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.
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.
‘It was a low, low period of my life,’ she explains. ‘The songs were incredibly cathartic, but the process of making it was so painful. Then touring it, I somehow came back to myself.’
Florence is back with her new album ‘High As Hope.’ An album made by an artist who now feels far more certain about what she can do. She sings about New York and South London, looking back over her teens and twenties from a new, more mature perspective, and to the future with a fierce optimism. She sings about her relationship with Grace, the younger sister who, she says ‘has always been the one in our family who tried to take care of everybody – including me’. But then there’s also ‘Big God’, which is about having her text messages ignored: ‘I try and mix high and low,’ she says with a laugh.
‘I did a double interview with John Cale recently, and he said, “Work is more fun than fun.” And he’s right. I don’t get FOMO any more, I don’t care if I miss a party, I don’t care if I’m not at an awards ceremony, and making this record was one of the happiest times. I’d just ride my bike to the studio in Peckham every day, and bang on the walls with sticks. It was going back to the way I first made Dog Days, Between Two Lungs and Cosmic Love. I totally found the joy in it again.’
For the first time, Florence has also taken a production credit. ‘I’ve been involved in every single part of it,’ she says. ‘I’ve always very much been in control and I’ve always essentially co-produced, but it was about naming that, saying, “This is my sound, this is what I do.” So this time, I wanted the title.’
It's a sign of 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.
So ‘High As Hope’ marks a new chapter, the beginning of a far longer journey for Florence Welch. ‘It’s always a work in progress, and I definitely don’t have everything figured out. But this feels like quite a pure expression of who I am now, as an artist, and an honest one,’ she says. ‘I’m just more comfortable with who I am.’