In between sips of tea at New York City’s Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, she recounts her past few days: promo, album release prep, tour prep, mommy duties. Last September, Ware gave birth to a baby girl. She married her longtime beau Sam Burrows in August 2014, just a few months shy of the release of her sophomore effort Tough Love.
With her third studio album Glasshouse, the stakes are raised. This isn’t a project where Ware belts out intimate tunes at a comfortable distance; here, she details relationship woes as well as emotional outpourings over motherhood. It’s exciting territory, albeit scary. For an artist who first captivated us with her 2012 debut Devotion, now is the time to introduce us to the new iteration of Jessie Ware -- an artist who still loves love, but has to now balance it with actual life. As she readies the Oct. 20 release of Glasshouse, Ware talks to Billboard about her journey to musical transparency and her new normal when it comes to tour life.
Where did the title Glasshouse come from?
It comes from this poem from Edward Thomas called “I Built Myself a House of Glass.” I usually call my albums -- and I now can say this because I put two albums under my belt, which still feels weird like I’m actually doing this [laughs] -- but I’ve always kind of used a song title. I just didn't feel like any of them did justice to this album. Glasshouse, I guess for me represents this beautiful thing, which is very easy to shatter. I’ve become a mother; it’s changed my world for the better. But I’m also learning how to do it. Also, I think I’ve given more of myself in this record. Like, I’ve let people know more about me than maybe I have before, which I was ready to do and I was kind of unaware that I was doing until listening back to what songs I’ve chosen. There’s a lot about my family and relationships and my baby and my husband -- quite directly [there is a song] called “Sam.” So, it’s about me working out this situation and trying to do the best, but also knowing that it’s quite a fragile, funny situation.
Did you have any reservations, though, coming into this level of vulnerability? With the first two projects, everything felt so personal, but this, it’s like you’re calling out names.
Yeah, I know.
There are specifics now.
It wasn't premeditated; it was kind of accidental. I’ve written a lot of songs, but I think the ones that have stuck are the more autobiographical ones or the ones that are about a certain thing. There are songs that escape that, like “Your Domino.” And “Stay Awake, Wait For Me” is a feeling rather than a moment. It’s not about a particular moment, but it’s about a feeling I’ve had. Then there’s songs like “Sam” and there’s songs like “Thinking About You” and there’s “Alone” and then there’s like “Last Of The True Believers” and, you know, those songs slow me down. Those songs -- “Slow Me Down” and “First” -- bloody hell, quite a few are about my relationships. So, yeah, it was accidental, and I don’t think I knew I was doing it but I guess I am ready to do that now. I hid quite a lot of myself in the last two records, which was okay too, but I didn’t give as much away, I don’t think. Maybe I didn’t feel like I needed to.
Well, also, in this music industry, you kind of feel like you have to be opaque sometimes.
Yeah, and it’s much easier to kind of fit in and hide. Just kind of you get along with shit and it’s easier, yeah.
Recently, you celebrated the five-year anniversary of your first album, Devotion. How have you grown as an artist over those five years?
I didn’t know what kind of artist I was then; I didn’t know what I was doing. I feel like, now, I’ve got a grasp on who I am as an artist. I feel the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my skin, and professionally as well. I feel confident of my decisions. I’ve always had like, “Well, fuck it” attitude where if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter. And I still have that, but I do feel like I have more focus and clarity. I think that’s thanks to my daughter, weirdly. I think I’ve become a better songwriter, and I think I’m giving more of myself to my audience because I feel like maybe they want to hear more of me. I don’t think I was ready to give as much before because I didn’t know if I’d be sticking around.
I didn’t want to be as exposed, maybe. I don’t know.
That’s interesting: entering this and yet seeing it as temporary.
Yeah. I always thought that. I still kind of think it, but I guess I’m on my third record now, so…and a lot has happened in the last couple of years. So I had something to write about.
Did you record any of this album while you were pregnant?
Yeah. “Sam,” I was eight and a half months pregnant, I think.
