“Diplo and an Orthadox Jew walk into a studio” sounds more like the opening line of an off-color joke than a surpisingly fruitful musical pairing.
While most people were likely introduced to British vocalist Alex Clare through a commercial for Internet Explorer 9 wherein his addictive single “Too Close” captivated unprepared television viewers’ eardrums, they may not have been aware that he actively studies the Talmud, has indeed collaborated with Major Lazer, or that he even used to date the late Amy Winehouse. Now happily married and tight-lipped on the latter, the electro-soul singer sat down with VH1 Tuner this week to candidly discuss the opportunity that saved his career, and the whirlwind that has been his last few months.
“I was stuck in a bit of a career rut,” remarked Clare on the period before radio would touch “Too Close,” a Mike Spencer-produced song that has since charted internationally and hit #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 domestically. “Without [the IE9 commercial], I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here right now… No one was really listening to my music, and now people are.” It’s been quite the 180. When his debut LP The Lateness Of The Hour dropped in the UK in July of 2011, incorporating electronic elements into soul music was more rare than it is now, but Clare has since surrendered to the fact that, as we approach 2013, “everyone’s doing it.”
After taking five weeks off to observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in Israel, celebrating Hanukkah while on the road is “easy” for the gritty-voiced singer who performed at Irving Plaza on Tuesday night. “Wherever you go, you just light your menorah, sing some songs, eat some donuts – happy days.” But seeing an Israeli flag lifted in the show’s crowd on that fourth day of the Festival of Lights was a first for Clare, who could only really make sense of the incident with a geographical explanation: “I guess it’s New York and there’s a lot of us here.” Despite the venue’s sound being quite a bit off, Clare’s live show showcased his versatile voice well, and he was able to execute a wide variety of covers including Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” Etta James‘ “Damn Your Eyes,” and Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” – a version of which he was forced to re-write since an actual cover of the dancehall song would be both “inaudible and slightly obscene.”
As far as the joke’s punchline, the kosher Londoner collaborating with Major Lazer producers Diplo and Switch is everything we’d imagine it to be. “It’s like working with children. Quite talented, but very hyper-active mental children,” confirmed Clare, who’s influenced by everything from soul – “Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Marvin… Joe Cocker, maybe” – to punk rock. Now working on a second album that he hopes to have finished by the middle of 2013, Clare can gratefully relax and let radio and the “Too Close” spot spread his buzz around the world. With all due respect to his religious way of life, I do sort of wish I could have shook the man’s hand.