British pop star takes his Orthodoxy on the road, too

Alex Clare is really just a nice Jewish boy.

Sure, his hit “Too Close” was No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week, his music video has garnered more than 18 million hits on YouTube and he has mobs of teenage girls chasing him around Europe. But at the end of the day, he still likes to sit down with a challenging page of Talmud.

“I have to say, it’s pretty easy being in this business and keeping the basics of Jewish law,” Clare said recently in a phone interview before a gig in Manchester, England. “I travel with a full set of milk and meat pots and dishes, in addition to having a full suitcase of tins and dry kosher goods. And Shabbos and holidays aren’t an issue because I almost always go back to London or Israel or find a Chabad house to stay at.”

Alex Clare

Clare’s career got a huge boost last summer when Microsoft chose “Too Close” for the commercial for its latest version of Internet Explorer. The 27-year-old resident of the heavily Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green had been dropped from his record label five months before the software company reached out to him. His 2011 album “The Lateness of the Hour,” on which “Too Close” first appeared, was considered a flop.

But Clare is embracing the commercial’s success and riding the publicity to fuel a European tour. He kicks off his U.S. tour Nov. 29 in Los Angeles.

“It was definitely a good feeling to get that call that they wanted my music,” Clare said. “It’s tough not to want to give up.”

Clare began his career performing at bars and clubs in London. For a time he dated Amy Winehouse, the troubled pop star and fellow British Jew who died of alcohol poisoning last year.

Asked about the subject matter of his songs, he replied that they are about “deep” themes and that he’s currently working on balancing a life of stardom and religious identity.

Clare has been an Orthodox Jew for about five years. Raised in a secular home, he hooked up with Chabad after studying in Jerusalem.

While on tour, Clare relies on daily spiritual guidance to help maintain his religious practice in a music world that provides no end of temptation. He studies the Tanya, a work of Hassidic philosophy by the founder of the Chabad movement, and the Talmud tractate Brachot. He also finds time to work on a new album, expected next year, which he says will incorporate subtle spiritual messages.

“One new song I’m writing is sort of based off of Shir HaShirim [Song of Songs], but you would never have known unless I told you,” he said. “But my goal isn’t to have an agenda through my music. Just to be living the way I am is a message in itself.”

Clare acknowledges that many compare him to Matisyahu, but insists that his mission is different, adding he doesn’t come with the same “shtick.”

 “I’m not trying to be a religious symbol for anyone,” he said.