There's a song you've heard if you've been near a TV in recent months. It starts as a synth-laden ballad and eventually warps into a full-blown dubstep breakdown, as though Yoav's "Club Thing" ran into Skrillex at an underground club. "It feels like I am just too close to love you," a British voice croons as the bottom falls out from under the bassline.
The song is "Too Close," and the voice is Alex Clare. And like Yoav, who grew popular with college students when MTV2 showed his music video (seemingly on loop) late at night, Clare is in the spotlight because his song fills the space between TV shows. "Too Close" is the song from those Internet Explorer commercials.
It seems like the ads did less for Microsoft than Clare, who counts Adele as a fan and speaks openly of having once turned down Beyonce, who asked to have one of his songs on her record.
HuffPost Entertainment recently caught up with Clare to discuss his newfound fame and what it was like to work with Diplo. Also discussed: Clare's relationship with the late Amy Winehouse, and how that did -- or didn't -- affect the writing of his album, The Lateness of the Hour.
So I don’t know how much time I have with you, so if you don’t mind we can just jump in...
How much time would you like?
Fifteen minutes would be just great.
Actually I think 15 sounds very healthy. You can get a lot done in that time.
I know you’ve been a musician for a while and sort of somewhat suddenly 13 million people have seen your face (via the video for "Too Close," which at press time had over 14 million views). What is that like for you?
It’s nice, you know, I think you hope it's more of what the ears hear than what the face and eyes see, but yeah it’s great. It’s really cool. You kind of hope as a musician that you get some recognition for what you do and when you do, it’s nice. It’s a really good feeling.
Where did the concept for your video come from?
Me and a friend of mine were discussing samurai’s and he really wanted to put like samurai’s cutting each other up in the music video. But the budget wouldn’t stretch so we had to settle with kendo fighters instead. I think samurais with swords slopping off pieces of each other would have been much more entertaining. But, you know, budget and viewer discretion can never be guaranteed.
There’s something in the song that has a slight lethal edge almost like there’s a certain darkness, obviously. Did you just really like samurai's, or is that the root?
We were trying to figure out a concept that would sort of, you know, be feasible for a song that’s based on conflict between two people. And, you know, the way that manifested itself was people fighting.
When it came to working with Diplo and Switch, was that something that the label just arranged or did you have a previous interest in working with them?
No, I definitely, really liked the Major Lazor record and I was just lucky, I guess, that they liked my demo. And, as is the case, a label can be a great matchmaker.
Did they just send you the beats?
No, not at all. I wrote the album and then we kind of went into the studio with them and we sat down and thrashed it out and figured out how to make the beats.
How long was the production after the writing?
Only about five weeks in L.A., then two weeks in New Orleans and two weeks in Jamaica so just about 10 weeks.
You went to Jamaica with Diplo? That's one of his favorite places.
Yeah he loves it!
So the album has a really diverse feel to it, and there's obviously a blessing and a curse to becoming more popular through a Microsoft commercial --
At the minute I'm literally only seeing the blessings. If the curses take a little more time in coming, I'm fine with that.
Do you feel like "Too Close" is an accurate representation of what you're trying to do as an artist?
I think so. I mean, it's an electronic song which still has live elements. It has live drums and live guitars. So I think that is a pretty good summation of what I do musically, a mix of live music and electronic music.
There were these rumors circulating way back, when you were supposedly writing the album, that Amy Winehouse was afraid you were going to reveal secrets about your relationship with her. Is there anything to that?
I don't think she was worried. I really don't think so -- that's not the sort of thing that would bother her. And the album isn't about her, so either way ...
Did the album come from a specific place?
Yeah, I think it was a combination of lots of different situations I’ve been in with unrequited love or love that’s gone terribly wrong. You know, regrets and skeletons in the closet and things like that.
Is it hard to put out an album that comes from a darker place, go out and become extremely successful, tour and have to start writing again? Have you begun writing again?
Yes I have. I have indeed. I’ve been writing for the next album. I haven’t gone into any full production yet because I don’t have time, so I’m gonna have to sort of take a few months probably in the new year.
And is that a totally different writing experience?
I think I’m coming from a bit more of a positive place. I’m a lot happier in myself than I was when I wrote the album, you know, which I think says a lot. So I think the next album should be a little more optimistic.
When you play your set, I imagine "Too Close" is toward the end of the show.
Yeah it really is the encore.
Is it just a cathartic release? For example, Gotye has talked about tiring of playing "Somebody That I Used to Know," but it seems like you're enjoying the ride.
Yeah, I mean the song takes on another element. It stops being so much about the actual lyrics and just about the feeling you get when you get play it. When you play a song and you have a crowd of thousand people having an instant connection to it, that’s an amazing regardless of what you’re singing about. I play it like six times a day on average, doing promo bits and other things. The albatross nature of the song is not, at the moment, too constricting.
The Lateness of the Hour is out now on Island Records.