One of the biggest success stories of the last two years, Southwark London based musician Alex Clare took the music world by storm when his smash-hit single ‘Too Close’ was selected to be the background music for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 advertisement, boosting it like a rocket into the stratosphere and ultimately driving sales of the single to over 5 million records worldwide.
This sudden fame and fortune made Alex Clare one of the biggest new names in music in 2012 and now, after a two-year break, Alex’s latest record “Three Hearts” (released earlier this year) is making its own statement to the fans, with its decidedly retro feel and departure in sound from his 2011 debut ‘The Lateness of the Hour’.
AltWire recently had a moment to sit down with Alex before his December 10th show in Austin, TX, where we learned about Alex’s musical influences and the difference in recording processes between his latest album and the last. We also learned in a big surprise from Alex, that the hardworking musician is already well into writing music for his third album, the followup to ‘Three Hearts’ (after just dropping the aforementioned album this August!) and that the next album may just be here sooner than you think.
For more details, read below!
AltWire [Derek Oswald]: Your new album, ‘Three Hearts’, was co-produced by a variety of artists like Dan Wilson, who has worked with Adele and Taylor Swift, and Ben Hudson, who has worked with Kanye West, just to name a couple. What made you choose such a diverse group of producers to work with? Do you think their different styles had an impact on the overall sound of the album?
Alex Clare: I had written a bunch of songs and I know Ben Hudson fairly well, as I’ve been writing with him on other projects and it was all just a matter of me and him getting together and doing something. Dan was more of a suggestion from somebody else, and honestly, if you get along with somebody and you have a nice relationship, it’s good to make music together. I was traveling a lot, touring off the back of ‘The Lateness of The Hour’ and spending quite a time in various different areas one of which is Los Angeles [where Dan is located] and Dan is a professor of music. He’s got a very professorial outlook on music and he is a real pleasure to work with. Dan more kind of just lets you ‘get on with it’ and then he’ll listen to what you’ve done and say “Hmm well let’s try and shift that around” and for what I wanted to do, which was a soulful acoustic album, that was ideal.
AW: How would you compare the difference in the recording process from this album to the last?
Alex Clare: A lot more consistent. The last album was recorded and produced in various airplanes, hotel lobbies, and a few studios all over the world as I was working with Diplo and Switch on that one. For this album, I generally was able to get into the studio a lot more. There’s a lot more live production, and when we put the instruments down we tended to do them live and in one session. The lion’s share of the recording of the album was actually done with two friends of mine in London called Anthony Genn and Martin Slattery and they kind of engineered the record. So most of the live instruments on the record were recorded live (as in when we were doing the tracks) which is completely different from the first record which was a lot more computer-based production.
AW: ‘Too Close’ was a huge hit, and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. How did that affect your mind when writing this album, and do you feel the success of that single may have added some pressure to writing ‘Three Hearts’?
Alex Clare: Nah, there’s no pressure. When you get a hit like Too Close that’s amazing but when you create music you just have to create the music and you can’t be worried about what has been and what may come. You have to just get on with it, you know? It’d be great if we had another hit that was comparable to or greater than ‘Too Close’ but that’s not ultimately why you make music. You write music because you want to create the songs. So no, I wouldn’t say there was any pressure at all.
AW: You’ve described your new album as an album of “Thanks giving and gratitude”. What made you describe the album this way? Is there anyone song or two songs that have followed this theme above any others?
Alex Clare: Yeah I think the whole record does, to be honest. But in particular ‘Never Let You Go’ and ‘Three Hearts’ are the two tracks that really stick out for me and kind of sum up the rest of the record. Some amazing things happened in my life, you know? I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter and those are some great muses to have. Most musicians write music that tends to be loneliness and sadness and instead I have two amazing women who inspire me constantly.
AW: I really love the idea behind your music that if you’re an honest songwriter, and write music about living an honest life, then most people can relate to it. In addition to what you said, where else do you draw your inspiration from as an artist?
Alex Clare: The world around us is an incredible place. You never know where an idea is going to come from when you’re writing a song. It usually just smacks you right between the eyes and jumps out. If you have to sit there and force it, then it’s probably a good time to just go for a stroll and see what’s around you. The world is literally the most incredible place and it’s full of incredible people who do incredible things and you can get a song out of just about anything if you look hard enough.
AW: You recently started a US tour. How has that been going so far? Any interesting stories to tell?
