Alex Clare isn't the first Orthodox Jew to have a recording career, but he may be the first to be dumped by one major company and rescued by another in the space of a few months. The British singer-songwriter released his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, on Island Records last summer. But the label soon discovered how serious Clare was about his faith — especially when it came to the sabbath and high holy days, on which Orthodox Jews are forbidden to perform.
"When I signed to Island — you know, obviously a shomer Shabbos Jewish person — I don't think they quite realized what that means," Clare says. "I got offered a tour at Pesach, at Passover, and couldn't perform."
The offer Clare turned down was a slot opening for Adele. About four months later, he was dropped from Island's roster, having failed to generate significant album sales or radio play. As Clare was figuring out his next move, he received a call from Microsoft, which was interested in using his song "Too Close" in a commercial. It was a deal that would make the song a hit and restart his career.
Speaking with NPR's Guy Raz, Alex Clare discusses that surprising turn of events, as well as his beginnings in both music and religion.
On getting dropped from his label
"If you're a musician, you're a musician; you don't ever get that out of your bones. You're always going to want to play and sing and write music. But I knew I had to definitely have a rethink about how I was going to approach writing, and certainly how I was going to approach performing. The funny thing is, as I was dropped, I was just starting to sell out tours. ... We were building this really nice buzz; it was just taking quite a while. And then I got the rug pulled out from underneath me, as it was."
On becoming Orthodox in his early 20s
"My parents are like religious atheists. They're not even slightly observant in any capacity. My parents are kind of into existentialism, actually. ... For me, [religion] really came about much later in life. I could never call myself an atheist; my parents could, quite happily. I always felt like there was a little bit more out there, and was always into observing the world from a slightly more spiritual, as opposed to scientific, perspective. Gradually, boxes began to get ticked. I decided to start learning to read Hebrew and really try and understand it."
On discovering his voice
"The sort of epiphany, for want of a better word, was probably around [age] 18. I was playing in a group in London; I was playing drums for them. I always sang, and I always played a little bit of guitar, but my main instrument was drums and that's what I was focused on. I was singing backing vocals one day, and the singer of the band kind of turned around and said, 'You know what? You should probably just sing. Because you're drowning everybody else out.'"