A food podcast saved singer Jessie Ware’s musical life
When British singer Jessie Ware made her first (and only) trip to Australia for Laneway Festival back in 2013 she came with a mission.
Not the usual tourist haunts or Neighbours tour - Ware wanted to find the lobster rolls she'd heard about at Melbourne's Golden Fields (now Supernormal).
"I don't know what I preferred more on that tour, performing to wonderful crowds or the food destinations in every city," Ware says. "It was the perfect way to explore a new country and incredibly comforting as well. There's nothing like good grub and it was everywhere. Fast forward to now and I just talk about food all the time and make a living out of it, it's bloody great."
Filling in some gaps - Ware followed her acclaimed 2012 debut Devotion with the UK Top 10 Tough Love. But by her third album, 2017's Glasshouse, Ware was a new mother touring with babies and dwindling interest in her album in some territories saw her ready to quit.
At the end of 2017 Ware married her love of music and food in podcast Table Manners. With fellow foodie, mother Lennie, they hosted Ware's musical mates (initially Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran) for a home-cooked meal.
It's like a dinner party where famous guests go off script, thanks to the surroundings and a familiar host taking them away from the usual line of questioning.
The podcast's charm saw everyone from Nigella Lawson to Yotam Ottolenghi to London Mayor Sadiq Khan visit their home. There's now been live shows, a cookbook and lockdown episodes with Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding and John Legend cooking for themselves and chatting via Zoom. Table Manners has had 13 million downloads.
Its popularity globally means it is now considered part of a promotion campaign for many artists, which amuses Ware no end.
"I love the ideas the Americans go 'OK, this is a key promo you have to do' and they go talk to a mum and daughter about they you had for dinner."
However she's aware that in the last few years the podcast has literally saved her music life (as well as being her main income stream) - a new bonus episode sees Apple Music's Zane Lowe interview her about her album, as well as answer the usual Table Manners questions about desert island meal and most hated actual table manners.
"I've had a very peculiar route," Ware says. "I started as a cult act and remained a cult act in many places. I make this podcast out of sheer pleasure and it's opened me up to so many different places. It's shown my personality far more than an interview would. And it was all by accident. It's authentic. If you like mum and I screaming at each other about overdone shortbread for George Ezra maybe that will translate to you being interested in my record. Imagine if I had 13 million downloads of my new album in the first week. Will never happen, but hey …"
Ware's excellent new album, What's Your Pleasure?, is her most accessible - soulful adult disco referencing Janet Jackson, Mary Jane Girls, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Nona Hendryx, Roisin Murphy and Lewis Taylor.
"I needed a bit of joy and escapism. I felt I'd said everything I had to say about my struggles with motherhood. I love my husband but no one needs to hear about who does the kids' bedtime. I almost feel like a new artist again, which is unusual four albums in and especially as two years ago I'd thought 'sod it, this isn't fun anymore' and I was about to stop doing music.
"I almost feel like a new artist again, which is unusual four albums in and especially as two years ago I'd thought 'Sod it, this isn't fun anymore' and I was about to stop doing music all together."
Ware admits it was frustrating to fall into that tired cliche of being burnt out by the music industry - her lowpoint came at a Coachella festival appearance for her third album where the crowd was modest and she was wondering why she wasn't at home with her family." I thought I should be stronger than that. I don't regret any of my music but some of the compromises I made, or maybe not following my gut. I have to accept that. I'm not going to blame everyone else, I'm complicit for accepting things. It was a relief to have the podcast which was going well, it felt like a route out.
"Music is an unrealistic job. I always anticipated the grind down of the soul, I always said I'd go and do another job if it didn't work out. When the podcast worked out, I thought if music is making me so miserable and it's taking me away from my family and I'm not getting the fulfilment I'll go do something else. Then the stars align, you work with the right person and get new management and things work out alright.
"I feel the most confident I've ever felt, making music, knowing the artist I am, accepting that, not feeling I have to chase anything. It's a nice feeling to have.
"I never wanted to get bitter. I felt like maybe I was going that way I don't ever want to be that person. The remedy was making an upbeat record, I never thought I'd be able to do that. I always thought I made really naff upbeat stuff. But add a little filth into the lyrics and Bob's your uncle."
One early single from the new album, Mirage, sees Ware share a writing credit with Bananarama. The song interpolates their 80s hit Cruel Summer - accidentally.
"I wrote Mirage and I thought I'd absolutely smacked it with the melody. Made the record, and my manager used to manage Bananarama, he said 'This sounds like Cruel Summer', I only knew the chorus of the song, so I listened to it and went 'Oh f---'. He said 'I'm going to play it to the girls' and they were fine. "I thought I'd done something completely original and brilliant and I hadn't! So we said here's some publishing because it sounds exactly like your song. They were very chill about it, they weren't grabbing. You have to handle these kinds of things with honesty and it was a complete accident."
COVID has uprooted Ware's plans to tour What's Your Pleasure? this year. She's already thinking she might use the downtime to work on new music instead. However if the world wasn't in travel shutdown, she had hoped to be at Laneway Festival next summer.
It just might have to be pushed forward a year.
"I've got it all planned - do a Table Manners Down Under special and go on a food tour," Ware says. "Interview Flume, if he's not in LA, Drazic from Heartbreak High, I used to love him. I'll come back whenever I'm allowed. Mainly for the lobster roll."
What's Your Pleasure? is out now
Originally published as How a podcast saved Jessie Ware's musical life