Had your voice changed at all? They say your tone changes when you’re pregnant.
People told me that my voice would be richer when I’d had a baby. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, really [laughs]. I’ve got some high notes to hit and I’m scared about that, but I had them before. I’d already done this before. I found it quite hard to record when I was pregnant because I think by the time I recorded “Sam,” my belly was lower so I had more space in my diaphragm. I’m always worried about my voice because I think my voice is quite fragile. I can lose it quite quickly. I look after it a lot and I’m, like, anal about that. But it’s gonna be a different situation with my kid being on tour with me.
You’re bringing your daughter on tour?
Oh, you’re not gonna be like…
“Bye, babe!” I’m gonna bring her on tour and so you don’t really get that rest in the morning. As soon as they’re up, you’re up. So, my husband is gonna come with me and hopefully he’ll take one for the team [laughs] if I’ve had, you know, a late night. But I’m worried about that. Maybe I can survive on less sleep now. I feel like I’m better without as much sleep now that I’ve had a baby, but…
So you said you’ve lost your voice.
I’ve lost my voice a few times.
Really? Was it from over-singing? Stress?
Exhaustion. I lost it the end of my last tour in America. It’s always quite mental when I tour in America; you don’t wanna say no to shit because it’s a big ol’ place and there’s a lot of people. So, it was being in a lot of promo and then shows and traveling. I think the last days, I got a cold and I played in Berkeley and then I had TV on the next day and I had a show. I was like dosed up on steroids and my vocals -- like, they were pretty much gone. I just went in the show and it was, like, the hardest show, I think, I’ve ever done. I had Miguel performing with me, like, as a favor. I was like, “For fuck’s sake.” It was the hardest show I’ve ever done, but people were really kind about it after and they were like, “You really felt that.” I had to navigate my voice around different melodies ‘cause I couldn’t shit loads of the high notes. So, you’re thinking on the job. I felt like I was naked on stage. At one point, I was like, “Guys, I can’t do this,” and I did the whole show but I couldn’t speak after; there was no voice left. It was really scary. Then I gained my voice back, thanks to Dr. Sugarman, who’s my doctor in L.A. He’s like the best voice doctor, but he saw me and was like, “You need to not speak for like a week."
You didn’t talk for a week?
I didn’t speak for about four days. And then I had TV to do. I had to rest it totally, like vocal, voice rest. It’s really hard, and it’s scary ‘cause you’re like, “What have I done?” I was singing that show and I was just thinking, “I’m hurting my voice more and more, but there’s thousands of people in front of me that have come to see a ticket,” and then I was pissed off because I was like I’m not giving them a good enough show. I mean, I think I put everything into that show because I had to because there was very little of my voice left. I felt like I was driving blindfolded. But anyhow, c’est la vie. My voice came back.
Do you see a lot of yourself in your daughter?
She’s definitely stubborn like me. Like, we’re both pretty stubborn. She’s a bit of a brute; I’m a bit of a brute, too. She’s inherited my chubby hands [laughs]. She’s funny, though. She’s got a great sense of humor. I don’t know, yeah, a bit of me. But we’re still getting to know each other. She’s not speaking yet, so it’s like I can’t wait to have conversations with her and she can talk back to me.
We learn a lot from the song “Sam,” how you and Sam have known each other since you were 17.
Yeah. Well, we’ve actually known each other since we were nine.
And you started dating since 17?
Our first date, we were 18, but there was a flirtation when we were 17 and I was kind of head over heels.
That’s the story that everyone wants.
Yeah, it’s pretty great to write some of my favorite best songs about him now when we run out of conversations, we run out of gift ideas. In my back pocket, I’ve got a song like “Sam” to offer him, and I’m pretty happy about that.
Do you feel like this project allowed you to fully understand now who you are?
Yeah. I hope it is my most important record so far. I think it is. I think it shows more. Let’s see if people want that and wanna hear that. I think I’ve progressed. I think I’m ready to behave more like, “This is my career."
A version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 14 issue of Billboard.