As the Grammy Awards approach, the music industry hands out honors to an elite few. The American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) does the same, and when they name someone songwriter of the year, they mean business. Did you know that in 2014 that honor fell to a Hasidic Jew? Alex Clare is a Top 10 Billboard recording artist and a Jew in the City Orthodox Jewish All Star. The UK-born singer/songwriter is most famous for the use of his song “Too Close” in the Microsoft television spots. A baal teshuva and Lubavitcher, he has since moved from Golders Green, London to Jerusalem, Israel. With his new album “Tail of Lions” released just two months ago, he is in the process of touring the world.
Clare grew up in London with almost no Jewish connection, celebrating minimally until his teens. “I was always fascinated by Chasidim and Chareidim. They were…very, very interesting.” In his teens, he began to meet shomer shabbos people and became friends with them. While Clare slowly explored, it was the learning that drew him in deeper. “It was very gradual…I love Hebrew, love learning. I love Tanach. I really find it fascinating.” With the pace of his hectic career unfolding before him, Clare was taken aback by the built-in respite that shabbos provided. “I love shabbos. I really have a deep connection to Shabbat.” On the verge of major fame, Clare searched high and low for more warmth, depth and meaning in his Jewish journey. And when he was 21, this search came to a head. “One afternoon, I walked into a Chasidic synagogue…and I met a Chasidic family, and that was that, really.”
By the time Clare signed a record deal, he was already fully shomer shabbos. At first, the tenuous contract was complicated by his having to turn down tours for Pesach and shabbos. But soon after, he had his first major break. “For every time I’ve lost an opportunity due to shabbos, I’ve gained another one.” He is grateful that it seems to all be working out despite having to set boundaries often for what he can and can’t do as a musician. “In Kabbalat Shabbat, we say that shabbos is filled with blessing. When you understand the meaning of shabbos, you see that it’s so much more important, the time to connect. It’s hard for other people to understand…the opportunity far outweighs any challenges.”
When a friend in the United States called and said that Microsoft was interested in using Clare’s song for their Internet Explorer campaign, it was a no-brainer for him to accept. Consequently, his song “Too Close” became one of the most “Shazamed” songs of 2012 and reached #4 on the UK charts. He went on a two-year long world tour thereafter. Clare tries to “nurture a sense of humility and a sense of purpose” while balancing the demands of fame with his family life. Now married and a father, that is where his priorities lie. “Hashem is reacting to how we respond to the world…If we have that in mind, there’s no time to get too big for your shoes.” Clare has experienced many humbling experiences in his career, and keeps his success in perspective with his deep faith.
The Orthodox community has had a very interesting reaction. “A Gerrer chasid came up to me and told me that he had heard my music….in London I’d have frum kids come up to me. [In Jerusalem], I have my anonymity.” Clare realizes that he broadens some of the view of what Orthodox Jews can do and is proud of that. He named his new album “Tail of Lions” after the Pirkei Avos quote “It’s better to be the tail of the lion than the head to the fox.” So too, “I looked at the world around me and how my relationships changed. The challenges have to be met and realized to make relationships work…to make a marriage work.” He is trying to meet that challenge head on by moderating a successful career and a life of Torah.
For youth who want to go further in music, he advises, “Life is all about balance, and finding a middle path… It’s very easy to lose sight of [this]. Take it easy. Take it slow. There’s no rush. Make sure you have the right mentors surrounding you.” Clare is deeply moved by those wanting to further their observance as well as their careers. Above all, his message is about staying positive, no matter what. “Take all your challenges with simcha, joy and happiness. A happy heart is the most important thing.”