Florence and the Machine: Ready to Raise It Up | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Florence and the Machine

Ready to Raise It Up

Dec 02, 2009 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Issue #27 Summer 2009 - Jarvis Cocker
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“I’m going to be so high after this coffee,” Florence Welch says with a laugh. “I’ve drunk so much coffee today already, just trying to stay awake.” The English singer/songwriter and darling of the British music press has spent the last four days in New York and Los Angeles doing promotion, while also securing a U.S. label for her debut LP Lungs, due in the States this fall. About 15 minutes after the arrival of her coffee mug, Welch holds out her trembling hand and comments: “Look, I’ve got caffeine shakes.”

It’s an unseasonably warm spring day in Hollywood, and the Londoner is comfortably dressed in shorts and a green T-shirt that complements her striking amber hair. As fatigued as Welch is, she is charismatic and in high spirits. One moment she’ll yelp with excitement or throw her arms in the air, the next she’ll speak in a whisper to convey the emotional anxiety of coping with hype. Welch’s expressivity has translated well to her romantically commanding music, which is ignited by her soulful voice, one that can shift from a soothing falsetto into a booming bellow.

“I feel things quite intensely, which is why I think the music’s intense,” she laughs. Florence and the Machine’s 2008 debut single “Kiss With a Fist” is a contagious garage rocker that contains the lyric “A kiss with a fist is better than none,” and concerned responses to the song prompted Welch to clarify its meaning in the press. “It wasn’t physical violence,” she says. “It was just about two people, where the thing that holds them together is the thing that’s pulling them apart. They’re held together by their anger for each other. I wrote it when I was 17, and I liked the rhyme of it. I liked the imagery. I’ve always been more attracted to darker, visceral imagery than flowers and candy floss.”

While it’s common for young rockers to balk when prodded to describe their sound, Welch at least has made an effort to come up with entertaining dialectical descriptors such as “catastrophe choir crash” and “apocalyptic pop.” Welch grew up in the Camberwell district of South London, and looking back on her childhood, she describes herself as a vacant student who was always dreaming. “I wasn’t outwardly naughty,” she says, “but I was just not really there.” The “catastrophe choir crash” that Welch speaks of can be traced to her early musical influences. As a young teen, she loved Green Day and Kurt Cobain and had pictures of Courtney Love on her wall, but although she would go on to sing with punk bands in her later teens, her singing experience began in a choir, as her mother was a churchgoer. When asked if she is a spiritual person, Welch considers the question carefully before responding.

“I get overawed by things quite easily,” she says. “I know it sounds so fucking pussy, but just a sunset or some body of water can really fill you with something. The sound of voices all collected together, I think that’s really spiritual. In that sort of sense, in the church, I think you really can feel something. There’s something powerful about choral music.” Welch notes that the second Florence and the Machine single “Dog Days Are Over” and the album track “Between Two Lungs” originated with no instruments. “So much of the album is based on choir vocals,” she says.

The Machine that’s billed with Welch never has been a traditional band, but rather anyone who has backed her instrumentally, including Devonte Hynes of Lightspeed Champion. “We wrote a song together, ‘Bird Song,’ and he played with me for ages when I didn’t have a guitarist,” Welch says. “It was just me and Dev. Even when he was trying to promote his own album, he did all these little shows with me at bars across London.” Childhood friend Isabella Summers remains a close collaborator and is credited as a co-writer on “Dog Days Are Over.” “She’s like my producer before the producers,” Welch says. “I get to sit with her in a little room and then she helps me get everything in time.” Welch proceeds to pound on the table in front of her to demonstrate how a drumbeat served as the musical impetus for “Dog Days Are Over,” now a rapturous anthem that builds from a twinkling harp intro.

Lyrically, “Dog Days Are Over” was inspired by an art piece Welch spotted while riding her bike over Waterloo Bridge. “It was on the side of the Southbank, which is a really big art center,” she recounts. “And this artist Ugo Rondinone does these massive rainbow bubble signs, and he puts them up in public spaces. Some of them say, like, ‘Hell, Yes!’ And this one said ‘Dog Days Are Over.’”

When it’s suggested that “Dog Days Are Over” might have made an appropriate theme song for Barack Obama’s inauguration, Welch shouts “Yes!” with delight. “I think he could ask for a cup of coffee and it would sound historical,” she gushes. (www.florenceandthemachine.com)


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