel like I'm in a movie. Every time [I] go to New York ... I think of "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York." When I went to Washington state I kept thinking about "Twilight" with all the trees. Then when I was in L.A. I kept thinking I was in "The O.C." because everything was so glamorous.
What about Chicago?
I now associate Chicago with my sister [actress Hannah Ware], actually. My sister filmed the show "Boss" there, and I went to see her last year while she was filming. Oh, and then there's "ER." They all look so cold on "ER," don't they? Everyone always looks freezing when they come off the subway. I know it is the Windy City.
You always hear British artists talk about the importance of breaking through in the United States. Is that important to you?
It would be really lovely because I really like America ... but I kind of don't want to impose myself on anybody. If it's going to work, it's going to work. It's kind of like dating, isn't it? You don't want to be the really keen one, otherwise they'll never call.
I thought it was interesting that you pursued a career in journalism, since that seems only slightly less realistic than being a pop star these days.
I know! I actually found it far more competitive, actually. The people that wanted it you could see wanted it so bad. I was like, "[Bleep], this is serious." My father is a really good, proper journalist, and I was never going to be that kind of investigative journalist. And I was never going to be a music journalist because I would have been too jealous I wasn't getting to sing myself.
Do you feel like that background had any influence on the songwriting on your debut?
I don't know. I've always wanted to raise a point quite easily, which I know you do in journalism because you have a word count, haven't you? I've never been too good with flowery words. I've always kept it simple.
You worked with ("50 Shades of Grey" author) Erika Leonard at Love Productions. Did she ever approach you to record "50 Shades of Grey: The Musical"?
[Laughs] She hasn't. She's so sweet. We worked together, and then she went off and became the hugest author of the last year. She knew I was singing, and I said my songs were on YouTube and she was like, "I don't know how to work it! I don't know how to find it!" I thought that was funny because she'd made one of the most incredibly successful books for the Kindle, and she couldn't find my songs on YouTube.
I know Katy Perry is also a fan. Have you been surprised to hear about anyone else who listens to your music?
Another one that really surprised me was Russell Crowe. I only found out because someone was following him on Twitter and he would start posting my songs. It was so weird, so of course I had to reply to him. I was like, "Thanks, Russ!" He wrote back and was like, "Pleasure. You've got a talent, young lady. Good luck on the journey ahead" or something like that. I just loved it. It felt like Maximus was chatting to me. It was brilliant.
Jessie Ware, 9 p.m. Sun. Jan. 19 at Lincoln Hall. Sold out.
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