We gave Florence a disposable camera in LA, to take pictures of herself on tour. That one got stolen from her dressing room. So we gave her another one and she took these amazing photos in France.
Tired from a photo shoot that has taken up much of her day, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine is having dinner with her boyfriend. This past year has been a big one for Florence. She signed to Island Records, released her debut album Lungs (July 6 in the UK October 20 in the US), won the Critics Choice award at the Brits (past winners include Adele), sold out shows all over North America (including the Bowery Ballroom in New York), and appeared on trendy shows like MTV’s short-lived It’s On Alexa Chung. It’s been a whirlwind of touring, press and interviews--everyone wants a piece of her. Florence is now, however, at home, cooking—sort of. “I don’t really cook. I sort of assemble.” It’s not that she can’t cook, she just in her words, doesn’t have the attention span.
With Florence’s powerful voice and lyrics ranging from cheeky--‘A kiss with a fist is better than none’-- to darkly disconcerting--‘get your filthy fingers out of my pie'-- Florence of Florence and the Machine is a magnetic frontwoman. And with her unique sound, Florence is creating a league of her own.
Right now, Florence seems a little distracted. Throughout the interview she tries to both answer questions and goof around with her boyfriend--a search for balance that will no doubt be a constant refrain during next few year's of the up-and-comer's life. Between answers she’s telling him to stop jumping on her or querying how many pancakes (or as she calls them flapjacks) he’s really going to eat. He seems to make her happy though. She giggles during most of her interactions with him.
Growing up in Camberwell, London, Florence comes from somewhat of an artistic bloodline. Her grandmother, Colin Welch, was a former deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph and her mother Evelyn Welch, is a Professor of Renaissance Studies and Academic Dean for Arts at Queen Mary, and was good friends with Andy Warhol—they partied together at Studio 54. Florence on the other hand, dropped out of art school to pursue music. Her father works in advertising and drove Florence around in a camper van when she was first touring. To Florence, her mother is the realist, her father is the dreamer. Florence is left, in her words, “Dreaming in reality.”
But growing up, in the Kingdom that produced pop starlets as Lily Allen, Adele and Amy Winehouse, was far from normal for Florence. When she was a teen her parents divorced. Her mother later married the next-door neighbor and the two families moved in together, which meant six teens, that already knew one another, under one roof. Needless to say there were issues. ‘Everyone sort of thought their family’s way of doing things was better and each family felt like their traditions of family were being stomped on by the other,’ Florence says. 'We became sort of household enemies.’ As a teen, she was also very experimental and partied a lot. ‘Maybe growing up in London in general has helped me be more street wise, but then again, I never know where I am.’
Although, she’s seemed to have found herself in music. And by now, most that know of Florence, know that she was “discovered” by hauling Mairead Nash, half of the popular DJ duo Queens of Noize, and now her manager, into the bathroom to sing her an Etta James song (Florence points out Mairead came willingly). Florence wanted it badly and now it’s the opposite. People want her. Not just her boyfriend, who was probably happy once we finished up this interview.
Did you cook?
I don’t think I’ve ever really cooked anything. I can make fish.
Fish isn’t easy to make.
I can kind of handle fish and I can make sauce and things. I don’t really have the attention span, if I’m hungry I wanna eat.
I know you recently sold out The Bowery Ballroom in New York. Do you spend a lot of time in the US?
Well I have an American passport, so I can but I don’t spend as much time as I’d like. But I am back and forth probably once or twice a year, but more now that I'm touring.
Bringing your now manager into the bathroom and singing her Etta James, Something’s Got a Hold on Me, set you career off. Did you have any idea at that moment what that move would later do for you?
No, not at all. I was really just chancing it. I didn’t think it would amount to anything.
Had you pulled anything like that before?
Not really. I’d just been singing all the time. I’d been singing at like my friends club nights and at parties and with improvised bands and at open mics. I guess I’d always been singing, I just hadn’t really found the right vehicle for it, I suppose.
Do you think British female musicians are cheekier than musicians from say North America?
I guess we’ve got this grand tradition of sort of English eccentrics. Over there you’ve got artists like Lady Gaga you’ve got some really out-there artists. I’m not ever trying to be deliberately cheeky, I think I maybe haven’t been molded in a particular way. I think maybe we’ve been given more leeway. Maybe we get away with things more.
Do you like to go out a lot?
I love to. When I have the time. Right now I have so much to do, my partying quota has gone down so much, it's terrible I gotta get back out there. I’m totally off the scene.
What’s your idea of a good night out?
A lot of dancing. I like a house party and fancy dress, a big fan of fancy dress, like dress up, costume parties.
Is there a kind of music you like to dance to?
My musical tastes are very different. I’m into all kinds of things. Dance, Soul just everything and anything if it kind of gets me going.
I read that you partied a lot when you were a teen, what led you in that direction?
Just growing up in London I was looking for new experiences. I was a quite the experimental kid, I had a lot of free reign. And wanting to experience different things.
Do you think as a teen these experiences helped you grow up quicker?
Maybe growing up in London in general has helped me be more street wise, but then again, I never know where I am. My boyfriend moved here he comes form Bedfordshire and he knows more about the streets of London than I do and I’ve lived here my whole life. Living in London doesn’t say anything about my directional skills. I guess growing up in London I did grow up quicker, I’m not sure how much wiser it's made me.
What are some of the most important influences your mother and grandmother have had on you?
I had my American family and I had my English family and my English grandmother was very interested in me performing and singing and she’d cry every time she came to see me in a school play and would always make me sing at Christmases. I actually sang at her funeral and I actually sang at my other grandmother’s funeral. My mother is a lecturer and going to see her lectures is like going to see someone perform it’s really interesting to see the kind of character she becomes when she lectures. When you give a lecture you have to really command the audience and you have to keep everyone entertained.