Alex Clare: [Laughing loudly] Not so interesting but it’s been really cool. It’s definitely the biggest US tour we’ve ever done. It was really nice last night (we played in Dallas, TX) to see people singing songs off of the new record. That’s a great buzz, to see people getting into it now. It’s been a bit of a slow burner, but it’s been great and a lot of fun. We’re halfway through it now exactly, and we’re actually just pulling up outside Emo’s in Austin and we’ll be playing here tonight.
“Hopefully album number three will be out pretty quickly and we’ll get it turned around a lot faster than the last record. We’re writing it now.”
AW: You mentioned the fans getting into the new music. Are you excited by the reaction the new music has received on tour?
Alex Clare: Yeah! There are a few stand-out tracks that people really connect to. ‘Never Let You Go’ and ‘A War Rages On’ are definitely the ones that people seem to engage with the most, and obviously the title track ‘Three Hearts’. We were playing ‘Three Hearts’ in the last tour we did so people seem to be singing along with that again and getting down with that. Obviously, the place still explodes when we play ‘Too Close’ and ‘Up All Night’ from the previous records as those were the tracks that put my name out there in terms of recognition in America.
AW: Is there a particular place you’re most excited to go to on this US tour?
Alex Clare: I love the West Coast! Portland and Seattle we always have a great response from the crowd, so it’s kind of like a homeland for some reason, and I’m not sure why. I think maybe the radio stations there were the first to play my music in America, so we always get a lot of support in Seattle. I’m also really excited to be going to New Orleans. I recorded part of the first album in New Orleans so I’m really excited to be going back there to play a show; it’s going to be awesome. I got a few friends there I’m looking forward to seeing, so New Orleans will be very, very exciting.
AW: With New Orleans, you said you wanted this album to be more acoustic and soul-based. Do you feel that maybe some of the heart and soul of the music from that town came out on the new record?
Alex Clare: Definitely. Even on the first record we recorded ‘Relax My Beloved’ and ‘Up All Night’ in New Orleans and it’s a very inspirational place. There are some incredible musicians there and I wish that I could spend some more time [in New Orleans], as I’m only there for about twelve hours. It’s such a great place musically. Music is dripping off the walls in New Orleans.
AW: Any musicians down there that influence you more than others?
AC: Yeah! James Booker, Professor Longhair, they’re two big heroes of mine. I can’t play piano – well I can but very basically – and Professor Longhair and James Booker are two of my big musical heroes, they’re fantastic. Snooks Eaglin (known as The Human Jukebox) was also a big musical hero of mine as well.
Also all those second line groups. The last time I was there dubstep wasn’t really a thing yet in America and so I played dubstep to one of those second line groups and had them repeat all the different drops on trombones and tubas and it was a lot of fun. There are incredible musicians all over New Orleans from second line musicians to bar pianists, and they’re all just amazing.
AW: Speaking of dubstep, ‘Too Close’ and parts of your last record definitely had big dubstep and electronic influences. What inspired you to include those electronic influences in your music? Was this something you always intended to do as an artist?
Alex Clare: I grew up in the area where dubstep comes from. In Southeast London ten years ago is when dubstep really started growing and developing with artists like Skream and Benga and Artwork. They were the people who kind of gave birth to dubstep in Croydon in Southeast London and I was around that scene. I was very aware of what it was. It kind of grew out of the UK Garage scene and it was always there. People were first recording UK Garage tracks and then they moved on to dubstep. I saw it in both worlds and hung out with both sets of people and between the indie scene and the acoustic scene and dubstep and electronic scene in London there’s a lot of good creativity going on and it just seemed like the right thing to do.
AW: Before we go, what are some of the things you’re most excited for in the year ahead? Anything you’re psyched to tell the fans about?
Alex Clare: In the year ahead we’re going to be touring a lot more I’d imagine and I’m actually soon going to be heading back to London, to begin work on album number three. Hopefully album number three will be out pretty quickly and we’ll get it turned around a lot faster than the last record. We’re writing it now.
AW: Wow! I’m stunned you’re already working on a new album when your new album was only released a few months ago. Is this the way you’ll continue to work in the future, releasing new music quickly instead of going a few years between albums?
Alex Clare: With ‘The Lateness of The Hour’ we were touring so much. I toured that album all over the world and constantly and so it got in the way of sitting in the studio and writing. So yeah it’s something I’d like to do more, just do a lot more writing and get a lot more music out there. Not just for me, but for other people.