Interview: Florence + The Machine

Florence and the Machine burst onto the scene like a banshee on fire when debut album Lungs dropped in July 2009. Described by The Times as “the most peculiar and most highly acclaimed female singer of the moment”, her album debuted at #2 on the British album charts and eventually made its way to #1, earning itself the accolade of The Critics’ Choice Award at the 2009 BRIT Awards and Best British Album at the 2010 BRIT Awards. But Florence Welch has more in common with fellow carrot top La Roux than the frothy pop of Ellie Goulding, Little Boots and Pixie Lott. Quirky, eccentric and highly original, she was in Singapore in February to perform live alongside The XX at the back of her Australian tour. JUICE jetted down to jabber with the painfully shy redhead.

Text + Interview Muna Noor
Image Universal Music

Hi Florence! You had an amazing 2009. How is 2010 shaping up?
I don’t know. I always seem to get rather depressed around Christmas time for some reason. I think a lot of people do. You start questioning everything, like “Where is this going?” And “What am I doing?” But now I feel great now that it’s got back into the swing of things.

We loved the Jamie T Lionheart remix of ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’. How did that get hooked up?
I’ve known Jamie for ages. One of my first ever gigs was an open mic just after he played. I was drunk and walked up and sang and clapped my hands, and that was it. I didn’t really have any words planned. I just sang whatever came into my head. I used to go see Jamie play when it was just him and a guitar, and he came and saw me play when it was just me and a guitar, and now he’s on his 2nd album and I’m starting mine. He is really nice.

Following on from the release of your debut album Lungs, you’re now working on your second album. How do you fit it in, what with the touring?
I did 2 weeks [with producer Paul Epworth] before I came out to Australia. It is literally about blocking away time where you’re just in the studio and you don’t do anything else, and you really focus your energies.

If the last album was about your boyfriend, what’s this one about?
I don’t know; it’s hard to say what anything is specifically about. I could write the song and still couldn’t tell you what it is about. I think it’s kinda heavier though. We have been working with heavier sounds and more bass. More dance and kinda electronic…

We can’t wait! When will it drop?
I don’t know. I’m giving myself like a 2-year grace period. I’ll be touring for like the next year and have a year to kind of get it ready. If it’s ready, I’ll just put it out.

You’ve been compared to Kate Bush and PJ Harvey. What is that like?
It’s pretty much like I get compared to every female artist out there. I think it’s just a “woman” thing. A “female singer” thing. I don’t mind it so much, but for me it’s such a juxtaposition of artist! From soul artists to like Kate Bush and then back to PJ Harvey and Tori Amos, and it’s just like so many different styles, so what must I sound like?! So I don’t really take it too seriously.

Have you had any time off?
Yes, in Australia. Went to the beach and checked out Sydney, and that was really fun. Australia has been exceptionally amazing! That crowd just has been off the scale, like so into it-jumping, dancing…

Wikipedia lists you as having been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysmetria. To have that kind of highly personal information out there, does that make the internet a blessing or a curse to you?
I don’t have those things. I’ve got dyspraxia, but I was diagnosed with it when I was a kid. I don’t have dysmetria. I’m just pretty bad at judging distances, but I think that’s down to the dyspraxia-it means the left side of your brain and the right side of your brain are muddled up. So thinking straightforward is like thinking in reverse. You think in kind of a strange pattern. But it hasn’t affected me. I don’t think I have any of that other stuff. Wikipedia is not really a good source of information.

Yet as an artist you can’t dispense with the internet….
I think it’s really good for getting your music out there and it levels the playing field. But there is so much access to everything, so it scares me and makes me wanna become more reclusive. And I’m quite an open person naturally, but you say one thing and it’s on Wikipedia. You kinda have to watch yourself a bit more, which is a shame. But again it’s a fantastic outlet for musicians, so I think technology has really helped.

Er, ok then. According to Wikipedia, you also famously sealed the deal with your manager Mairead Nash in a loo. Who else have you met in a strange place?
That’s true! I just met Oliver Sim from The XX in the [Fairmont Hotel Singapore] swimming pool upstairs with a cocktail. That was a really nice one! I’ve met a lot of people in strange places: in festivals, like in the back of an old aircraft playing table tennis and then meeting people on the rocks in the morning when the sun comes up in Stone Circle. But I’m not sure that’s the meeting of the minds in as much as a sort of melting of minds….

We’re really sorry to hear you recently lost your equipment in a fire. If your house was on fire, what would be the first thing you would save?
I don’t know; I’d be so distraught. Probably my notebooks where I write my songs in. Probably my mum’s debutant dress. Jewellery, but I’d probably be wearing all this anyways.

Despite the fire, you seemed to have a pragmatic approach to it and recorded the pinging sounds of the harp as it burned.
Well I didn’t, the sound guy did. I was asleep. But you know, the thing is, I just felt so bad. The harp was on fire, which is such a sad image, like a flaming harp….

We’re into you, but what bands are you into?
Because I’ve been on the [St Jeromes] Laneway [Festival] tour (in Australia), I’ve been listening to all the bands that are playing there, so I’ve been listening to The XX, Black Kids, Wild Beasts, Echo & the Bunnymen…all of those bands. That’s been my soundtrack for the past few weeks.

We caught your BBC Radio One Show, standing in for Zane Lowe. You sounded like you were having a lot of fun. Thinking about a career in radio?
I did have fun! I hope it was okay; I was very nervous. I had a really nice time, but it’s so nerve-wracking. Singing I can control, but what comes out of my mouth I find much harder. I’m not sure a career in radio is what I want. Maybe if it all goes wrong with the music…

Okay last question, so we’re going to make it a good one. Florence, we need to know: you have the most amazing red hair; how do you keep the colour looking so fresh?
I keep it topped up with some semi-permanent colouring. Also, there is this really good stuff by Bumble And Bumble that’s like a colour shampoo. It’s red and it keeps your colour vibrant.

Florence and The Machine performed at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore on 7 Feb 2010 and were supported by The XX. Lungs is out now at all good record stores. Much thanks to Universal Music for the interview opp.