On an overcast afternoon in New York City, Jessie Ware is ready to close out a whirlwind 48-hour trip in the city. While having her lunch in a hotel room with huge windows overlooking the Lower East Side, she ticks off the growing list of things she will need to do in the month leading up to her album That! Feels! Good! being released: TikToks, more interviews, generally “promoting the shit out of the record.”
She’ll even find time to take her kids to Cyprus for an “inconvenient” but necessary vacation. “It’s always a juggle, isn’t it?” She contemplates with herself briefly whether she should be working more before settling on the right answer: “Whatever, the album’s done. It’s up to everybody else to promote,” she says with a laugh.
Ware should fear not: a trip to Cyprus won’t derail her continued ascent one bit. The last three years have been the busiest and buzziest of her career. Her fourth studio album, 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure?, carved a path for the U.K. pop star to launch a disco renaissance, transforming her entire persona and bringing in a new wave of massive critical acclaim and commercial success. It was her highest-charting album yet in the U.K. and led to a successful headlining tour in 2021, plus a coveted spot opening for Harry Styles during his Love on Tour Chicago residency last fall. All the while, she’s become a star podcast host as well, co-hosting the show Table Manners with her mom.
“I’m in a really good place with my career and my life,” she says between bites of a salad from Sweetgreen. “It’s not stressful and it’s all good stuff but it’s intense. It all feels down to the wire because we’re spinning so many plates. But I’m motivated by it. I’m making better music now than I have before. Madness works for me.”
What’s Your Pleasure? accidentally aligned itself with a disco resurgence in pop music, led by Ware alongside Dua Lipa and Kylie Minogue in 2020. It was, oddly, a year when lovers of the genre yearned to dance to those sweaty beats but couldn’t quite yet because of the pandemic. Many other artists have continued on that path, including Beyoncé whose Renaissance album featured tributes to both disco and house music.
Ware recounts her decision to explore disco at the time as “purely selfish,” a vehicle to get her out of a rut and not be so in her own head.
“I guess people needed a similar escape,” she says of the album’s success. It was also nostalgic for the early portion of her career and her work with electronic music producers SBTRKT and Sampha, a sound she once worried she jumped away from too soon before making the more R&B-driven soul music that amplified her solo stardom.
Being able to finally play the euphoric songs from What’s Your Pleasure? ended up partly inspiring Ware’s fifth album, a continuation of the Studio 54-infused sound she’s such a natural at. Particularly, it was the energy she felt in the U.S. when she finally was able to tour here in 2022, two years after the album came out, that struck a particular nerve. The venues were full of long-held anticipation to dance to these songs live, and Ware felt like the show was a “well-oiled machine” by the time it arrived stateside.
“I had finished the record by the time I was in the states, so I was understanding what was working [live],” she explains.
That! Feels! Good! began before Ware had any idea when she could tour again. She started writing it during the first Covid winter, in late 2020, early 2021 while pregnant with her third child.
“I knew that I wanted to make a more live, energetic record that nodded to Talking Heads, ESG and B-52’s but didn’t want to turn my back on What’s Your Pleasure? because I was so excited by the reaction to it. I didn’t just want to replicate it.”
She continued working with James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and the Last Shadow Puppets, who first contributed to her 2014 album Tough Love. He became integral to Pleasure, producing and co-writing 11 of the 12 tracks and co-wrote most of That! Feels! Good! as well.
“James completely got it,” Ware says. “He’s a whiz at combining and electronic. He’s been doing it forever.”
For the first time, she worked with producer Stuart Price, who produced Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor and several tracks on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. Together, they dug deeper into the campy glamor of this new era. The result is a bombastic, liberating piece of work that feels like the early hours of a dance party really starting to rev up. She’s embraced a balance of frivolity and earnestness, one that allows her to leave as much space for “Begin Again,” a gorgeous song about renewal, as it does for a bit of cheeky horniness like on “Freak Me Now.”
“I don’t want it to feel like it’s silly but I want there to be a likeness,” she explains about avoiding a caricature in building out her dance world. “I’m serious about my music and there’s intention there. It’s meant to be enjoyed together, but not necessarily laughed at.”
One of the most showstopping moments on the record comes early with romantic slow dance ballad “Hello Love,” a bit of powerhouse singing from the already renowned vocalist and another great first dance number to add to a catalog familiar with that territory.
“I think it’s my neatest songwriting on the album,” Ware notes. It came towards the end of the writing sessions and was inspired by the likes of the Gap Band, Smokey Robinson, and Donny Hathaway.
“I liked the idea of personifying love as this thing that you’ve forgotten about that you didn’t think you needed, but you’ve woken up and are so glad it’s there. It’s my wedding song for the record.”
That need to always write a wedding song amidst the dance floor burners is what helps bind all the eras of Ware together. She feels like she’s entered a brand new career lately, one that she’s trying to balance with all her past selves. Still, that doesn’t slow her down from thinking ahead in the future. She’s already got a plan for her next record in place. Now, more than ever, is her chance to prove what she’s always known: that the many sides of Ware’s prismatic career and identity can co-exist at once. Like she sings on “Pearls,” “I’m so nine-to-five, I’m a lady/I’m a lover, a freak and a mother.”
“I’m happy to be those things and don’t need to commit to one of them,” she says happily. “This record is me just play and delighting in those different worlds I can step into.”