FLORENCE WELCH grew up in South London and spent her teens partying with art students and boys from bands, quietly longing to make music herself and believing that the best way to join those boys onstage was to first prove she could out-drink them all. So her response to the massive, world-wide success of her extraordinary debut album Lungs in 2009 and the equally huge follow-up Ceremonials in 2011 was fairly predictable: she worked hard, she toured hard, and she partied even harder. ‘I never do things half-heartedly, so I just totally dived into that world of parties, awards ceremonies, and yes of course I’ll come out of a clam shell and open the Chanel show! The parties and the video shoots and the madness all just blended in to each other and it was fun. But underneath, there was a lot of darkness, and Ceremonials is actually a very dark record when you listen to it. Lyrically, it sounds like somebody who is very overwhelmed. It was underneath this huge cathedral of sound – and I felt like I had to just become as big as the sound. But then it all cracked.’
Her third album was more restrained and pared-back (relatively speaking, because Florence knows herself well enough now to declare ‘I’m never going to be minimal’). As always, it was inspired by what was going on for her at the time. Released in 2015 and following her previous two albums straight to the top of the charts, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a gorgeous album about heartbreak, neediness and longing. Over a long world tour, she says those songs changed as they often do when repeatedly played, and finally taught her that everything she really needed was already inside her.
Florence’s new confidence as an artist that she is branching out into new areas. Her first book, Useless Magic— a collection of her poetry, lyrics and artworks—will be published by Penguin in July, and she knows now that she’s in this for the long term. ‘The people I really respect are people like Nick Cave, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey who have consistently put out excellent work, but also managed to retain their lives and some semblance of normality,’ she explains. ‘They’re the people I look up to: they seem to have very much retained a solid sense of self, and a life, while continuing to make great work.’