Interview by Rich Thomas
It’s been 17 years since Bill Gates used “Start Me Up” to herald the coming of Windows 95. To some, it was musical sacrilege. To others, it was a perfect accompaniment to the marriage of technology and pop culture. Now, Microsoft is at it again. If you’ve seen the ads for Internet Explorer 9, you’ve heard Alex Clare
’s majestic, dubstep-infused “Too Close.” While it doesn’t carry the same classic rock pedigree as the Stones’ tune, “Too Close” mirrors the message perfectly. This is beautiful, artistic, forward thinking, high definition sound, but Clare’s singer/songwriter framework pushes it through pop music’s glass ceiling.
Partially produced by Diplo and Switch, his most recent album, The Lateness of the Hour,
features elements of funk, EDM, R&B and rock — and not just trace amounts. “Treading Water” is propelled by full-on drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, while “Hands Are Clever” would sit nice and pretty in the middle of a Soulquarians set. And when he strips back the beats in the closing “I Won’t Let You Down,” it’s clear what separates Clare from his peers. It’s not just about the voice. It’s not just about the beat du jour. It’s about crafting the right arrangement for the right acoustic melody. Everything else is gravy; tasty, tasty gravy.
PureVolume: When you were recording these songs, how important was it for you to hold onto that singer/songwriter DNA, especially when you’re working with producers like Diplo and Switch.
Alex Clare: I think it’s essential, especially when you’re working with a big producer. If you’re a singer/songwriter and you’re creating a body of work, it kinda gives you an edge when you come to the producer because you already have the songs made. So when you sit down in the studio with them, you’re not subtracting anything. They’re just adding.
PV: I love that “I Won’t Let You Down,” the last song on the album, is purely acoustic. How did you know that one wasn’t to be messed with?
AC: It was written on piano and it just really felt beautiful as it was. I felt it needed to be left alone in its organic, natural state. You get a feeling when you’re writing a song; what it’s meant to be and where it’s meant to go.
PV: But putting it last is making a bit of a statement, yes?
AC: I think if you get people hopped up and jumping around, you’ve got a responsibility to put them at ease again (laughs).
PV: Did you know straight away that a hybridized style was the direction you wanted to go for this set of songs?
AC: Absolutely. The demos that got me signed were very much like that. I made the demo for “Too Close” before I got signed to Island
, and it was electronic beats with these organic guitar hooks and keys. That was definitely the agenda from the offset.
PV: Any word from Prince about the cover of “When Doves Cry?” He tends to be a bit persnickety about his tunes.
AC: I have a feeling he’s got a bullet with my name on it. (Laughs) I’m a little bit bigger than him, though, so I think I’ll be okay.
PV: These days, success can be measured by the amount of online parody done about the work. What have been some of your favorite Alex Clare YouTube moments?
AC: There’s a lot in German, and unfortunately my German isn’t good enough to understand what they’re actually singing about! I may have to do a little bit of research and get involved with the parodies. There are so many good acoustic covers. There was one girl who played an acoustic version of “Too Close”
and I genuinely feel it was better than mine. Just a girl and a guitar, but she sang it and got it completely — the pathos and the empathy — I genuinely felt like she could have written it.
PV: You do a great job of connecting beautiful melody and songwriting to well-produced electronic beats, and though that’s become quite the flavor of the month in the pop world, you do it in a very sophisticated way. Who are some other groups you admire that operate in that same vein?
cracked it. They were definitely the trailblazers for the fusion of electronic beats and live instrumentation. If you watch them live, it’s unbelievable. They definitely have it down pat. When it comes to marrying live orchestration and electronic music, I think Magnetic Man have done a pretty good job.
PV: How important is it for you to have a good rotation of hats when you’re on tour?
AC: (Laughs) You know what, I literally have one. I’m an orthodox Jew and I keep my head covered at all times, and this hat is disgusting. I really need to get a new hat. It’s getting bad.