At art school in her native South London, Florence Welch made a six-foot-wide artificial flower arrangement that spelled out You’re a twat (which, she says, “was directed entirely at myself”) and iced a cake with the words It’s going to get worse. Luckily, forthe 22-year-old singer, the opposite happened. Right now, Welch, who records under the name Florence and the Machine, is the toast of the British music scene. Her bluesy wail, wonky fashion sense, and controversial take on domestic violence (as interpreted from her debut single,“Kiss With a Fist,” at any rate) has set her on permanent rotation in the heads of fans and music insiders alike.
Welch was discovered less than two years ago singing an Etta James song in a club toilet by London scenester Mairead Nash, who is one half of the act Queens of Noize and now Welch’smanager. The British music industry anointed Welch the new musical artist most likely to emerge this year, even giving her a special Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits (the U.K.’s equivalent of the Grammys).
Welch’s music combines the rawness of The White Stripes, who she grew up listening to, with the slightly fey eccentricity of Kate Bush—another of her heroes. Her first album, Lungs, scheduled to hit shelves in September, is being produced by James Ford and Paul Epworth, who between them have worked with hip British indie bands such as Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys. As gregarious as her legs are long (i.e., very), Welch has already been somewhat stereotyped in the British music press as a posh eccentric. Though she denies the posh part. “It’s not like I have tea with the queen,” she says from the back of a taxi on her way home from the studio. Her favorite item of clothing is the chiffon ball gown her American debutante mother came out in. Her mother is an art historian, while her father works in advertising. (Both followed her in a campervan when she toured Europe last year supporting Brooklyn band MGMT.) As for the eccentricity, Welch claims that her lyrics are inspired by “that feeling you get when you wake up in the morning with that creeping unknown dread that follows you around all day” (perhaps otherwise known as a hangover). However, other happier songs are “euphoric, because singing, to me, is a really joyful experience. It’s all about highs and lows,” she says. Her first two singles, “Kiss With a Fist” and “Dog Days Are Over,” each show a different side: The latter jubilantly announces that bad times have passed; the former declares in rattling blues, “A kiss with a fist is better than none.”
This summer finds Welch playing her favorite British music festivals, Glastonbury and Bestival, both of which have a kaleidoscopic quirk that matches her own. It’s been a stratospheric ascent, all right. “I think it’s bizarre,” she hoots. “I’m going to have to get much better.”
Photo above: Florence Welch in London, February 2009. Jacket: Peter Pilotto. T-shirt: Pringle of Scotland. Fragrance: Viktor & Rolf FlowerBomb. Styling: Clare Richardson/Julian Watson Agency. Hair: Tomo Jidai/Jed Root. Makeup: Kirstin Piggott/Jed Root.
For upcoming tour dates, check out Florence and the Machine’s MySpace page.