With a brace of number ones and a smash hit album, Jess Glynne is fast becoming a fixture at the top of the charts - but it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
Few people make quite the impact Jess Glynne has made in such a short space of time. Within two years the 27 year old from North London had five UK number ones, collaborated with the likes of Tinie Tempah and Clean Bandit and had a debut album go number one as well. Last year she was nominated for a slew of Brit awards, embarked on a sellout UK arena tour and played at Glastonbury. Not bad for a former brand manager for a drinks company who dabbled in hairdressing and worked at a fitness centre before being spotted by Atlantic Records. The loud ginger lass with the remarkable soulful voice is coming to Parc y Scarlets on June 3rd and we caught up with her to talk about the gig, X Factor, Amy Winehouse and getting into trouble with the police.
“It was important to write an album that was hopeful and full of belief”
RedHanded: The music industry is weird isn’t it? Once you get the record deal everything goes totally mental!
JESS GLYNNE: When Hold My Hand went to number one, it was like ‘Holy shit, this is mad!’ It was number one for six weeks. I honestly wasn’t expecting it at all. You put a song out and just don’t expect anything other than for people to enjoy it. It has probably been the most surreal two years of my life. They have flown by in such a mad way. Life has changed in so many ways and I’ve learnt so many things. I guess most importantly I’ve learnt to surround myself with good people, keep my feet on the ground and that it is ok to say no.
RH: How do you find dealing with the success and the attention?
JESS: I still get overwhelmed by it. I don’t see myself as a famous person. It’s really strange. I do find it quite uncomfortable, people staring at me while I’m having a drink with my mate. But of course I deal with it, it’s fine. When people come up and tell me they’re such a big fan, it’s cool. But weird.
RH: What about performing? Presumably that’s pretty cool?
JESS: Lyrics have always come naturally to me. I’m terrible with words when it comes to speaking. If I have to get up on stage and say something or accept an award, I panic, but with music it flows.
RH: You appeared on the X Factor with Cheryl last year. What was that like?
JESS: She was lovely, but so terrified to pick who to put through because she knows she’ll be heckled for whatever she decides. She was, like, “Jess, help me!” So I would whisper in her ear, “Just do it.”
RH: That’s not the first time you’ve come into contact with the show is it? You were asked by the producers to apply when you were 15, but turned it down?
JESS: I just wasn’t really feeling it. It wasn’t really me. It was a great thing to see but also a great thing to walk away from. I was quite an opinionated girl, I still am, and I know what I want so I don’t think it would have been the right thing for me. Some people do need that platform, and for some people it’s perfect because not everyone enjoys the creative part, the writing and making the music. But that’s my favourite part.
RH: So you’re not a big fan of TV talent shows?
JESS: I’d hate for young singers to think that’s the only way and there’s no hope if you don’t win. My advice to someone entering the industry is to have a thick shell, as there’s a lot of rejection, and to believe in what you do, because if you don’t, no one else will. You need to be committed, too – success is not going to be handed to you on a plate.
RH: Were you into music as a kid?
JESS: I grew up with stacks of records around the house – artists such as Sting, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie. I was just obsessed with soul singers who had these big, powerful voices. I used to listen to Aretha, Whitney, Mariah and try and imitate them, note for note and riff for riff.
RH: And did you get into scrapes knocking about in North London?
JESS: Oh yeah, once I was driving and my friends thought it would be really funny to get out of the car and run around it at the traffic lights to swap seats. One was in the front, one was in the back and little did they know there was a police car behind us! So I got pulled over and breathalysed. At the time I was so annoyed but looking back, it was funny.
RH: Aretha, Whitney, Maria… all great voices… but your biggest influence more recently was the late, great Amy Winehouse wasn’t it?
JESS: It’s no secret that Amy was a massive influence on me. She was the person I wanted to be. When I found out she had passed away, I didn’t believe it. I was in tears. I used to always see her around, as we lived near to one another.
RH: You quite often cover Amy’s Tears Dry On Their Own in your live set don’t you?
JESS: I had it in my head that she and I would work together one day. Amy had that sadness, didn’t she? I have it, too. But for me it wasn’t about sinking into it, it was about seeing the good and taking lessons away. Aside from her family, I don’t think Amy had the best people around her like I do. I think there were people who could have saved her, but didn’t.
RH: Like Amy, you’re not afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. The album was about a break up wasn’t it? Did writing about it help you come to terms with it?
JESS: I definitely handled my emotions by writing music. That was my therapy and I think it’s why the album is so special. I’d sit down and be amazed by what would pour out. It was important to write an album that was hopeful and full of belief. Someone hurt me, but I didn’t want to seem broken. I didn’t realise how tough I was until I had to go to endless meetings with people from the record company and, each time, find a way to hide my pain. Looking back, I feel proud of how I dealt with it. There’s no secret to getting over someone: it just takes time and space.
RH: It was a girlfriend you broke up with…
JESS: The songs on this album are about a girl. I feel like with the album I’m putting my cards out on the table. I wouldn’t want it to be misconstrued and the fact of the matter is those songs are about a girl. I was heartbroken about a girl, it wasn’t a guy.
RH: Do you think society is too quick to label people as gay or straight?
JESS: Aren’t those terms meaningless these days? I’ve been in love with a man and with a woman, so I can’t say it would be one or the other; it’s about the person. If it’s right, I’ll commit, but my experience has definitely damaged me. She just f***ed me over. It was the first girl I’d ever fallen in love with. It was a relationship that was so new to me. Someone I met working.
RH: Let’s talk about nicer things! You played the Motorpoint Arena in December and you’re appearing at Parc Y Scarlets in Llanelli for the first time in June. What has brought you back to Wales and what can we expect?
JESS: I had a lot of fun last year firstly. Secondly I couldn’t say no. 2017 is going to be an exciting year. You’ll have to wait and see!
Jess Glynne plays Parc Y Scarlets on 3rd June. For tickets see http://tickets.scarlets.wales or call 0871 871 8088