In the following phone interview Florence Welch chats about resolving what was started on Lungs with Ceremonials, singing to give something reverence and whatís it like to be a semi-celebrity.
Howís the voice?
Itís much better, actually. Yeah, itís much better. Iíve been talking all day, so I feel a little bit tired in the throat, but itís fine. I sang this morning. It was very nice to sing, actually. Itís funny because I started having problems with it in Ireland and I have Celtic roots, you know, red hair. Iím kind of a full-blown Celt. I think maybe itís like when Superman goes back to his home planet he loses all his powers. I went back to Ireland and I lost all my powers, but now theyíre coming back. I love Ireland so much. Itís quite sad that itís my kryptonite.
Have you ever lost your voice like that before?
Once, years and years ago at the very start. I did a gig and it kind of cracked again, but I sang through it in a really bad way. I couldnít speak completely. This one I kind of felt it go, and I adjusted and then rested for a while. That was in the very beginning when I was doing no warm-ups and I was shitfaced all the time. Iím surprised it didnít happen more often, but, yeah, it only happened once back then. I lost my voice completely, and luckily that didnít happen this time around.
In many ways your sound is almost the antithesis to what is popular these days. You use real instruments, no electronics or Auto-Tune. Are you surprised at how your style has been able to catch on, and do you think itís maybe been to your advantage that youíre so unique it allows you to stand out really well?
I always was going to make the kind of music I make. Do you know what I mean? I wasnít really thinking of it in terms of what was popular or what was radio friendly. It was what interested me and what felt good. Iím attracted to the big, operatic sounds, to the drama, to the choral sounds, to the big drums. Iím lucky that it seems to have caught peopleís imagination, but whether or not it did catch on I always would have made the same record.
Your last record, Lungs, was very diverse and you could have went in a number of directions for the follow-up. How did you ultimately decide where you went on Ceremonials and what was the most challenging aspect of doing that record?
Itís funny, there was this sense that Lungs was caught between two worlds a bit. It was like a scrapbook of my past and maybe what my future could be and the growing up. Songs like ďMy Boy Builds a CoffinĒ were written during my first punky, folky days on the London open mic circuit. They were relevant, but then there was the new stuff that I was writing, like ďDog DaysĒ and ďCosmic Love,Ē that opened me up. Thatís kind of where I found my sound.
It feels like Ceremonials was a resolution of that. I kind of got to a point in Lungs, but I couldnít keep going and had to put a stop on that period. Ceremonials is like the sequel to that, the resolution of all these ideas that had started on Lungs. It was taking everything I was experimenting with and making it whole, giving it a whole sound. Whatever the sound was, I just wanted it all to fit together in order to make a whole album and not a collection of different songs.
What does your writing stage look like and how do you usually come up with the original musical ideas?
From mucking around really, from fiddling and playing around with the piano. For Ceremonials I worked a lot with Isabella and Paul. They had chords they would send me when I was on tour. These would conjure up lyrical ideas or melodic ideas or I had a chord I would play. Itís quite a natural process. Itís almost as if you just have to let whateverís in your head come out. Go with your gut feeling.
Many of your songs reference water and drowning, in addition to spiritual stuff like devils, heaven and hell. What fascinates you about those things and have you always been drawn to that kind of stuff?
I think so. Itís much more the imagery than the spirituality of it that Iím interested in, the drama of it, the big things, and also the timelessness of imagery like that. The romance of it in a way, the feeling that it will be relevant still. There wonít be an updated version of death or the ocean, itís kind of ancient and forever. Things like that fascinate me. I like writing songs that feel like they could have been written at any point in time, but then itís good to mix up mundane with the big stuff. The thing I like about music and songs, Iím obsessed with the idea that just to sing something is to give something reverence. To me, itís not the typical idea of what is revered or what is sacred. To sing about something completely mundane, you give it this power. I think mixing the magical with the mundane is really important. To throw something in there, like a random phrase, just to attach. I like this idea. You can make a shrine of anything.
Do you feel thereís things out there you would consider too dark to write about or is there nothing thatís off topic for you?
I donít know. It was funny. In ďOnly If For a NightĒ there was a word we replaced. We replaced ďsuicide.Ē The word ďsuicideĒ was in there. I ended up replacing it for a more triumphant lyric because it did feel like perhaps it ventured a bit too dark. Now thinking about it, maybe I feel like I should have stuck with it [laughs]. You get these thoughts, but it just depends. I like the way that it is now because itís more like a battle cry. I guess maybe it felt like I was being too defeatist for using that word, so you do have these thoughts.
Youíve developed an onstage persona thatís really theatrical. Is that really different than who you are off the stage, and if so is it easy for you to switch in between the two?
I feel like I suddenly come back to myself on stage. During the songs, you transcend yourself. The best way to be in the performance is to be without pause and be essentially in the moment, in that moment of expression. I always find itís really cathartic and itís almost like an exorcism, but then zip, Iím always just back to myself. I think I should get a bigger between-the-song persona [laughs], so then Iím not wandering around the stage like some mad old auntie thatís saying hello to people and falling over.
