The fourth album from Florence + the Machine has its head in the starry clouds, but its feet on the pedals of a bicycle trundling down a road in south London. Frontwoman Florence Welch reveals how High As Hope renounces the gloss of the industry but remains full of romantic dreams.
Florence Welch has never shied away from speaking about her wrestle with alcohol addiction; she even admits that booze-fuelled shindigs were her initial attraction to the music industry. “’Oh my God, I’m going to get to go to so many parties, it’s going to be amazing,’” the 30-year-old mimics her younger self, with a smile. “I was totally up for it, and I sort of smashed it to bits.”
Those years of Florence + the Machine – decorated, of course, but also full of Welch’s personal search for meaning in dangerously dark places – resulted in three albums, the most recent of which was the five-time Grammy nominated, Mercury Prize-shortlisted How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. “I think the last record was a definite… err, cry. Of, ‘I definitely think something outside me will fix this, and it’s probably you, and why won’t you fix it?’ And… ‘Oh, I can date the solution’, or ‘I can drink the solution, or take the solution.’ I think this record is definitely a recognition of ‘Oh, you can’t.’”
“This” record is High As Hope, which is as full of the reach for self-love as its title suggests. Accompanied by the stomp of a choir’s bare feet, Welch examines her shortcomings and her goals in ornate detail, linking them into a wider experience; standout single Hunger illustrates the overarching theme. “Hunger was actually a poem I was just writing to myself,” Welch explains of the song’s genesis. “I guess I was thinking of something that was bigger than romantic love: ‘Where is this lack of self-love? Where does that come from?’” The idea was to encourage some sort of discussion; when we express our loneliness and verbalise the ways we have tried to manage it, Welch explains, other people around us will recognise that bell, and chime in. “You start to talk to people in a real way,” she says. “’I’ve felt this way. Have you felt this way as well?’”
She acknowledges that this is a massive question with myriad avenues of possible exploration. But like her words about addressing a question with physical actions (dating, drinking) rather than just mental rumination, she thinks the question of where self-love comes from can be addressed with physicality, too: “I quite like the idea of putting a big, spiritual, unanswerable question in a pop song, because you might not be able to answer it, but you can dance about it.”
There are plenty of danceable moments on High As Hope, and their immediacy comes from the way Welch wrote this album: demoing on her own, at a little studio around the corner from her house in south London, which she rode to on her bicycle. “I don’t like to hang around – I arrive and I’ll do a burst of four hours of playing whatever’s in the room, constantly,” she says. “I like to just utilise whatever’s around me; I like banging things with sticks! I have to work very fast and I don’t have the patience to wait for things to be recorded properly.”
She says the style of recording took her back to Between Two Lungs and Dog Days Are Over – two of the first songs she ever wrote, which appear on debut Lungs: “I never thought about structure, or whether anything needed to have a middle eight, or a chorus – I just did what felt right. [The process for High As Hope] was going back to that kind of thing.”
Returning to her roots, and finding the beauty in the everyday, is Welch’s intense new pleasure. “Coming back [from the alcohol and parties] and realising what actually makes me happy is… reading, and riding my bike, and seeing my family and friends, and making work, and being creative… the ways that I’ve always loved expressing myself have just got stronger as the rest of the stuff that I kind of went into this business for has fallen away,” she says, “which is a really nice place to be in.”
High As Hope is out June 29 via Universal.
Read our album review.
Florence + the Machine are touring Australia throughout January 2019 – but dates are selling out fast! Get all of your ticketing info here.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.