Interview: Florence and the Machine
Tue, 07 Sep 2010 06:43:16
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Florence and the Machine makes a musical wonderland out of Lungs.
Since its release last year, the album has been enchanting and entrancing listeners everywhere. It's also filtered through the public consciousness with high profile placements for "Dog Days Are Over," including the Eat Pray Love trailer and numerous TV shows. The record has had such a profound impact on everyone because it really is unlike anything else out there. Florence can make a somber story beautiful on the dreamy "My Boy Build Coffins," or she can punch with the punk-y "Kiss With a Fist." However, everything swirls around in the context of the most wistful and wonderful sonic journey in recent memory. And, the record certainly is a journey that Florence is happy to be the guide for…
Florence sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview. Florence delves deep into her creative process, "My Boy Builds Coffins," re-reading Lolita and her intense new music.
Is summoning visuals through song integral to your process?
Yeah, in a way, you want to create a landscape in someone's head. You want to create something that people can walk through from place to place. You might think of a certain song in terms of seasons. A song might evoke something seasonal, colors, a place and an emotion. It all hinges around specific images that are attached to it. It's fun to paint a picture.
Would you say the creative palette you're using is decidedly boundless?
Absolutely everything and anything goes! I really love the idea of making the totally mundane magical. A song like "Dog Days are Over" has got the line, "Washes away down the kitchen sink." I'm throwing that in there. "Dog Days Are Over" was directly inspired by an art installation by the artist Ugo Rondinone. He's got an art installation on the side of this gallery in New York that just says, "Hell, Yes!" Ugo had an installation on the side of another building that said, "Dog Days Are Over." That would inspire me every time I rode my bike over Waterloo Bridge, and it essentially sparked the whole song. I've also got this book of Ed Ruscha paintings called, They Called Her Styrene. All of his paintings are these hot phrases like, "Went out for cigarettes, never came back." Random phrases hold so much weight. If you string them together, you can create a picture and this emotion you never even knew they initially had. Even though they have no correlation to each other, you string them together in a song and it creates this beautiful poetry and this whole new meaning. People can attach their own emotions to it. It's like a riddle, but it's for yourself.
That helps create one consistent thread for the whole album. You have to listen to the entire record as one piece rather than song by song.
Definitely! You wouldn't really understand "Blinding" if you hadn't heard "Cosmic Love" and "Kiss with a Fist." If you'd only listened to that one song, you'd think the whole album was going to be like that. You have to listen to everything to understand the body of work. I'm glad that you said that because it was actually really difficult for me to string them all together since there were numerous songs from so many different periods of time. I was thinking about that other day. There are loads of songs that aren't on the album, tracks that got left off and a ton of back catalog. It's quite hard to string all of these pieces of past, present and future and other different influences all together. A lot of thought went into what songs should go on here to make it seem like a cohesive body of work. I think it's like a scrapbook.
"My Boy Builds Coffins" really stands out. What's the story behind that track?
That's funny! At the time, my first love was in a band—naturally [Laughs]. He was doing a photo shoot for his LP cover. I was still at school. I remember I'd get upset because he couldn't take me to the cinema or something lame like that since he was building this coffin. He was going to put our friend—this big-bearded, red-headed Irish man—in the coffin with a wedding dress on, and that was going to be the cover. I thought, "Oh my God, my boyfriend's building a coffin." That led me on this tangent of a coffin builder. Then I started thinking about the fact that everyone needs a coffin. It's obviously someone's craft, but it's a bit sad because you put all this work and effort into something that's eventually just food for the dirt. All of this work and craftsmanship just gets buried underground. It set me off thinking about death as a whole. My boyfriend was actually building a coffin though [Laughs].
Do you tend to read a lot?
I'm a huge reader! I'm actually re-reading Lolita at the moment, and it's blowing my mind. Re-reading Lolita is a really amazing experience because I think the first time you read it, you're just scandalized by the whole thing and you slightly miss the intense beauty and poetry of the language because you're getting trapped in this horror story. Every other sentence is something mindblowingly, heartbreakingly beautiful.
You get that the book is a fairy tale the second time around.
It becomes more of a love story. You can start to see this twisted romance in it. I think the first time around, you're like, "Oh my God, are you serious?" [Laughs]
Did you see either film?
I didn't actually! I think it was one of those films at school we're you're asking your friends, "Did you see it?" It's like The Exorcist.
If Lungs were a movie or a combination of movies what would it be?
It'd probably be a combination of Party Monster with Macauly Culkin and Withnail and I.
I've never seen Withnail and I.
Are you serious? It's like the ultimate British rite of passage film, you have to watch it. I've been at parties and had one-hour conversations with people where I just quote Withnail and I. It's incredible! You must watch it immediately! I insist that you see it. You're in for such a huge treat. I think the album would be Party Monster and Withnail and I mixed with the Czechoslovakian art film Valerie's Week of Wonders. It's amazing! It's what the video for "Rabbit Heart" was based on. It's basically about this girl having her period. She wanders around these woods in a white dress, and there are all of these incredible characters. There are of these things that happen to her, and these men in black cloaks and women in white dresses—kind of sacrificial and weird.
Which records shaped you?
When I was a teenager, I spent all of my time going to live gigs. Like I mentioned, my first boyfriend was in a band. There was a really strong South London punk art collective scene because there's a big art college. I spent all of my time going to see art college bands. My boyfriend was in one, and they were on the up-and-up. It was this intense rockabilly pirate punk blues stuff. For ages, the only music I listened to was live, really. I also listened to a lot of northern soul like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Etta James, Tom Waits and The Talking Heads. The kids in my school were listening to The Libertines and stuff, but I was more into The Talking Heads. I really loved The White Stripes actually. I was a huge fan. The one that record that really shook me up was Arcade Fire's Funeral and maybe Beirut's Gulag Orkestar. I love Beirut! They're so incredible live. His voice is unbelievable. Brass sections are really busy. Whenever we have classical musicians on tour with us, they're always the hardest partying guys. We don't have a brass section, but I wish we did. They're the rock 'n' rollest of the bunch. It's always the cellists and violinists who are hitting it the hardest in the hotel bar [Laughs]. Beirut and his brass section are great. They look so relaxed, having a good time. They're playing the fucking trumpet and singing [Laughs].
Have you started writing music for your next album yet?
Yeah, it's really intense so far! It's even more intense than the first album [Laughs]. It's got extra bass. We're putting a lot of bass on it and really huge weird drum patterns. There are these intense choral vocals. I'm going to try and do some stuff that's stripped back, but there's nothing I like more than endless layering and harmonies.
Has it been cool hearing your music in all of these films?
When they did the Eat, Pray, Love trailer, I was like, "Okay, so that means Julia Roberts and I are like friends, right?" [Laughs] Isn't that what that means? To me the movie world seems like a whole fantasy world. It's exciting!
Have you heard Lungs yet?