Discussions of animal entrails, ghostly appearances and shamans can only mean one thing: Florence Welch is back, and preparing to take on the world yet again.
“You know when you’re just getting tired of yourself and you’re falling into the same patterns of behaviour? It’s a bit like, ‘I’m gonna be myself forever. That sucks.’”
Many people would disagree with the idea of becoming Florence Welch as being a sucky existence. But the pop star persists with the concept. “I like the idea of being able to get outside of your own flesh and leaving it behind. I always get this sense of being stuck in your own head, like you don’t have enough eyeballs, or something.”
You have to hand it to her, Florence has a unique way of seeing things, and a morning spent with her is like stepping into the starlet’s very own twilight hour.
A lot has happened in the twenty-eight months since we last properly spoke to Florence. Debut album ‘Lungs’ reached number one in the UK charts, won the Brit Award for Mastercard British Album, and peaked at number fourteen in America’s Billboard chart.
She has wowed audiences worldwide with performances at the Oscars, the Grammys, and even the Nobel Peace Prize. Florence And The Machine have been nominated for countless awards, and won more than a few.
We’re meeting to discuss the follow-up to ‘Lungs’, the aptly-titled ‘Ceremonials’. The LP boasts a collection of songs so massive that they’ll only serve to cement Florence as the most exciting art-pop singer to appear since Bjork. It’s a very comprehensive album, and deliberately so.
“I think that halfway through making the first record, I found my sound,” she muses. “But there was so much old stuff to incorporate, and I didn’t want to not use any of that, because it had been a big part of how it started. For better or worse the first record was slightly confused because there was so many different influences and some of it was written when I was seventeen and some when I was twenty-one. The difference is enormous. With this one I really wanted to make it whole and give it an overall sound. The first one’s like a scrapbook, I guess, and this one I wanted it to be more like a story.”
To gain that cohesive sound, Florence – or Flo as she is known to her friends and family – shunned offers to go to America and write with some of the best songwriters in the industry, to go back to where it all began; her friend and band member Isabella Summers’ studio in Crystal Palace to “bang some pots and pans”.
“I think people might have been expecting me to go and make a more Americanised sound,” Florence says, “And one day I’d like to experiment with it, a massive big pop song, but for this record it didn’t feel right. I freaked out and was like, ‘No, I’m not going!” Writing done, it was off to Abbey Road to record with uber producer Paul Epworth, one of the four that collaborated on ‘Lungs’.
“I wanted to do [‘Ceremonials’] in one place and with one person, and I chose Paul because of the way ‘Cosmic Love’ turned out on the first album. I was so happy with it, it exemplified what I wanted the sound of my music to be, so it made sense to move forward with him,” she says between sweeps of the make-up artist’s brush.
“He’s such a shaman. We got Indian headdresses from Soho fancy dress shops, and I turned up in a big velvet cape and some chainmail. He’s got a studio that’s full of deer heads and skull candles, and he really loves wolves. He’s half-spiritual guru and half-lad.”
‘Ceremonials’’ opening song ‘Only If For A Night’ sucks the listener into the album from the off with its unique lyrics about the appearance of her dead grandma in a dream: ‘The grass was so green against my new clothes / And I did cartwheels in your honour / Dancing on tiptoes, my own secret ceremonials / Before the service began in the graveyard…”
“It was a normal dream and then she was there,” she remembers. “There’s this amazing Thom Gunn poem that talks about seeing a dead lover in a dream, and it was as if death was undone because it’s so real, and you’re like, ‘Fuck, you’re here. This is amazing.’ You have this realisation that you’re having this unbelievable experience. I’ve never seen her in a dream before or since. I woke up weeping. It was so intense.”
“I think this album focuses a lot on England and family ties, and that song starts with these church bells that really reminded me of going to visit my grandma and hearing the church bells and wood pigeons, and then going to her funeral at that same church…” Her voice trails off as she’s lost in her own thoughts.
Subjects of shamanism and spirituality rear their heads repeatedly both in conversation with the flame-haired maven, and in the lyrics of this album.
Ghosts and devils creep out from nooks and crannies, while the tribal anthem ‘Heartlines’ even includes the line “The entrails of the animals”.
“Oops, there I go again!” she laughs. “In ‘Heartlines’ I was thinking about soothsaying. Sometimes I’ll just get really interested in one line or a concept for the song. ‘Heartlines’ is about being tied to someone emotionally, so this soothsaying imagery came into my head. I like how soothsayers read the future in things like animal entrails.” “I was trying to go for more themes of light [on this album], but I always end up bringing it back to a darker side.”
So is she ready to take up arms and head out into the fray again?
“I think so. The release of ‘Lungs’ was so hard. It was terrifying, because it was the first time doing everything. The first experiences of media exposure were almost paralysing. I spent a lot of time crying on the floor of the studio – it sent me a bit mad. This time I feel a lot more ready to cope with it.”
And with that, she is whisked out of the building onto her next commitments. Florence’s second coming will see her star rise into the stratosphere. Maybe she’ll come to realise that being herself forever isn’t quite as bad as she first thought.
Words: Laura Foster
Photography: Matthew Stone
Styling: Matthew Josephs
Make-Up: Thomas De Kluyver at D+V Management using Chanel
Hair: Oscar Pera Moreno and James Colville @ Radio Hair Salon
Photography Assistant: Rachael Ciandella
Post Production by www.studioprivate.co.uk
This full article appears in the October issue of Clash Magazine, find out more about the issue and how to subscribe HERE.