Back Issue__ Florence and The Machine

December 14, 2009

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.

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