Is there a song youíve done that you feel is often misinterpreted?
I donít know. Still no one really knows what ďDog DaysĒ is about. I still donít. Again, itís like that thing I was talking about. People will come to me asking if itís about the apocalypse or is about the recession or is it about leaving a bad relationship, and itís kind of about none of those things and all of those things at once. Itís a collection of random phrases that have been given reference through singing. Things that are open like that can mean so many different things to different people. Itís always interesting to me to hear what people think itís about because I still donít really know. It was just a collection of things that were in my head.
Youíre one of the only artists I know of these days that uses the harp. How did you get hooked on using that instrument?
We found them in the studio. I wrote the harp intro for ďDog DaysĒ by just banging one key on the harp effect keyboard. So when we were in the studio, one day this guy walked by holding what looked like a telephone book strapped in a blanket. We were like, ďWhatís that?Ē We were hanging out in a tiny studio, and heís like, ďUh, itís a harp.Ē We got him to come in and we put harp on everything. That was Tom, and then we had to get him in the band because there was harp on absolutely bloody everything.
In addition to the music youíve worked on developing your own aesthetic via the music videos, artwork, costumes and the live show. What goes into creating and developing all that and how planned out has it become?
Itís important because you want people to feel completely immersed in the show. The album artwork, the songs, the staging Ė you want everything to connect and feel like a whole experience. You want to take people into a different place, I think. I like the sense of communing with the audience, for people to feel like theyíre really participating. Weíre pushing people out of their comfort zone. Weíve got these beautiful art deco screens. We worked with a lot of art deco artists, like Ertť, Klimpt and Tamara de Lempicka, so weíve translating their shapes into the costumes and staging sets, but then using modern technology so we can project stained glass or tapestries, so it really kind of mixes these two worlds. Itís something that can seem quite old but at the same time itís pretty new.
Thereís not a ton of female-fronted rock bands around today, so itís really cool when a really good one comes along. Do you view yourself as a role model at all for young girls or up and coming musicians?
I think Iím still figuring myself out. Youíre reaching the stage where you have to figure out if youíre a grown up yet and what your morals are. That thing of safety or freedom, chaos or control. It would be too frightening for me to consider myself a role model [laughs]. But I like the idea of not being afraid of letting your imagination rule you, to feel the freedom of expression, to let creativity be your overwhelming drive rather than other things.
As youíve gotten more popular and well known has it been more of a challenge to let creativity and artistic integrity be your guide?
I guess. It gets grueling. Interviews. You get exhausted venturing into the arena of the slightly famous and thereís that change for you. In a way because of being such a daydreamer I feel slightly oblivious, but maybe thatís me just kidding myself. I try to stay inspired. Going to galleries is a big thing for me. Reading and trying to think outside yourself. If you keep thinking outside yourself, keep being excited by the world, just walking in galleries. The world is an exciting place, you shouldnít get too wrapped up in yourself, I donít think.
I remember reading when Ceremonials first came out that you had been offered the chance to work on that album here in L.A. to work with some of the big name pop producers, which you considered for a moment before ultimately turning down. What about that did you find tempting and do you ever see yourself actually following through and doing something like that?
Well, Iím into big pop music. I love those sounds. There was a particular sound that was coming out in America at that time that was exciting. There were these big euphoric chords, that massive sound. There was that song ďBattlefieldĒ by Jordin Sparks that was bloody amazing. I was into that. I did consider it, but like I said I felt there was just a lot more to finish on Lungs. I felt like there was a lot more that I hadnít explored on Lungs, so I just went back to work with the people I had worked on Lungs with to see if we could make it whole.
Looking ahead to the next album and the upcoming years, where would you like to see yourself progress as an artist?
Iím excited for the third record. Itís been a grueling couple of years, but Iím glad I got the second one out because it was ready and it did feel ready. It felt like a sequel almost to Lungs that needed to come out for me to let people know what I was about. Lungs, for better or worse, was maybe a slightly confused record. That was the good and bad thing about it, it was more like a scrapbook. With Ceremonials, it was as if I had averted the sound. I pinned it down and controlled it. Now it feels good because it feels like thereís a lot of options right now.
You mentioned earlier how youíre almost like a semi-celebrity now, and Iím sure you stay constantly busy and find yourself always in demand. Whatís that like for you to experience firsthand and do you feel an increase of pressure on you personally?
Itís weird in some ways and in some ways I donít notice it, really. Who wakes up and feels the same? I donít know anyone who does. Just the work and being away from home so much, I think thatís hard. I donít know. So far I think Iím able to keep it at a level that is manageable. I feel like this is a scale I am comfortable with. Iím not gunning for world domination [laughs].
I was at the gig that her voice popped. Luckily it was after the show. She has such a beautiful personality. I still think ceremonials is too samey, the songs start to morph after awhile because it is such a long album. Needs more variety like on Lungs.