For Jessie Ware, the past few years have been a series of happy accidents.
“There are so many great singers out there,” says the 28-year-old London-born singer, whose U.K. debut, “Devotion,” was recently nominated for a Mercury Prize and whose domestic debut, EP “If You’re Never Gonna Move,” is set to arrive Jan. 15 on Cherrytree Records/Interscope. “I just seem to be in the right place at the right time.”
Indeed. In 2009, Ware was working as a journalist when she got a call from an old school friend, XL Recordings artist Jack Peñate, who asked her to perform backing vocals for him on a BBC Radio 1 session. She had to take time off to make the session, which proved to be life-changing. “It was so much fun,” she says. “I just thought: ‘This is the life.'”
Further shows with Peñate followed, including an eye-opening tour of America, during which a crew member introduced her to the music of then-unknown London-based dubstep producer SBTRKT (born Aaron Jerome). Ware was amazed by what she heard and, upon returning to London after the tour, sought out the producer, and the two started writing together. “It felt so original and exciting,” says Ware, whose vocals are featured on SBTRKT’s self-titled 2011 album (Young Turks/XL).
Additional collaborations with underground EDM artists Sampha (“Valentine”) and DJ Joker (“The Vision”) followed, leading Ware to a record deal with PMR Records/Island. Until landing the solo contract, Ware says she was “content just being a backing singer [on] tracks that my mates would hopefully hear in a club and dance to.”
The prospect of a solo album brought new challenges. Not that Ware was concerned. Instead, she describes her attitude as “just suck it and see — trying and experimenting different things. There are plenty of terrible songs that no one will ever hear, but they helped me shape what I didn’t want to do.”
The result was the 11-track “Devotion,” a project that took shape throughout 2011 and into 2012 and features the work of producers Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon. Released in the United Kingdom in August, “Devotion” mixes downtempo dance rhythms; soulful, moody pop reminiscent of Sade; and the singer’s emotive, R&B-infused vocals. The set bowed at No. 5 in the United Kingdom and sales stand at 38,000, according to the Official Charts Co.; it was nominated for the Mercury Prize less than a month after release.
Now, Ware has her sights set on the United States with shows at New York venue the Box (Dec. 10) and Los Angeles’ Bootleg Bar (Dec. 13) ahead of the EP. Ware returns stateside for a six-date trek beginning Jan. 14 at the Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., booked by Marty Diamond at Paradigm.
“My goals for Jessie are absolute nationwide domination, but in a respectful, incremental and organic way,” says Cherrytree head Martin Kierszenbaum, who first encountered Ware when Island Records U.K. co-presidents Darcus Beese and Ted Cockle invited him to watch her perform in London.
In line with Cherrytree’s previously successful campaigns for Ellie Goulding and La Roux, the label is taking a slow-burn approach to its latest British signing. Music has been serviced to noncommercial stations and Kierszenbaum is confident Ware will naturally gravitate toward top 40 formats. “I believe the caliber of the record is such that we’re going to end up at top 40 radio,” says Kierszenbaum, who’s eyeing a spring U.S. bow for “Devotion.”
In the meantime, Ware is happy to take each day as it comes. “I don’t think too far ahead because I want to appreciate what’s happening now,” says the artist, who’s been racking up A-list cosigns. ( Katy Perry recently tweeted: “This lil’ lady is going to be massive.”) “It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like a real adventure.”