Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch spills secrets of her new tour
The frontwoman also talks broken bones, muddy festivals, and life on the road.
Fresh off a festival-packed summer, Florence + the Machine’s electric frontwoman returns for a U.S. tour on Oct. 9 to support her No. 1 album How Big How Blue How Beautiful. She called in from her home in London to talk about surprise gigs, style crises, and the enduring appeal of “Dog Days.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, how’s the broken foot? Are you all healed?
My foot is absolutely much better. I kind of almost forget that it happened, weirdly. It was quite a quick recovery so I’m pretty grateful for that… The [doctors] were like “you better not jump on it for six months!” or whatever and I was like “Nah, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
And then Dave Grohl breaking his leg led to you getting the headlining spot at Glastonbury this year.
I know! A lot of broken bones and broken hearts and then there we are. He was really so lovely about it. I met Dave when we were first starting out and he was so wonderful to us. He’s been hugely supportive, and he wrote me a really wonderful email: “I could give you some tips about broken bones and what to do.”
The breaks for both of you happened while you were performing too…
It’s almost a weird rite of passage. A lot of other performers I talked to were like “Oh, I’m surprised that hasn’t happened to me yet.” I’m really surprised that I don’t just fall off the front of the stage more. There’s nothing to stop you. I’m singing and spinning and then I look down and I’m inches from it. I broke my foot not from falling, I threw myself off. And it wasn’t until I managed to crawl off the stage and I collapsed behind it that I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve done something really bad.”
You played SNL and had slots at a lot of major festivals this summer, but did Glastonbury have a special hometown resonance for you?
It was just such a huge moment for me and the whole band. I’ve been going to Glastonbury for so many years, and we started off in a tiny G tent and I’m just singing a capella on a Sunday morning, having been at the festival for three days. I can hardly see, I’m covered in mud, the guitarist has gone missing. If you’d watched that gig, no way would you have thought “She’s gonna headline the Pyramid Stage!” You’d have thought “She’s gonna go home and stay there.” [Laughs]
You’ve talked about what a personal album this was for you, and that the songs helped you work through a pretty painful relationship. Does performing them in front of hundreds of thousands of people sort of inoculate you against those feelings, or is it strange to share them?
It’s funny because when you’re writing songs, you carry them around like little talismans. They’re like your little magic spells to keep you safe or make you feel better. The thing is then you really have to live with those feelings, and it’s quite an intense process ’cause you’re still so in it. But there’s something really freeing and healing about singing them because you’re finally able to release it. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens where something was really sad for a long time and then you’re singing it and you see other people singing it too. That kind of connection is really liberating.
You’ve said that you used to drink before most shows, but you’ve pulled back on that. How does that change the whole experience for you?
I definitely feel everything a lot more. I feel the nerves before I go on stage, but then the tradeoff for that is you feel the performance. You feel the audience, you feel the songs. I stopped drinking on stage quite a while ago, and one gig I was like “You know what, I’m gonna get a bit drunk.’ I hated it. I felt really disconnected from myself, from the audience. I felt like I couldn’t channel whatever feelings properly, it was all murky. So I just think there’s a kind of clarity that comes with it that really allows you to transcend and feel in a way more intense than any drinking I’ve done. You can have this totally real out-of-body transcendent experience totally sober. It’s all within you.
What will fans see on your tour that they might not have at your festival gigs? The vibe must feel different when you know the crowd is there exclusively just to see you—and not just, like, eat a ramen burger and see 47 other bands.
Well basically, I want it to be super immersive. You know this album was such a journey for me, and I want to bring people into that. But it’s so much about letting music speak for itself, and so much about cutting off anything that would impinge on the performance. So it’s not so much about costumes or production, it’s about being free and allowing people to have an organic experience, to feel like they’ve been really immersed in something.
You always seem like you’ve had a lot of fun with fashion, but that’s evolved too.
I love clothes! The funny thing is, when I was making the record, every single ounce of my creative energy was going into [recording], and I couldn’t get dressed. I literally wore leggings and an anorak every day—cycling to the studio with my packed lunch in my leggings and anorak. Clothes were too much creative thought.
