With a voice that evokes Donny Hathaway or Marvin Gaye and a beard which rivals that of any indie-folk artist, 26-year-old British neo-soul singer-song writer Alex Clare has shaken up music with his inventive, yet radio-friendly fusion of both retro sounds and forward-thinking EDM.
His current single–“Too Close” from his 2011 Mike Spencer and Major Lazer-produced album The Lateness of the Hour–is knocking heavy on Billboard charts around the globe with its graceful percussion, dancehall shimmer, sultry dub-step glitches, and expansive back-drop.
In an interview with KROQ/Los Angeles, Clare talked about his varied influences which range from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and Dizzy Gillepsie which he grew up on and gave him a “little solace in a little soul music” to the UK drum ‘n bass and dubstep which his album is infused with that “started in London, really” to recording live trumpets in New Orleans for his bayou-flavored track “Hands Are Clever.”
“I really, really loved New Orleans, actually. We started the album there and it just blew my mind. Just the whole vibe of the place. It was awesome,” said Clare as we discussed his song “Hands Are Clever.” “The trumpets in the background are recorded from a little dictophone in the streets. It was an amazing place and it definitely rubbed off.”
The singer-songwriter recorded two other tracks–“Relax My Beloved” and “Up All Night”–in New Orleans then made his way to the “nice, lovely, scenic, quiet, relaxed” middle of nowhere in Jamaica to record “Hummingbird.” He even recorded in Diplo’s Atwater Village studio–once the location for the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal Records–and when asked what it was like recording with the producer, Clare laughed and replied, “Did you ever know anybody with chronic ADD? It’s like working with someone with chronic ADD.”
Although Diplo is infamous for his electronic stamp, Clare said that even during their creative genesis the songs were always going to have an electronic flair. “When I made the demos for the album, they were all electronically recorded,” admitted Clare. “So, it was kind of the direction I was going with it….But they [Mike Spencer and Major Lazer] definitely left their mark on it.”
To write his songs, Clare engages in a little bit of musical lucid dreaming. “I still write songs exactly the way that I always have done,” he said when asked if his songwriting process has changed since having a hit single. “It usually comes to me in the middle of the night whilst asleep. I wake up thinking ‘Oh I’ve got a good idea.’ And then I pick up the guitar and work on it.”
“Music evolves and changes whether that’s for the best or not; it’s becomes a little bit more radio-friendly, dubstep,” continued Clare. “A few years ago it was so big and dark.”
Likewise, the neo-soul tone of Clare’s voice has again permeated the mainstream with the popularity of artists such as Adele. When told that his voice and phrasing on “Relax My Beloved” sounds similar to old-school soul staple “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” by Donny Hathaway, Clare gushes, saying that’s one of the “coolest things” he’s every heard.
“Don’t say that, you can’t say that; it’s not good for my ego.”
–Nadia Noir, CBS Radio Los Angeles