There are all sorts of paths to success in the music industry (and many more that don’t lead to success, of course). But Alex Clare might have taken one of the more unexpected paths there.
The British singer/songwriter’s 2012 album, a soul/electronic hybrid called “The Lateness of the Hour,” was not selling. In fact, it did so poorly that his label dropped him, and Clare, a religious Jew, headed to a yeshiva (seminary for Jews) in Jerusalem. But somewhere along the way, someone handed his album to the right person at Microsoft, and the company created a wildly successful ad spot using Clare’s song “Too Close.” Trust us, you’ve heard it. The song, a pulsing, almost unsettling ode to a relationship gone wrong, soared up the charts.
“I set some conditions for leaving yeshiva. One of them was that my song would go to the top 5 in the UK and the other one was that my producer would phone me,” says Clare. “I spoke to the head of yeshiva and told him these two things happened and he was like, ‘yeah, dude, you should probably go take care of that.’”
Probably not the usual set of reasons for leaving that a man who runs a yeshiva hears, but Clare is good-natured about what happened, calling the last minute save of his music career part of “The grand cosmic plan. I really don’t know! The only person who bought my record was the guy who gave it to Microsoft to use. They just liked it. They liked the energy. They thought it was in keeping with what they tried to do.”
Clare is now back with a new album, “Three Hearts,” which covers slightly new ground. The singer got married and had a baby in between records, which he called “massively” influential.
The new album also takes a more instrumental turn than the more electronic “Lateness of the Hour.” “I always played in bands and I like musical instruments,” says Clare with a laugh. “It gets a bit dull after a while making music on laptops and using samples.”
As far as the pressure to produce a new “Too Close” on the new record, Clare says “You just have to get on with life and keep making music and doing your thing and if we get another song that’s as huge as that, it’d be great, but if not, it’s still a massive pleasure to do what I love, which is to write music and to play music.”
Clare says his main influences are soul singers, who he grew up listening to. "They're the only things I really listen to now. If I've got my ipod on, I don't tend to listen to that much new music. I tend to listen to oldies. Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Stevie, they're all still up there." As to what draws a modern singer to such an old song, Clare says "It just feels good. It’s not just about listening to music, it’s about feeling it. With a lot of soul music, it just gets you in the kishkes."
See the commercial that used Clare's song below.