Since she was discovered, as the story goes, singing Etta James while drunk in the loo of a London nightclub just a few years ago, the flame-haired singer Florence Welch has ascended to superstardom with a sureness and swiftness that feels almost pre-destined.
When her band Florence + the Machine releases its second studio album, “Ceremonials,” this November, the eyes and ears of the world will be upon her. To her surprise, she’s OK with that. “I don’t think I could have been more stressed the first time around; I was a wreck,” says Welch. “What’s nice is that this time I do get to look back … so I actually feel a bit more comfortable. Is that weird?”
Released in summer 2009, Florence + the Machine’s debut album, “Lungs,” spent 27 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, with tracks heard everywhere from “Glee” to “Twilight” to the “Eat Pray Love” trailer. The group received a new artist Grammy nomination in 2010, and by the time the ceremony came around in February, Welch was part of the show opener, joining Jennifer Hudson and Christina Aguilera in a tribute to Aretha Franklin. (She also performed earlier that month to perhaps her biggest live audience ever, more than 37 million viewers, on the Oscar telecast, singing A.R. Rahman’s “If I Rise.”)
Ghostly pale and six feet tall with a taste for flowing gowns, Welch sings with a powerful, bluesy wail, and her songwriting chops elevate the dramas in her head into grand epics. On this summer’s North American tour, Welch traded her signature vintage looks for custom Gucci garments designed by the label’s creative director Frida Giannini: just one of the fashion folk who has claimed the ethereal singer as her muse.
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Paul Epworth, the songs on “Ceremonials” are sonically grand in the vein of the band’s single “Cosmic Love,” exploring themes of life, love and death. For Welch, music is an even more natural form of expression than talking. “Maybe because I have this massive musical outlet,” she offers, “when I have a conversation I feel like I’m not saying it properly.”
Career mantra: “I suppose it would be a huge scream of ‘freedom!'”
Role model: “I’ve got a real Edith Sitwell fascination at the moment. I’ve got a bit of a tragic heroine theme running through this record.”
Leisure pursuits: “I love bike riding.”
Philanthropic passion: Teenage Cancer Trust