Ten years ago, fledgling singer-songwriter Alex Clare received an ultimatum from his record label: devote himself completely to music or follow his faith.
He chose to follow his faith.
The Londoner, who emerged from the same scene as his ex-girlfriend Amy Winehouse and Bastille, had recently pulled out of a life-changing spring tour in support of new superstar Adele because some of the concerts fell during the Jewish Passover holiday. , as well as on Saturdays.
Island records were “very tolerant” in this regard at the time, Clare recalls. But when it happened again in October, as he hadn’t been able to record a radio concert for the BBC during Sukkot week, something had to give. And following a difficult chat with the label’s bosses, the promising performer was dropped after just one album.
“They said, ‘You seem to be more interested in your religion than your career,’ and it really wasn’t,” says the 36-year-old, who grew up in a secular Jewish family before turning to Orthodox Judaism in his early 1920s. .
“I was really focused on my career, but personal life choices, whatever they are, have not always been so tolerated. I’m not the only one – historically this has been a recurring theme, not just for Jews but for anyone who makes commitments. somewhere else”.
He adds: “When I signed up, they knew it was happening, but they didn’t quite understand how serious the rules for keeping the Sabbath were. [resting from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset] I’m. And for some reason every piece of promo that came in seemed to fall off on a Friday night or Saturday morning, and I was turning down opportunity after opportunity. “
When it came to turning Adele down, as she couldn’t do at least five of the tour dates, Clare laughs: “They thought I was crazy.”
A spokesman for the island this week told the BBC that he had “contacted to apologize directly to Alex”.
“What he was told 10 years ago was wrong and in no way represents our views or policies.”
Over the years there have been many famous musicians who have turned to God, from Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan, to Kanye West and Sinéad O’Connor. But after being dropped from her label, Clare practically gave up on music altogether.
Until several months later, when the singer just left the label suddenly found himself with a hit on his hands. Too Close, his friend zone anthem from his debut album, began making its way into radio playlists and approaching the top of the UK singles chart in April 2012, thanks largely to an appearance in a commercial on Microsoft’s Internet.
At the 2013 Brit Awards the song was nominated for Best Single, a category which was won by, you guessed it, Adele with Skyfall.
“We have a Hebrew saying called Gam Zu L’Tovah, which means ‘This is good too,'” says Clare. “Let’s say when something really goes wrong. It’s like the craziest statement to have enough faith and say, ‘This is a really bad situation right now, but in the end God is good and life is good and that’s for a good. bigger ‘- whatever it may be.
“And in my case it really worked like that. I was dropped by the label, but months later I had a top 10 hit around the world, selling [double] platinum, and obviously got a much bigger record deal the second time around! “
The record deal in question once again came courtesy of Island Records – a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group – which Clare says “apologized very much” for what happened when she re-signed it.
Nine years later, Clare talks to us about the release of her new single, Why Don’t Ya – another booming ballad that marks the end of her five-year hiatus from the “soulless” music industry she was from. become disenchanted, despite its relative success.
The song, distributed through the digital distributor ONErpm, is an ode to his wife, with whom he “escaped” to Israel in 2015, with their eldest son (now they have three children) to “focus on spirituality” and study the Torah and the Talmud.
The song was his way of encouraging her to “recognize her feelings correctly” after her grandfather died around the same time one of their children was sick in the hospital.
“[It was] just to say, “It’s okay to feel like you were allowed to feel emotions, you were allowed to be a sensitive person,” he explains.
“Some people aren’t necessarily taught how to express those feelings or have those feelings validated for whatever reason. Life is complicated and emotions are complicated.”
The musician – plays bass and some drums on the new track, as well as providing his usual soulful voice – these days is moving between his home in Jerusalem and the UK on music-related engagements. Although recent work with collaborators, including songwriter and producer Jamie Hartman (Rag’n’Bone Man, Celeste, Lewis Capaldi), was done online during the lockout.
He plans to release an EP of six or seven equally “single worthy” songs early next year, which he will once again bring to the live stage – the place he feels most that he’s “fulfilling my mission of life”.
While Judaism has “a huge influence on my worldview,” he notes, the songs themselves are not traditional Jewish songs – they are sad bangers, told from personal experience.
“As a songwriter you have to channel your emotions or your empathy or your pathos, whatever it is, unfiltered,” he says. “The song is the filter.”
Clare’s “scary” return, as he puts it, obviously coincided with that of his near-old tour partner Adele.
Fingers crossed, they are both returning to a more understanding and flexible music industry than they were when they were first arriving.
“I hope it has changed significantly,” he says. “I’m sure it has happened in the last 10 years [he notes how recording performances remotely and at different times is now easier] but it is very fickle. It really is the flavor of the month and just like someone can be out of favor a minute later they can come back.
“I hope people are more sensitive. Everyone really wants to have their sense of unity and homogeneity – this is what people refer to and what people connect to. And the more we can see our similarities to each other. other, contrary to all the divisions and things that separate us, the better.
“We hope to create a better world”.
Why Don’t Ya by Alex Clare is now available.
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