Bird-loving singer of Florence + the Machine has seen her career soar

by Jon Bream

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

30 April 2012


MINNEAPOLIS — Like Adele, she’s tall and British, with a big voice and a singular name. Like Adele, she’s scored two hit albums. But, unlike Ms. Rolling in the Deep, the frontwoman of Florence + the Machine may be one of the hardest-gigging women on either side of the Atlantic.

This month, Florence played both weekends of the massive Coachella festival in Southern California. Friday, she was performing at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis and will return in July to headline the SoundTown music fest in Somerset, Wis.

“I enjoy playing outdoors because I like being with the elements. The wind and the sky become your set,” Florence Welch said last week from Davis, Calif., between her Coachella engagements. “The intimacy of indoors is nice, too. I like both.”


Florence + the Machine made its Twin Cities debut last summer in an outdoors show, at the Minnesota Zoo. By day, the zoo amphitheater hosts bird shows. So Flo arrived with a bird theme — a fake crow in a cage, a feather boa around her neck and bird images on a painted backdrop.

“The zoo was fun,” she remembered. “There was quite an ornithological theme to it. I do have a birdcage tattooed on my finger. I got it in Texas in Austin on the last American tour. I guess I was thinking songbirds and flights. They seem to me quite free, birds. I’ve always loved a birdcage as an object. I have a mini-collection of them at home.”

Florence has been hailed as pop’s most striking nightingale.

She can sing soft and tender or she can wail like a wolf. There’s good reason her 2009 debut disc was titled “Lungs” — her lusciously bravura voice strikes with the force of a hurricane. Her rich, dreamy voice was perfect for singing about coffins, werewolves and kisses.

Welch showed the depth and range of her voice on her recent CD/DVD of “MTV Unplugged” with stripped down versions of selections from her two studio albums as well as covers of 1960s soul icon Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and the Johnny Cash/ June Carter hit “Jackson,” with rocker Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.

The Redding classic is her all-time favorite song. “I’m obsessed with it,” she said. “I used to watch him perform that live on YouTube on the Stax Soul Tour. On this one tour I did, I’d watch it every time before I’d go onstage. This mix of a tender song but he puts in something so primal and aggressive — it’s just so perfect.”

But she didn’t try to get whipped up into a frenzy like Otis did. “It just didn’t fit me,” she said. “I just had to take it back and slow it down.”

The famously red-headed Welch actually grew up a brunette in London, the daughter of an advertising executive and an art historian. She was raised on musicals, punk rock and Stevie Nicks.

“I was always singing but my family was always telling me to shut up,” she said. “I used to do a lot of singing in my bedroom to musicals, pretending to be Sandy from ‘Grease’ and that kind of thing.”

Welch dropped out of art college and formed a band with keyboardist Isabella “Machine” Summers that evolved into Florence + the Machine.

After the band released its debut “Lungs,” the song “Dog Days Are Over” (co-written by Welch and Summers) was used in such TV series as “Gossip Girl,” “Covert Affairs” and “Glee” and in the theatrical trailer for the Julia Roberts film “Eat Pray Love.” F+M worked the various media, performing “Dog Days” on the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards and recording “Heavy in Your Arms” for the soundtrack to the blockbuster film “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”

The momentum continued last year when Florence (sans the Machine) sang on the Grammys and the Oscars.

“Those things have had a huge impact on my career, especially in America. It’s such a vast place,” Welch explained. “I think I got lucky. I have a choice in what I attach my music to, and I’ve never done anything that I didn’t feel comfortable with.”

Last fall, Florence + the Machine released “Ceremonials,” another collection of bombastic pop that sounds bigger and deeper than “Lungs.” It has delivered two radio favorites, “What the Water Gave Me” and “Shake It Out.”

“‘Ceremonials’ is more thought-out” than the first album, Welch said. “I definitely had a lot more clear idea of what I wanted to do musically. Some people say this record is more introspective. There was desperation to the first record, and this one has more elements of light and shades in it.”

Despite her powerful, dramatic performances, Welch, 25, like the 23-year-old Adele, seems a bit uncomfortable onstage between songs.

“For me, music takes you somewhere, and it’s almost like a shield, like an armor,” she said. “You can be protected by it, and the song surrounds you. You are a different animal, as it were, and when the music stops and the song finishes, I can just go back to being myself. And myself is someone who is not used to talking to large crowds.”

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