Passing the Bar: Jessie Ware’s Ride From Law School to Drunk Nights With Miguel

The English singer recalls the often lucky, sometimes boozy path to her new album

Jessie Ware Credit: Sebastien Dehesdin/Corbis

One night last winter, Jessie Ware and Miguel decided to get drunk. They had been writing some songs for Ware's second album, Tough Love, at New York's Record Plant studio, and after a long day of work, they had completed the fun, flirtatious "Kind of… Sometimes... Maybe." "We both really like whiskey," Ware says with a laugh. "The first line of the song is, 'Do I get lonely at all?/No, 'cause Jamie and Johnny and Jack keep me warm.' So that night we were like, 'Fuck yeah, let's celebrate, let's have whiskeys!'"

The next morning, she says, "I had the worst hangover. Literally, I had Gatorade in one hand and salty fries in the other. I couldn't even speak. Head was pounding. And I had to write a song." She and Miguel ended up with "You & I (Forever)," a song about Ware's then-fiancé, whom she went on to marry in the Greek isles this August. "I'm speaking the vocal because I was so hung over," Ware adds. "But I think it kind of worked."

A few weeks before the release of Tough Love, the British R&B star is at a brunch spot on New York's Lower East Side, fully recovered – and justifiably proud of her work on the LP, a subtle set of jams about the joys and complications of long-term romance. "It felt really fun to make this record," she says. "I hope that comes through when people listen to it. Maybe it's because I feel more comfortable as a singer now."

Until recently, Ware had no serious intention of pursuing a career in music. After earning an undergrad degree in English literature from the University of Sussex, she won a place at law school. "I felt really happy to go and train as a lawyer," she says. "I'd done loads of work with family law, and I was very passionate about it. I was well up for working hard. And I just didn't think [music] was a realistic thing."

Even so, Ware chose to defer her law school entry for a year while she gave her dreams a shot. She began singing background vocals for singer-songwriter Jack Penãte and took a day job in Selfridges department store in London. "They were really lenient to me," she recalls. "I'd be like, 'Sorry, I'm going to do Glastonbury this weekend.'"

By the end of that first year, she had a record deal of her own. Her debut LP, Devotion, arrived in the U.K. in the summer of 2012, and crossed the Atlantic to the States the following spring, earning rave reviews and growing crowds at shows. "It felt like we'd made it very intimately, so I was really amazed at how well-received it was," she says. "That was a really bubbly, exciting time."

Still, singing under the spotlight didn't always come naturally, Ware says: "I was really inexperienced. You have this inner battle with yourself while you're trying to perform – in my head, I'd be like, 'Why are you doing that? Smile, why are you getting so nervous?' Things like that. It definitely eased up," she adds. "But dude, it was iffy at the beginning, I'll tell you. I was like, 'Oh, shit, maybe I should just be a backing singer.'"

This reminds her of 20 Feet From Stardom, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the great unsung backing vocalists of rock & roll, which Ware recently watched. "It was fucking amazing," she says. "It really resonated, hearing Sting talk about how it can be such luck with who makes it and who doesn't. I agree." She pauses for a moment. "Don't get me wrong, of course there's talent that shines through. But I got lucky."

As if on cue, a waitress comes by, shyly introducing herself: "Are you Jessie Ware?"

"Yeah," Ware says, pleased and a little incredulous. "Have you been paid to say this because I'm having an interview?"

"No, I absolutely love you!" the waitress insists. "'Wildest Moments' is one of my jams. Oh my gosh!"

"That's sweet," Ware says, and she smiles. "Thank you."