Do you think some of your stage presence came from your mother?
I guess in the sense of having to command a crowd’s attention for a period of time and to bring them into a different world, it’s similar. My mother managed to give an hour lecture going about a pair of Renaissance gloves. And keep everyone entertained and that is no small feat. My art has much more bells and whistles involved so perhaps that’s where it comes from.
Your mother used to go to Studio 54 with Andy Warhol. Did she tell you crazy stories about that?
She actually keeps very quiet about all that. She was always more interested with the Renaissance than she was about Studio 54. It’s always my godmother who tells me stuff. She tells me she went out to New York to see my mother and my father, I think when they’d first been married and my godmother tells me they were queuing for Studio 54 and there was this massive queue and then all of sudden someone came out to the front of the queue and started calling my mothers name and waving her and they got waved in and my godmother realized the person that had waved them in was Andy Warhol. But my mom doesn’t really talk about it at all. I don’t think she really cares that much.
You've said you have a weakness for the vulnerability of the father figure. Are you close with your father?
Yeah. My dad really supported me in the early stages of my career and he really helped when I was first signing my deal and it was all really scary. He helped me out when we were first touring--he drove me around in his camper van when we didn’t have any money. In some ways he’s kind of childlike still, and quite a dreamer. He’s still kind of dreaming about what to do in his life. But he’s just wonderful. We're really close and I’m close to my mother too but in a different way I think. My mothers far more practical.
Are you closer with one than the other?
No, I’m close with both just in different ways. My mother is practical and my father is fun, he’s kind of free spirited and my mother is still fun but she much more down to earth. My mom is a realist and my father is a dreamer. I don’t know where that puts me, dreaming in reality I suppose.
Growing up you went to private school. Did you have to wear a uniform?
Uh huh, not when you got to the sixth form, which is the last two years of school. I had to wear a very fancy uniform at primary school and then my second school, a lot of grey.
Did you find it really constricting?
Well, we found ways of adapting our uniforms. I got in a lot of trouble from my stepfather for using his duct tape, to tape up my school skirt. So the inside of my skirt was done up with electrical tape. Very short. I always find in daily life, it’s like, don’t you kind of make your own uniforms in a sense. It’s really weird. You find yourself sort of conforming to your own uniforms sometimes. It’s almost like a safety net. I always find myself wearing the same thing over and over again as if it’s a uniform. But on stage is where the uniforms don’t exist.
Do you choose the stuff you wear on stage?
Yeah. I work with a stylist now that the stages have gotten so much bigger. She kind of puts me in touch with young designers and I’ve collaborated with some really exciting young designers like Hannah Marshall, who is a young British designer and Qasimi. It’s really exciting making like, theatrical stage pieces.
It’s always great to work with fresh new talent and people that have new ideas.
Yeah, I think it’s nice cause its my fist album and it’s nice to work with young artists that can interpret it in a fresh young way. And it’s nice with young artists, it’s easier to collaborate or they’re more likely to collaborate with me and that’s exciting.
When you were a teen, your mom married the next-door neighbor and there were six teenagers living in the house. When and how did that change?
I hated it. We didn’t really fit. But we’d all known each other since we’d been really little and we’d been friends but then when we sort of became siblings, it was very difficult. Everyone sort of thought their family’s way of doing things was better and each family felt like their traditions of family were being stomped on by the other. We became sort of household enemies. But over time and growing up, we get along really well. It’s kind of a triumph of my mothers that we’re all still alive and that we get along.
And are you still close?
Yeah, I mean people have moved out and stuff but I’m still really close with my little sister, my stepbrother and my stepsister and it's really nice.
It’s always good to have family around as you get older.
I really enjoy that we have a big family and at Christmas there are six of us and we irritate the piss out of each other and it’s funny. I mean eventually it sort of back fired on my parents because we ended up getting along so well that we became not us versus each other but us versus them. It became a sort of gang mentality.
When did you know you wanted to drop out of art school and pursue music?
I kind of decided to take a year out to see where the music would go and then it started going somewhere so I never went back. I actually really enjoyed art college. I was just bumming around Camberwell where I lived, working at a bar and thought I should start doing something with life so I went to art college. If I hadn’t dropped out I’d just be graduating.
Was there a point that marked that decision or that just where it took you?
I think, I started touring and it was the kind of the idea that I wasn’t going to be able to do both 'cause I wasn’t going to be in Camberwell, and I had to make the decision. But I’d lived in Camberwell, my whole life. If everything goes tits up, I can still go back to art college but with music it’s a once in a lifetime moment so you have to go with it and you have to go with it with your whole heart.
As a child werewolves and vampires scared you. What are you scared of now?
I’m scared of all kinds of irrational things but they’re more based in reality. I’m still scared, I’m still kept up at night but it seems like the werewolves and the ghosts have morphed into like fear about the next album or fear about, ‘What did I say last night?’ or like fear about money. I’ll send myself in irrational spirals about things I have no control over, like death. It feels like the boogiemen of childhood have turned into the boogiemen of adulthood but with different forms. Instead of being a werewolf it will be like what do I have to do tomorrow, I have so much to do, [gasp] ‘Oh my god, ‘or everything is so overwhelming. It’s funny.
Where’s your heart at?
Where’s my heart at? Aw. Um, in my chest. I think it’s in there—on the right hand side. Sometimes it’s in my mouth and sometimes I can feel it in my stomach, when I get really nervous. So it’s pretty physical.