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Going with the Flo
7:00am Saturday 10th March 2012 in AdXtra
Florence + The Machine begins her UK tour in Bournemouth on March 4. Andy Welch talks to the award-winning sensation about her plans for the live shows and her position as one of the UK's biggest-selling artists.
Amid the deliveries, collections and heavy traffic of a west London industrial estate, something very exciting is happening.
While one particular unit's exterior is just as bland as all the others, its insides contain more colour and drama than any of the passing couriers and gridlocked commuters could possibly imagine.
"We're testing out giant video screens and projectors," beams Florence Welch. Her Machine, this time around, consists of a guitarist, bass player, drummer, long-time collaborator Isabella Summers on keyboards, a harpist and an assortment of backing singers. They're more like a gang than a band, all old friends, or at the very least friends of friends.
"This tour will be the first time I've had backing singers," she states. "I can't believe it's taken this long, considering how much singing there is in my music."
Alongside the small army of musicians, technicians are tinkering with a state-of-the-art video wall, which Welch loves because it combines art deco styling with cutting-edge technology. When it's put to her that the description could apply to her and her music too, she smiles, pleased someone understood her intention.
It's a million miles from her early gigs around 2008, which consisted of her performing backed only by a drum kit.
"Rehearsals have been great so far," Welch continues enthusiastically. She's enthusiastic about almost everything.
"This is the biggest show we've ever travelled with. It all looks quite professional," she concludes, giggling. "I've been doing this a while now, so it's about time."
Whether she feels professional or not, there's no escaping her fame. Her second album Ceremonials was released in October last year and immediately went to the top of the album chart, selling almost 100,000 copies in seven days. By the end of 2011, it had sold triple that, as well as a few hundred thousand in the United States, where it reached No 6 on the Billboard album chart.
No cliched 'difficult second album' for Welch.
"I think I'll always be slightly dissatisfied with my creative output," she says, reflecting on Ceremonials. "The idea of finishing something is terrifying to me, because to say it's finished means you think it's perfect, and nothing can ever be perfect.
"I'm a control freak, and I'm really proud of this record. It's one more step to get where I'm going. You know, chipping away at an idea.
"If I'd made the perfect album, I'd never make another one, so it has to be like this. I'm already thinking about the next one."
While she misses the intimacy of smaller gigs, the 25-year-old Londoner quite rightly believes her music has the scale to fill cavernous arenas.
Touring, she says, is an up-and-down business; one minute connected to thousands of people, alone in a hotel room the next.
"Everyone gets lonely, I think. Speak to most people in a band and they'd tell you that. I recently read an interview with Adele where she said the same thing. When you're on tour, you're in a bubble. Everyone else's life carries on, all your friends and family back home, but you're away doing the same thing and not having a life," she says.
"It's odd to be lonely, surrounded by so many people and feeling so at one with the crowd, but it all lacks the intimacy of being with one other person.
"Time stands still, and it feels like you disappear for a while. At the same time it's my dream job. I've always wanted to do this."
Talking of one other person, Ceremonials, as debut album Lungs did also, deals with Welch's break up with long-term boyfriend Stuart Hammond, a literary editor from London.
Breaking Down and No Light, No Light tackle the issue head on, while it's peppered throughout the rest of the lyrics.
She's recently been pictured with a mystery new love, but would rather not say too much about him.
Having previously suffered from serious bouts of depression, not helped by endless touring and sacrifices she's made to succeed in music, Welch says she's happy now, and is taking the responsibility of being a musician more seriously than ever.
She's stopped drinking on days she has a show, for example, aware no one wants to see a hungover performance.
"Actually, the day after you've been out is always an amazing show," she says. "You're still a bit drunk, you can have one more and feel great before going on stage, but the show the day after that will be rubbish.
"I've stopped doing things that are bad for me," she continues. "I look after myself more on tour. I have a responsibility to the show, as well as the people that have worked on it with me. More so than ever before.
"We've got this big show, big stage sets and costumes, and I feel a pressure to honour everything that's gone into that.
"In the past, maybe I'd be on first at 7.30 or 8pm, so there wasn't as much expectation. I could get drunk and no one would really care. Now people are coming to see me, so I feel that responsibility. Plus, I worked really hard on the record and want to give it the showcase it deserves.
"It requires a lot of discipline, especially for a singer. The band all work hard and play well, but their instrument isn't their body, like mine. The thing I work with is completely physical, and what I eat and drink, and how much I talk has an impact. Even interviews have an impact.
"Whatever I do matters."
Extra time - Florence + The Machine :: Florence Leontine Mary Welch was born in Camberwell, South London on August 28, 1986.
:: Her mother, Evelyn Welch, is Professor of Renaissance Studies and Academic Dean Of Arts at Queen Mary, University Of London, while her father Nick is an advertising executive.
:: Florence's uncle is renowned satirist Craig Brown.
:: She has been diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia, which affects co-ordination.
:: To date, Florence + The Machine have sold around two million albums in the UK.
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