Interview - Florence Welch from Florence and The Machine
Who's saying what
We met with Florence prior to last nights show in the Melbourne CBD, and chatted candidly about her Australian visit, handling her wild emotions and having the xx give her a scare.
How has the Laneway Festival been for you and The Machine?
We’re having such fun! Everyone’s being so friendly and all the other bands are so nice.
I was at the Melbourne one.
It was fun wasn’t it?
You had the crowd in a frenzy!
I know! Where was that, I’m just trying to picture it?
[Attempting to describe our laneway over everyone else’s] At the Footscray ‘Community Arts Centre’…? There was a full moon?
Oh yeah, yeah! That was really…. All the kids were in the trees! It was amazing.
When your set finished I actually heard a girl say that she was going to name her first, second and third daughter Florence.
Florence 1, Florence 2, Florence 3.
I know, right? Amongst other things, it would get confusing.
Flo, Flossie and Flora… There’s lots of different ways to call someone Florence.
It’s true. How did it feel to have so many people screaming your lyrics along with you?
Really weird [laughs], but nice. Really nice. I just find sometimes it gets slightly overwhelming. What are you all doing knowing the words?! I wrote these like, two years ago inside someones bedroom.
And probably under such different circumstances?
You write these songs and you don’t even, like you’re completely in your own head space and then you see people singing along, and obviously you know, it must mean something to them? They’re translating it to their own lives and their own experiences and it’s really amazing. But to come to the other side of the world and have people singing the songs you wrote back at you it’s like, “fuck!”.
That must be bizarre.
Yeah, totally weird. It’s massive out here, I’m blown away.
Do you think that the idea of the frontwoman is still sort of a novelty in popular music?
Don’t know. I think there’s definitely been a resurgence of late of strong, female figures as musicians and I think that’s an exciting thing. But yeah, people can’t really seem to get over it, even though there have been so many amazing artists through out history, you know: Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, (they’re) two of my favourite artists, PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, people like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield. The list, it’s not a novel thing, there’s been so much and so many wonderful women artists, but I think there is something quite beguiling about the female artist.
I think maybe people still hold on to the idea of feminine vulnerability and being quite reserved, and if you see people on stage, really exposing themselves, kind of tearing everything up, then I think people find that… It’s the juxtaposition between femininity and power I think, and vulnerability and strength in female artists that I think people find really interesting.
Do you feel that ‘the industry’ sort of lumps a bunch of dissimilar musicians in the same group just because they’re female?
Yeah, I mean definitely. I have been compared to every single female artist ever, like EVER. They might as well just call me Kate Nash for Lashes or something?
Florence Kate Nash for Lashes Boots The Machine! We’re all making, everyone’s making such different music, but because we’re all female artists. But I’m happy to be female, and I’m happy to be associated with other exciting female artists, but I think it is strange the way I have been compared to EVERYBODY. How does that work? I can’t be like Aretha Franklin AND Kate Bush AND this person and that person, it’s funny.
But you know what? We all have tits.
[Phone rings, Florence apologises and answers phone. Gets stressed, looks scared, ends conversation with, “Never call me saying I have bad news again! Alright, I’ve got to go, I’m in the middle of an interview.”]
The bad news was that The xx have a gig at the same time as us, so we can’t go and see each other play. But I thought she was going to say something REALLY BAD!
Well that has been quite bad news for a few people in Melbourne.
Yeah, why aren’t we playing together? I thought they were supporting us?
I think people were fingers crossing you would play together.
We’re playing together for the rest of the time. Sorry, Melbourne! What time are they on? Maybe people could do both? Go to half of mine and half of theirs. The xx first and then maybe come, or vice versa.
Look how nervy I am!? I swear, someone calls me to tell me they have bad news and I’m like, “What’s happened! What’s happened?!” I’m a real panicker. I jump to conclusions. I have a really overactive imagination.
That has probably worked out quite well for you though?
In some ways, yes. In life, not so much. [Laughs]
Your press release makes you sound kind of volatile, like you spend your days breaking hearts and glasses in between writing songs; it says you’re either, “really sad or really happy… tired or completely manic”… Did it take you a long time to channel that kind of intensity into the right things?
I think when I was writing the album I was probably like that, because it’s such a pressure cooker of an environment. But now that the album’s out and I’m touring it’s kind of on more a level I think. But, I’m still really prone to having bursts of a certain emotion, whether it’s like panic [gestures to phone], or sadness, or like happiness. It will suddenly come over me and I have no control over it. The kind of more chaotic side of me has calmed down a bit, I’m less volatile I think, than I was before. Also having a steady group of friends and a nice boyfriend. It really does help having a nice family and stuff.
