It’s been a right old journey getting here: Jess Glynne talks ahead of Wolverhampton Racecourse show
I always used to think that you’re nobody until somebody loves you,” says Jess Glynne, singer, star, voice of the street.
In her first few years in the music industry, Jess has carved out a unique slot all of her own. Where others were contemplating the aftermath of heartache, she was always about standing on your own two feet.
At the start of 2018, she took a listen back to her just completed second album, Always in Between. Like her blockbuster debut, I Cry When I Laugh, Jess brokers the hinterlands between pop, soul, R&B and house music on it. “Now I know that you have to be that person for yourself.” She smiles as she says it. “It’s been a right old journey getting here, I can tell you.”
When she looks at the statistics that have marked her sky-rocketing career so far, there is a look of mild disbelief on the face of Jess Glynne, as if this might have happened to someone else. I Cry When I Laugh is one of the defining British pop records of its era. At the time of writing it has been a chart staple for 138 weeks. It debuted at number one, spawning 12million worldwide singles sales, 39 weeks on the UK top 10, 2.5billion Spotify streams, a sold out UK arena tour, Brit, MTV: EMA, Ivor Novello, MOBO, Q and Glamour award nominations.
These are the facts. Underneath is Jess’s peerless ability to commune with an audience through song; to tell the truths young women want to hear about their concerns, the loves that build them up and let them down; the aspirations and dreams that might turn sour but you’ll smile through them anyway. From the beautiful, pared back, gospel inflected uplift of debut cut I’ll Be There, it is clear that Jess is ready to build on the momentous footwork put in on her first foray into fame.
Jess Glynne is a girl from north London who is noticeably free of airs and graces. The stardust she’s gathered since first appearing to the sound of an instantly recognisable string break surprises no-one more than Jess herself. She sings because she loves to and writes songs because she wants answers to her own emotional quandaries. Her powerhouse vocal and fearless delivery has captured so many under its spell. But for Jess, this was all just about learning who she is as a person. As she enters the cycle once more, braving herself for a second ride on the fame rollercoaster, she may just have reached that point.
It was in a moment’s inspiration while sitting with her friend and closest musical ally in the Michael Kors shop, LA, Jess Glynne alighted upon the title of her second record. There and then, she decided album number two would be called Always In Between. “There’s loads of different emotions in me but I always know what I’m doing with the music. That’s the one thing I do know. It’s my safe space. In life, I am very in touch with my emotions. Music is the one place I know I can let it out. It’s a way of processing my uncertainty.”
The more she thought about the title, the more it fit. The album’s major lyrical concerns are about the hardest human trait of all: self-acceptance. Set against fresh new arrangements and gifted Jess’s unique ability to find a panoply of hooks and harmonies that lodge between the ears after one listen, her second album feels as prematurely hit-studded as the first.
The strangest thing about Jess Glynne’s working process is though she has a habit of sneezing hits, they are never designed this way. It’s another space she feels forever in between: real life and fame. It’s part of the reason Jess resonates so clearly with her audience. “Mess ups and all,” she qualifies. “What I learned in the space between the two records is that I need to make myself happy and stop thinking somebody else will do it for me. If somebody is going to come into my life and stand by my side, I feel like I’ve got the strength in me now to let that happen. Because I don’t need it to happen. I’ve got to that place through this whole experience. Finally.”
Sessions for Always In Between began in spring 2017, when a rigorous schedule of writing camps with the kind of cream-of-the-crop talent that is automatically attracted to blockbuster, bestselling artists formed an orderly queue at her record label’s behest in Los Angeles. “I just don’t like working that way though,” says Jess. “Some of the sessions looked amazing on paper, with incredible writers and producers, but it was tiring, draining, all new people that I hadn’t worked with. I’m very funny about getting in the studio with people I don’t know just because they’ve had a hit. I want to work with people who I love.”
She returned with hundreds of songs and nothing she loved. “I got to quite a dark place in myself where.” Retiring back into her own life, she wanted time to herself, to make sense of the monumental changes that had occurred in her life since a guest spot on Clean Bandit’s omnipresent pop-house smash Rather Be blew the whistle on the rollercoaster of her musical life. So much had changed in the three years of I Cry When I Laugh’s success. “Fame started to mess my head up,” she says. “You don’t feel like you’ve changed but people around you think you have.”
Her personal relationships were forever in a state of flux. “That was another in between. You reach a point of clarity and you grow up and you learn about relationships and how to deal with things. The new record wasn’t going to be about someone else, it was going to be about learning how to be me, even if I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Learning not to care about that.”
Jess hired a house in the British countryside and took a band of friends and musicians away for the week. They spent the entire seven days in one another’s company, bouncing ideas around, jamming, writing together. By the end of the second day she had finished the addictive pop funk track, 1,2,3. “I could feel the mood shifting.” Suddenly making music had stopped being a workplace and started feeling like a holiday. The songs were now flying out of her. “And we got pretty much the whole album done in that week.”
This was the way records were made in the 70s and 80s, just some friends hanging out, away from the fray, marrying themselves to music in complete isolation. “We might’ve got nothing,” she says, “but we ended up with everything.” Most of the arrangements on the record are faithful to their original recordings. “I kept the backing vocals from us all sat around a mic, enjoying ourselves. They might be a bit raw. Not everyone can sing. But you can feel us enjoying ourselves, getting what you’re supposed to get out of making a record.”
Jess had found her alchemical touch for turning out songs that mean something to her. “That’s the only way to connect,” she says. The cornerstone song of the record Thursday, which she wrote with Ed Sheeran, contains a faultlessly honest summation of its intention: I won’t wear makeup on Thursday/Because who I am is enough.
“I don’t write songs because I want a hit,” she says. “I never have and I never will. I want to make a great album, that’s it.” In the event, she is delighted with first choice, I’ll Be There, a spare, thoughtful showcase for her instantly familiar, rousing vocal styling, every bit the introductory calling card Hold My Hand was back in 2015, at the beginning of Jess’s incredible pop life.
Jess Glynne has found peace through music, once more. “I’m in a great place now,” she says. “I felt like I was in between a normal life and a famous life, this or that relationship, and it’s felt at times like I was lost.” With age, comes understanding. Over the last couple of years Jess has learned one of life’s vital lessons and put it all back into her second record. “It wasn’t that I was lost, at all. It was about learning to love myself.”
l Jess Glynne headlines Wolverhampton Racecourse on Saturday, August 31.