If you’ve listened to the entire The Lateness of the Hour album from the U.K.’s Alex Clare, you’d know he’s far more than just that guy whose song “Too Close” became popular thanks to an Internet Explorer commercial. There’s a mixture of everything from down-tempo/trip-hop and dubstep to bold choral elements and even peaceful acoustic piano. But it’s that soulful voice that shines through—no matter the accompanying music—that makes him a standout songwriter. We caught up with Clare before his April 18 performance at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip.
How are you combining the electronic elements with live instrumentation on this tour?
My good friend Kola Bello, he has a whole bed of synths. Most of the bass is reproduced live just using a bass guitar—it makes a world of difference with effects pedals and effects units. Then we’ve got live drums and live guitar. It’s a pretty standard setup. We do have a backing track as well. You can run more complicated orchestral and choral lines off of that, because obviously we can’t have an orchestra everywhere we go! We tend to be very sub-heavy when we play, so obviously that’s a quite important thing for a venue and for the crowd to be ready for.
Will there be any new material worked into your set?
There’s going to be at least two new songs. We may even work in a third one, but we obviously don’t want to put too much [new] material in, because then we’ll have a lot of people in the crowd going, “What’s this? I’ve never heard this before.” I’d like to put more in, but we’ll have to see how it goes for the first couple of shows.
Not too many new electronic-music fans in the U.S. are familiar with jungle or even garage, but one can hear nuances of that in your music. How did those influence your style, and what other elements, maybe from your youth, did you incorporate?
What you guys call electronic dance music, in the U.K. we have so many sub-groups, so many different rave nights that came up all over the U.K. and Northern Europe. I always loved driving around in the car when I was 17 years old, blasting out the speakers. Being a songwriter from a slightly more classical school, I always felt most comfortable with just a guitar and a vocal. I really wanted to marry those low-frequency bass lines from jungle into what I did acoustically. That’s kind of how the songs got born: mixing the live soul elements that I felt comfortable doing with electronic production.
Lots of music with electronic undertones these days tends to be kind of soulless. How do you find a balance between wonky bass lines and heartfelt emotion?
I always write the song first. I never come at it from the angle of “Oh, here’s a beat. Here’s a bass line.” I think that helps. When you write a song that’s on guitar or piano, you come at if from the angle of “OK, I need to have a melody that I can shift and have a lyrical counter to it.” The only track that I can think of that was a bass line before it was actually a written song was “Humming Bird.” “Humming Bird” I wrote by just humming the bass line and then putting it through a synthesizer. The words and the melody just fell into place. But I think that coming at it from a songwriter angle as opposed to a DJ/producer angle definitely helps keep the soul in the music.
You’ve said that “Whispering” kind of has a Lewis Carroll vibe. Can you explain more about that? Were you a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass when you were younger?
I think it was actually [inspired more by] John Donne; he was a few years ahead of Lewis Carroll. But yeah, it definitely has that weird, ephemeral kind of feeling to it. I don’t mind Lewis Carroll. The thing I like most about him was the fact that Queen Victoria loved Alice in Wonderland so much that she asked him to dedicate his next book to her—and his next book was a paper on math. [Laughs] He was a genius mathematician and I think he was a bit of an anti-monarchist. He said, “Sure! I’ll dedicate a book you!” so he wrote an essay on mathematics. But there’s a quote from a John Donne poem which is something like, “Who will care for the fallen” and I just thought that’s such a powerful expression that I had to borrow it—basically steal it—and put it into a song. That’s how “Whispering” came about.
I talked with Wes Pentz, aka Diplo, a couple of months ago and he said that you guys may work on some new stuff this year together. Is that still a possibility?
Yeah, it’s a possibility. I think trying to find a time when we’re both set in one place at the same time is going to be tricky.
You also teamed up with Sub Focus (Nick Douwma) on “Endorphins.”
I did something with [Dutch producer] Don Diablo as well actually, which was nice. The “Endorphins” track, Nick sent me an email and said “Do you want to do some words and music on this song?” and I said, “Yeah!” and that’s how it came about.
Have you heard the Bærs remix of “Damn Your Eyes?”
No, I haven’t heard that one yet. Could you tweet the link to me?
Definitely. What is one of your favorite remixes your tracks?
My favorite by far is the Nadastrom remix of “Up All Night.” It’s a moombahton remix. Every time I hear it still, almost two years after it was made, it just makes me smile. It’s a very innovative track.
Would you ever consider doing an acoustic album à la Storytellers?
Yeah, I think that’s a massive possibility in the very near future.
Will we hear the precursor to another album this year?
Keep an eye out for some new tracks coming out, hopefully by the end of this year.