Your ears are not deceiving you: Yes, that is a bit of a country flair you’re hearing on Jess Glynne’s new single, “I’ll Be There,” and no, she hasn’t been hanging out with her new labelmate Yodeling Boy.
The “Rather Be” singer isn’t exactly sure where it came from — maybe it’s a remnant of her teenage Keith Urban phase that jumped out, or maybe there was just something in the air when Glynne and a small team of her closest collaborators decamped to the English countryside to write songs for her upcoming second studio album. Either way, it marks a welcome return for the 28-year-old Brit, who tells Billboard that she initially struggled to find a direction for the follow-up to 2015’s I Cry When I Laugh until she broke out of the studio environment.
“It’s been such a different experience making this album and putting it together,” she says. “You’re always compared to what you did the last time, but nothing’s ever going to be the same, so you just gotta go with it.”
Below, Glynne tells Billboard about returning to normal life after touring, the stress of writing songs in Los Angeles, and what to expect from her new LP.
It’s been a minute since we heard new music from you. Were you nervous about putting out songs again?
It was quite nerve-wracking ,coming back after having been away for awhile — and releasing music that sounds different. It’s obviously not part of the same chapter that was so successful. But I feel really good about this song. I love the way it came together so much. You don’t realize how much work goes into one song, so it’s a really great feeling to see that people are enjoying it.
How much time off did you need to tafter touring before you felt ready to write again?
I was touring all the way up to the end of 2016, but I started writing again in April of that year. I hadn’t written for a while — the first album was done eight months before it was released. I just felt really inspired and had a lot to say. I think it was just a bit of a confusing time for me. I was on the road so much, and it didn’t feel as good as I wanted it to. So I waited until I finished my on-the-road madness, and then I got back into the studio at the beginning of 2017 for six or seven weeks in Los Angeles. It was really intense, actually, and that’s when I got really into the next project.
What had you so inspired?
I had been through a lot emotionally, having stepped out of the first campaign and getting back to normal — seeing friends and family, [dealing with] relationships. I’ve been through some great times, but I’ve had some hard times too. I got to a place where I wanted to write and let it all out. We all let things out differently. Not everybody is a singer or a writer. But my way of letting things out is making music, and at that point I was just ready to get it all down.
You also worked out of a house in the English countryside for this album. How fruitful was that compared to the Los Angeles studio sessions?
LA was such an amazing time — I wrote so many great songs. I was so inspired, but it was also quite tiring and quite draining as well. It wasn’t my best. I loved so much of what I did, but I also felt a little lost. So I took a step back because I didn’t know where I was headed with the music, and I think the label felt that as well. They were encouraging, but they were unsure of where it was all headed. So I took a bit of time away and lived my life and did my thing.
In August I was ready to get back in, but I wanted to do it my way. I called up my A&R and said, “Look, can I please just go away in the middle of nowhere, with no pressure, no studio — somewhere that’s not meant for music but has a feeling of being free. I’ll take people I love working with, and I’ll take a few other people if you have anyone you want to suggest. We’ll spend a week there and be creative in the most organic space possible.”
They were so on board with it and so excited that I wanted to get back into the studio. I’m so grateful — they put it together for me and did it exactly how I wished. It was the most productive week I could have had, and it was probably one of the most amazing times in my life, if I’m honest. I felt like the majority of the album got created in that week. “I’ll Be There” was written on the last day. It was the last one I wrote.
Even though the production is very pop, there’s something about the melodies that evokes country music. Where does that come from?
It is very country! I’ve always loved country music, and I feel like a lot of my songs have that element to them. “Hold My Hand” has a weird little country melody to it. I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of it, but growing up I was obsessed at one point with Keith Urban and Gavin DeGraw, and I think that comes out sometimes without me knowing.
It still feels like you could perform the song campfire-style with just an acoustic guitar.
Yeah, that song was basically written on guitar. I always want my songs to be able to be performed in any way. As long as a song has an amazing structure that feels like you’ve got a journey, then it’s going to work in any form. I’m glad that it comes across.
Does touring the first record and playing those songs night after night change or teach you anything about what you look for in a song?
I think it did. When you’re standing on stage and hear the songs that people love and sing back to you, you hear what works and what doesn’t work. I think it’s really important. Now when you write a lot of songs and go back and listen to them, you hear what will work on stage, you hear what people might connect with.
But at the same time, it’s a personal thing, and I don’t know if that’s definite. I never go into the studio with anything other than my creativity. If I have to put pressure [on finding] what works, I’m never going to get anywhere. You can never predict what people are going to like or how they are going to react. You just have to believe in yourself and hope for the best.