I’m not the most practical dresser at all. I don’t have anything that actually keeps me warm—it’s like floaty blouses and things with big fur collars and whatever. [laughs] So when I went super practical at one point, it was weird for everybody. It wasn’t that I was crying [in the studio], it was that I was wearing leggings. Honestly, they were really freaked out.
Your band is known for doing some great covers. Are there any on the roster for this tour?
“You Got Love” [originally sung by American soul singer Cadi Staton] is our biggest one, so we still kind of throw that in the set because it’s such an amazing song. We always have plans of like “We’ll cover this or this or this,” but everyone gets so busy. We wouldn’t rule it out, but we haven’t had time to do any more. We have got a lot of them though—We were trying to count them the other day and it came up like 70.
Are you someone who writes on the road, or do keep that separate?
I wrote “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” while I was still touring Ceremonials—the song, not the whole album. It’s quite specifically about traveling from city to city, and the kind of the feeling you get when you’re in a really special tour. Because that was one of my favorites. It was a really special time in my life, actually.
You’ve said L.A. was really the right place for you when you were making this record. Is London still your home base?
Yeah, I’m in London right now. But I think L.A. was really good because I would just drive a lot and listen to Neil Young. The big skies and the warmth kind of influence the space around this record. The kind of rootsy, Laurel Canyon-y vibe that L.A. has. But London is where it was recorded; it’s got the grey side and the blue in there.
It was funny because it would be these two polar existences. I would be to L.A. and I would go around in, like, a big hat, because L.A. is so much about “Be who you are, go for it!’ And then in London, you get a bit of a reality check—going back to literally riding my bike in the rain.
But it was really good, because in L.A. I would be a bit heartbroken or homesick, so it was a beautiful thing but it was also fantasy. Because a sunny day when you’re sad is almost worse. It was beautiful, but quite surreal really.
Do you still feel connected to your older material? Your fans still seem to love to hear your early songs.
Yeah, I do. It’s so funny when we play “Dog Days” because it was like the second song I ever wrote from scratch, myself. And I wrote it just bashing the walls in a tiny studio in London. To have it resonate with people so much… I was like 20 or something—that awkward age. We didn’t even have a drum, we were using pens to make the percussion. We did have a drum, actually, but we’d stolen it. And it was out of tune! So sometimes we’ll look to each other onstage when we’re performing it like ‘What the f—? How did this happen!?” [Laughs]
You have a lot of fan favorites and well known songs, and How Big How Beautiful debuted at No. 1 in America—but your highest charting single here is the track you did with Calvin Harris. Is it nice to be considered an artist who isn’t defined by singles?
The funny thing about me is that, me and Isabella (Summers) — my writing partner, we’ve been friends for years — is that we’re both super into pop and, like, Madonna, and she’s always really wanted to have a No. 1 single. And it’s never really been something I’m interested in; I don’t know why. I was always much more interested in making a whole album of songs about a cohesive, together thing. So it’s nice if people recognize that, that’s great.
You’re famously friends with Taylor Swift and Drake, you’ve gotten martini-drunk with Kanye… Are there still things about being in that world that sort of blow your mind?
Those encounters are always kind of… I’m quite a quiet person, and I like having time in the house just reading and being on my own. And then there’s this whole other reality. It’s nice now, because I feel like I can dip in and out of it. It doesn’t feel so overwhelming. You can realize how fun and exciting those experiences are, and then I feel more comfortable in my own skin and I can go back to my house and really ground myself. I feel a little more settled now perhaps in my own idea of normality. Which probably isn’t that normal. [Laughs]
Is there anything left on your list that you’d like to do before this year is over?
I so much enjoy performing outdoors, with the sky. This album is so elemental, and it’s about that space between the sea and the sky. We did a performance on a stage that’s built over a cenote in Mexico, in Merida, and it was just so amazing. So I’d like to do a performance that tied all those elements to the record. And before the album cycle finishes you wan to give it kind of a ritual performance.
Maybe you could summon a hurricane.
We already did that! We had to cancel early at Lollapalooza. As it was arriving, it was the most amazing experience—the lightning was coming in time with the music. It was getting closer and closer and everyone was just going [wild]… and then we got pulled off stage. [Laughs]