Alex Clare puts eclectic twist on soul music
It no doubt helps to have a sense of humour when your interviewer, who has just asked you the minute before about the importance of your faith in dealing with the pressures of your pop music career, then wonders what your ideal Christmas present would be.
“Well, I’m Jewish, so...” says Alex Clare with (thank God) a laugh. “But I like a good book; that would be great. If you could recommend something to me, I’d be happy with that.”
It is early December, and Clare is calling from Philadelphia. He is catching up with the press he was meant to do the day before in Toronto before his bus driver turned out to have a minor misdemeanour offense on his driving license. That hiccup kept him and his band stuck at the US-Canada border for four hours before a replacement was found.
The 27-year-old Londoner is on the road promoting his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, and while touring North America in the winter has its challenges (Clare cites “hydration and sleep” as the keys to survival), he is relishing the chance to bring his music – a mix of soul, pop, dubstep, reggae, and drum & bass – to venues around the world.
“The live show is awesome,” he says. “Just when we were working out how we were going to do it that was a massive experience in itself. And, yeah, I loved it. It’s great to perform the album live. It’s quite a lot of work figuring out how we were going to do it, but we got there.”
The prospect of a world tour seemed pretty remote to Clare even a year ago. The Lateness of the Hour was originally released in the UK in the summer of 2011 to little fanfare. In fact, Clare was dropped by his record label that autumn and had started work with a realtor friend in East London when his song “Too Close” was chosen by Microsoft to soundtrack a commercial. The ad debuted in spring 2012 and reignited interest in Clare’s music. He welcomed the renewed attention.
“At the time I was actually stuck in a bit of a rut,” he says. “I had just lost a record deal and [was] kind of waiting for the next step to appear. And, yeah, I didn’t think twice. It was just like ‘yeah, man. Go for it.’”
Lateness was produced by dance music icons Diplo & Switch, and recorded in Jamaica and Los Angeles around Diplo’s touring schedule.
“They have very good ears, and Switch is one of the best listeners I know,” Clare says of his production team. “He’ll sit there and tweak sounds and switch sounds around until it’s perfect, and he usually gets it right. Diplo will try anything – throw stuff at the wall to see what happens, to see what sticks – and if it sounds good, you run with it.”
Clare is currently “about a third of the way in” to his second album, having written “about” ten songs so far.
“I probably need to write another ten, and then we’ll start producing.”
Asked to compare his new music to that of Lateness, Clare says: “It’s a little bit more positive, a little bit more artistic. But yeah, I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to jinx myself.”
Has his sense of what he can accomplish changed much since the Microsoft ad revived his career?
“Massively, absolutely,” he says. “I mean, I never really thought that my music would get to an international level. So this is awesome! And it did.”
Born and raised in Bromley, a south-east London neighbourhood, Clare continues to live in the city when he is not on the road. A “certified Londoner,” he partly credits the city and its diversity of influences for the eclecticism of his music.
“I sort of grew up around the invention of Goth music and the tail end of Britpop so it was a good time to be around musically,” he says. “But I still think I was born into the wrong taste; if I was born anywhere I should have been born in the ‘60s in New Orleans or somewhere.”
Clare currently lives in Golders Green, a north-west London suburb with a large orthodox Jewish population. Having grown up relatively secular, Clare has become more observant in his Judaism in the last few years, to the extent that he once turned down a tour with Adele because it conflicted with Passover. I ask Clare if his faith helps sustain him through the demands of a pop music career.
“The priorities definitely shift,” he says. “You start valuing your life experiences and the good things in life a lot more. So when things tend to go what seems terribly wrong with work or with something you are doing, typically it gives you a little bit of strength, and, you know, you kind of have to believe that everything is for the best. And when you sort of accept that, it becomes a lot easier. It’s definitely a big support, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”