Brainy British diva Jessie Ware swears she can't help it. "I think I've always been quite inquisitive and I'm really interested in people," she explains. "I want to know everything within five minutes of knowing them."
The downtempo pop songstress — whose debut album Devotion reached No. 5 on the British charts before its April stateside release — can always blame her curiosity on genetics. As the daughter of renowned BBC TV journalist John Ware, she was practically born with a nose for news. And on her recent Mercury Prize-nominated debut Devotion, she trains a keen reporterly eye on her own interpersonal relationships, dissecting them in lyrical column inches on Sade-sleek ballads like "Running," "Wildest Moments," and "Night Light."
"He did investigative journalism, and he was kind of a specialist on the IRA," says Ware of her father. "He also would do stakeouts and stuff like that. He was always trying to get the bad guys, and he used to do a [BBC] program called Rough Justice, where he helped people that he believed had been wrongly accused of crimes."
In college, Ware initially planned to become a writer herself and was soon hired by the Jewish Chronicle. ("My first job, it was really nice — there was always salmon and bagels!") Then it was on to the now-infamous Daily Mirror. "I didn't ever speak to Piers Morgan, I didn't even meet him, and I didn't see any of that [celebrity phone-tapping] stuff happening," she testifies.
Later, while working on TV cooking competitions and Big Brother-ish reality shows, Ware was rescued by an opportunity to pursue her music. The call came from established U.K. folk-rocker Jack Peñate, an old schoolmate who remembered her once possessing an exceptional voice. He invited Ware to sing behind him at a radio session, so she begged off work to do it.
"It was just the funnest day ever," she says. "And before I knew it, I was earning — well, not a lot — but enough to just about live as a backing singer. I was really proud that I'd taken the risk."
"And then the next thing I know, I got signed because of this song ["Nervous"] I did with SBTRKT." Ware toured the States with Peñate, and added her dulcet tones to tracks by artists like Joker and Florence & the Machine.
In the midst of all that, she still hadn't hit on her own sound. But working with producer and Invisible frontman Dave Okumu helped the fledgling pop star find her way.
"He just reassured me that it wasn't about having to be so original. It wasn't about having to write the most metaphorical lyrics. It was just about being honest, and being true to what you want to say. I allowed myself to get things wrong, and it was okay. I was always so scared of getting things wrong before."
And while honesty and directness run in the family, Ware doesn't worry about over-sharing details of personal relationships. "I don't feel like any of my songs are mean songs," she says. "I was a little worried about that at the beginning, like what if I write a song that reveals too much? But you never have to tell anyone who it's about!"