With a new album, Dance Fever, and Florence + The Machine’s upcoming UK tour, we talk writing, beauty, plagues and inspiration with the phenomenal Florence Welch.
When did the concept for Dance Fever start materialising?
In around 2019, a friend of mine told me about this sort of plague that had happened in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, where people were just dancing themselves to death. It's quite unexplained – I’ve spoken to a virologist about it – but thing that I related to most is the idea it was caused by collective stress. I related so much to the idea that you just got so stressed, all you could do was dance in the middle of the street. That inability to stop moving I related that to my inability to stop touring.
The lyrics throughout are fantastic and also very sad or intense and confessional and direct. How did the process of writing those words come to you?
I think having written poetry informed the songs. For whatever reason [when you’re writing poetry], because you're not thinking about things rhyming and you're not thinking about strong song structure, you can think more about just phrases and things that are sharper and clearer, and maybe more direct. I was doing these little things called sermons where I would just write down anything that was in my head. A lot of it was really weird, and very direct and honest. Nick Cave says that when he writes poems, it's kind of like failed songs. But I think when I was writing poems, it was like lists of things that I just thought were too weird to put into a song; like getting kicked out of Topshop for being drunk.
There are also spoken passages, which are new.
I really like the anti-singing that’s going on. There’s a lot of people doing it like Dry Cleaning and Self Esteem. But, I think it also came from writing poetry. A lot of it was scraps of poetry, it felt better to say than sing it. There’s definitely an anti-singing scene going on.
How do you present this work visually?
Towards the end of the last record I starting working with Autumn de Wilde. Autumn is a complete artist and so am I, so we were like, let’s do everything! This record is a more gothic fantasy style of writing, but with a bit more self-awareness, I would hope. I also felt like after everything everyone had been through, I wanted to make something really beautiful that people could escape into. Being able to process grief but in an environment that has an element of fantasy in it. I needed that, and I felt maybe people would need that, too.
Describe the artwork.
Me and Autumn looked at Edwardian portraiture, with an edge of darkness to it. A lot of imagery is funereal and there is a sense of glamour that’s very bedraggled, as if something cruel in a dress crawled out. When you get into your mid-thirties, when you still don't have a family or haven’t done the traditional thing, there’s this sort of air of tragedy that people start to project onto you. I really wanted to lean into that very strongly. I was like, ok Miss Havisham, let’s go further into that.
How is this going to work into your live show and set design?
We’ve actually looked at Miss Havisham’s feasts; the candles covered in spider webs. Lace was a very big reference for us. This idea of ruggedness and beauty that has been bedraggled and broken.
Back to the music. How does Dave Bayley (of Oxford’s Glass Animals) step into the picture?
The first song that we made was My Love, the very first one. I just loved working with him. I felt like we were both in a similar place where we needed a lot of intensity at that point [during the pandemic] and movement – we both missed dancing.
And you must have missed touring…
Touring is hard but the stage is amazing, a sort of Faustian thing I guess. The worse your life gets on the tour the better the performance has become. To be honest, when the pandemic was really happening and no one knew when it would end, it was such a profound feeling of loss, of the space where I felt like I had meaning in my life. Live performance – I think this is what I’m meant to do with my life, this is why I’ve been put on the earth. All the things that make my life hard with this kind of brain, for some reason it all works really well on the stage. There’s nothing in my life I’ve ever been as sure of.
Florence + The Machine’s new album Dance Fever is out now via Polydor Records
Florence + The Machine will be touring the UK in November 2022. Full dates available at florenceandthemachine.net
For more literary Florence, her online book community can be found at betweentwobooks.co.uk