Time Out Rio de Janeiro

Florence Welch: interview

The British singer hits Brazil for the Summer Soul Festival on the back of a widely-acclaimed second album.

When she answers my call, it seems that Florence Welch is working in a call centre. The incessant ringing of phones, the chatter of conversation and opening and closing of doors appear more like a busy office than a New York hotel room.

Florence is the frontwoman of Florence + The Machine, a fact you would be hard pushed to avoid since the success of her debut single Dog Days Are Over and album Lungs both of which sold millions worldwide. The red-haired one released her follow up album Ceremonials at the tail end of 2011 to equally rapturous critical, and even greater public acclaim, filled as it was with slow-burning choruses and beautiful songwriting. The interview is in stark contrast, with the Brit popstar blurting out a rapid-fire volley of words.

There are several references to sleep in ceremonials. Are you exhausted?
I kind of always have been, I don't know... I'm a light sleeper. I was never one of those people for whom just lay your head on the pillow, everything suddenly disappears. Bedtime is the moment I'm more scared, anxious or worried. Moments before I wake or sleep are when I feel more... I do not know, I'm more turned on and my imagination can take me to dark places. I'm always terrified of the idea that there's something there with you, whether fears or something more real.

Did the anxiety grow with fame?
Actually I'm fine. I was really ill for a while. Writing the first record was bad. This time was easier, I do not know if it's because I'm growing up or because things are more settled in my head.

The new album has a gospel mood, with choirs and organs. Do you feel spiritual or were you just looking for this kind of music?
This is more to do with the fact that music is cathartic, something that takes you out of yourself, something that can maybe bring forgiveness. It was a time when I was very tired of myself and how I was behaving or expected to behave.  Sometimes people can be too hard on themselves, and the music can stop that, provide that moment of illumination which everyone seeks, where there is no future or past. I feel things very intensely. In fact, I'm not the person most intense in the world. My ex-boyfriend was working with a girl and she said to him: "Oh my god, you go out with Florence, man, it must be really intense, because her music is so intense." But he replied: "No, actually she is pretty chilled." But when I feel something - love, fear, joy, fear - I feel it strongly. The feeling comes over me and I can't control myself.

Your mother is an academic, a researcher of the Renaissance. Does this account for the religious aspect?
In my childhood, my visual landscapes were the interiors of these old churches, and their baroque drama was my first exposure to art. I am much more attracted by the aesthetics of religious iconography than the religious side of it. The passion, blood and violence are what I find really fascinating.

You had wanted to record the album in Hollywood with the 'hitmakers'. The finished product was exuberant and full of orchestration. Why the change?
Those great pop songs have a sensibility. They are almost chemically designed to make you feel something. I've always been fanatical about those songs so it would make sense for me to go there and see if I could put my personal touch on things. For a while at least. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it in the future but ...

What made you say no?
I saw it in a newspaper, two weeks before, and suddenly thought, "Oh my God, I can not do that." Its a different world to where I come from, and I would have to stay away from my family. And a person does not want to distance themselves from their fans.

'Breaking Down' is unusual. You sound different.

It's great fun. It has a masculine energy. While I was singing, I was trying to be David Bowie.

Do you know Bowie?
(Laughs) Sorry, someone just found it... I had lost my manager's phone. Have you ever lost something in a room, something that disappears for no apparent reason? You did not leave the room, but still have no idea where things went.

It is like losing the keys or sunglasses.
In these situations, I need people to calm me down. I'll go crazy! It's, like, against nature! I'll start screaming. This is ridiculous! I'm like a black hole! People should not give me anything to hold me because I get distracted very easily. Like, "Look, there's something shiny over there." Good thing I never learned to drive. It would be really dangerous.

Florence + The Machine play the
Summer Soul Festival at Barra da Tijuca's
HSBC Arena on Wednesday 25 January. Tickets R$90-$560.

Words by Brent DiCrescenzo

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