Who knew a trip to Pizza Express could inform a young teenager's life so greatly? One evening in 2003, Jess Glynne’s parents returned home from a night in Soho with a signed CD by a new singer they had seen performing at the restaurant’s regular Jazz night. “It had such a profoundly immediate effect on me,” remembers Jess of her parents playing Amy Winehouse’s debut album, Frank. “I’d always loved the big pop vocals of Mariah, Beyoncé and Whitney, but hearing a woman’s voice that was basically a jazz vocal, so full of individuality? Then realising she was British and still a teenager? That was the moment I knew I wanted to be as singer too.”
Glynne is a woman in possession of a rather fantastically distinctive vocal herself. You’ve already heard the 24 year-old’s richly evocative voice on Clean Bandit’s No.1 classical-dance smash Rather Be, which is the highest selling January No.1 since 1996 with sales in the UK alone of over 600,000, earning platinum status.
The track very nearly didn’t happen though. “I’ve never sung on a song that I haven’t written myself, so initially I wasn’t at all sure about doing it,” Jess admits. “But then I met the band and we went to the studio and had such a great time recording it. I absolutely love the song and I’m so happy to have been a part of it.”
She also lends her lead vocal to a second number 1, Route 94’s incredible House-flavoured My Love which also debuted at number one in the UK. When that track was premiered as Zane Lowe's Hottest Record, Adele tweeted "TUUUNE" with Lily Allen tweeting that Jess was "slaying the top 3!!!!!!!" as My Love hit the top of the charts whilst Rather Be held the number three position.
Now it’s time for Jess to introduce her own sound, a distinguished mix of “hip-hop with a soul voice and a sprinkling of pop.” Hip-Pop-Soul perhaps? She laughs. “I’m really influenced by people like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, but then I also love singers like Frank Ocean, Jasmine Sullivan and Anthony Hamilton.” Jess also identifies ‘Aretha Franklin’s tone, Etta James’s soul, Eva Cassidy’s character and the songwriting of Lauryn Hill’ as having been heavily influential on her, both as singer and songwriter. “Hearing Lauryn’s ‘Superstar’ had a big effect on me because it made me realise you could write about subjects other than love and people could still hugely relate to what you were saying.”
Despite discovering that she could sing at an early age, Jess was initially put off performing by her school, which wasn’t particularly supportive of her ambitions to be a singer. Often overlooked during performances, her confidence took a bit of a knock and so after her GCSE’s, she decided to go travelling for a few months. When she came home from exploring South America, Asia and Australia, Jess decided she wanted to work in the music industry – but on the other side of the microphone. Joining the management team that would go on to sign Rizzle Kicks and Laura Mvula, Jess got an up-close, first-hand look at the business, but quickly realised that, despite her school’s efforts, she didn’t want to stay behind the scenes. “I paid someone to make me a four-track demo and from there I just went and met as many producers and writers as I could. I did a year of songwriting sessions with everyone under the sun but I felt like I was going round in circles because I didn’t have one person to develop my own sound with.”
It was while doing an Artist Development course at East London’s British Academy of New Music that Glynne would meet someone that would eventually become one of her closest musical mentors. Bless Beats was known for his work within the grime scene, producing tracks including Wiley’s Wearing My Rolex and Roll Deep’s Night Life. The pair began working together and it was through Bless that Jess would eventually secure management and, ultimately, a deal with Atlantic Records. “I was signed on the basis of my own music rather than because I featured on someone’s song,” she points out. “The Clean Bandit single came about after I was signed, so I know that I have a label who is confident in my own musical vision. I’m so grateful for the platform ‘Rather Be’ has given me, but now I’m looking forward to being known as an artist in my own right.”
As well as Bless Beats, Jess is also working with one or two other co-writers and producers on both sides of the Atlantic to hone her signature sound “I like that I’m not working with hundreds of people or working with the same names that everyone else works with. Ideally I’d like to just work with these people because I feel we’ve got a great thing going. I’m open to working with other people of course,” she adds, “but so far I feel we are creating something really cohesive that is different to what anyone else is doing.”
Jess’s debut album will be out later this year, proceeded by live shows this summer: “I know that I’m one of a number of British girls to release this year,” says Jess. “But I’m confident in who I am. What makes me different is my experiences, my personality, my songwriting. I’ve had different life experiences, like we all have, and all of that makes me who I am – me.”