Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
You know Alex Clare‘s music, even if you don’t know you know it. His dramatic “Too Close” is the song from the flashy Internet Explorer ad that jolts you awake whenever your favorite show cuts to break.
Even from the small snippet, it’s clear that this Brit’s interpretation of dubstep is more melodic and poppy: His Major Lazer-produced 2011 debut album The Lateness Of The Hour favors soulful vocals rather than disfigured samples, and lurching bass instead of wobbling robot vomit. We’re not exactly sure how to categorize it — Soulstep? Electro-soul? Soft-step? — but we do know Clare has managed to humanize EDM using heart and hooks. And Clare’s got one edge on his knob-twisting DJ-producer brethren: Dude can SING. It all combines into that rare form of electronic music that you’d actually want to hear even when it’s stripped of the sweaty neon rave-up spectacle. For more on this dubstep anomaly, check out our interview with Alex Clare above, and read on.
FULL NAME: Alexander George Claire (notice the i)
SOUNDS LIKE: At the risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous, we’re gonna say that Alex Clare sounds like Avicii channeled through Gavin DeGraw with a hint of Adam Levine (maybe that’s why his Wikipedia page once said he was a member of Maroon 5). When describing his own sound, Clare keeps coming back to the word “eclectic,” saying “It’s very diverse, obviously it has a very heavy leaning towards electronic music, like dubstep, dance or drum and bass elements. But I think my singing style is definitely that of a soul singer.”
INFLUENCES: “A lot of jazz, a lot of soul, a lot of blues…hip-hop, punk, drum and bass…I went through a lot of phases.” He told us he even had the pink hair to denote at least one of those phases. “I have a lot of musical heroes, and they all rub off in their own special way…The list would be as long as my arm, but everyone from Etta James to Stevie Wonder to Black Flag to Wu-Tang.”
But like any artist, his inspiration comes from sources other than vinyl as well. A self-described “shomer Shabbos Jew who keeps kosher,” Alex says that while his faith doesn’t directly influence his music, the state of mind “affects everything you do. It makes you think about things in a different way.”
UNDER COVER: Clare doesn’t take cover songs lightly. Previously he has covered Etta James and Prince, noting that “it took quite a lot of, ya know, getting the motivation and getting the focus to do those covers right, and getting the confidence to do it…If you’re gonna cover a Prince song, you have to be very brave or very stupid.” Because it’s a whole strenuous mental process, he doesn’t know which legend he’ll tackle next.
BIG BREAK: No gray area here, he arrived in March when that Internet Explorer 9 commercial featuring “Too Close” first hit, and everyone immediately fumbled to Shazam that beastly 30-second cut. But get this, Clare actually uses IE! “Uh, yes. Occasionally, I do. Sometimes.” Ringing endorsement!
IF THIS WHOLE MUSIC THING DOESN’T WORK OUT: “At 16, I went to chef school. My dad said ‘OK, play music, fine. But you should probably learn how to do at least one other thing.’ I got a formal qualification for how to fry an egg…I can make it look really nice, perfectly round. With an evenly cooked yolk.”
WHAT’S NEXT: “I’m writing [my next album] right now. I really want to put some more orchestral stuff on record…I’d really like that, but we’ll see. The Man might disagree, but hopefully he won’t…I wouldn’t be the first to [combine an orchestra with electronic elements], but when it works right it sounds awesome.”