When I’m unhappy I tend to just go off the rails, when I’m happy I don’t feel the need to go out and get fucked up, I can just feel content to stay indoors.
Do both the contentment and the sadness work for songwriting?
Yes. Actually sometimes, when I’m really sad I can’t write anything at all, because you’re just so down on yourself that you just think that everything you write is just shit. But then, occasionally you’ll write something and it will take you out of the sadness, because you’re like, “I created something!”. You know, having a soul they say is like taking sadness and turning it into something beautiful. So I think if you can work that into songs, it’s really good. And it’s that sort of juxtaposition between darkness and euphoria of music [that I like]. And happy songs, like 'Dog Days' or 'Between Two Lungs' are just written in Isabella’s bedroom studio, just like having fun and messing around. [Isabella is Florence's keyboardist and co-writer on some of the songs] You can be in any state to write songs, it’s the creating that counts not what emotion. Well actually, it’s what you make out of the emotion that counts, whether it’s happiness or sadness.
Lungs had a big year: a Brit Award, as well as a Number 1 in the UK Charts. Do you feel that Britain is an accepting market in terms of embracing different types of artists?
I suppose there is that grand tradition of the English eccentric. Maybe I fall into that category, I don’t know. But it’s like a double edge sword I think, because they’re really supportive of new artists, but then as a country when people are successful we just hate!
Same as Australia.
Yeah? You get all this support really soon and it’s really intense and there’s a real hype, but if you become successful people want to tear you down as well. You just have to kind of ride it and try not to fret too much about press. Just don’t read your own press basically!
And the new album? You told us over the weekend that we should expect something more chemical, more elemental?
I think just thinking of things outside the body. I’m so anatomically fixated, and everything is quite visceral. Well, the first song is quite visceral, about blood and you know? Teeth, ribs, body parts, lungs. Lyrically, I’ve been focusing on things outside the body now. Or maybe even things that just encompass everything! I’ve written a song about ‘strangeness and charm’, which are like these two particles. There’s quarks, and then strangeness and charm and they’re the smallest atoms. It’s so cool! They’re the smallest particles of an atom and we can’t see them, but we know that they exist because of their effects. That was a good starting point for a song, so I kind of write a strange song about that, like a love song about atoms!
And then I wrote another song called 'Spectrum', so it seems to me it’s more chemical, it’s more science based.
You’ve done the arts, now you’re doing the science?
Yeah, I’ve done the arts, now I’m moving into science and then I’m going to make an album about PE! [Laughs]
Is there still that underlying darkness?
Yes, I find it quite hard to escape from. This looming doomsayer that I am, floating around with a big black cloud.
I noticed your tattoo. [On her arm Florence has a heart with a scroll over it that says, “sad sack”]
It’s on my best friend actually and she’s even more miserable than I am. [Laughs] I’m actually quite happy – I don’t know, I have phases. If left to my own devices I turn inwards and start self-loathing.
Solo time isn’t that fun.
No, I know! My own brain is sometimes my worst enemy. If I keep myself excited and sort of inspired, and keep my eyes open to the world then I’m fine. If I go too inward then I’m like, “Uhh, everything’s a disaster!”.
What are some of those things that inspire you, outside of music?
Art definitely. I’ve been inspired by a lot of art pieces, going to galleries and stuff – just walking around, signs on the street, post-its I find, having conversations and meeting new people and seeing new bands. Watching other people play, you know that’s what you want to be doing. There’s people who watch bands who love and appreciate the music, and there’s people who watch them and they’re like, “Fucking get me on a stage right now, I want to do that, that looks like so much fun!” and that’s me I think.
What’s one of the first things you remember creating? Like when you were a kid?
OMG like a diorama?
No, not shoebox houses! I mean, cereal box houses! I remember being a kid and we would make cereal box houses, so you cut the flap open, you open the cereal box and you use the lid as one floor and then you can paint yourself a dollhouse.
I can’t even tell you how much I love them.
Yeah! When I was little, we’d make little chairs and cut windows out and cut a door out. That’s the first thing I can remember making really.
Do you still have any?
I made some at art college for fun. Except they had weird mini people in them and a man that sat in a tree with these endlessly long legs, but it’s hard to explain why that was.
Well that’s about it, thank you.
Well it was lovely to meet you, are you going to come to the show? Or are you going to The xx?!
Well, yours sold out!
Ahhhh! No! Traitor.
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