Florence Welch’s otherworldly charm is just as much part of her showmanship as her impressive, three-octave vocal range. Within the span of a decade, the front-woman for Florence + The Machine has left an indelible mark on the music industry, from her first chart-topping single “Dog Days Are Over” spending two months on Billboard‘s Top 40, performing “Gimme Shelter” as a duet with Mick Jagger, to collaborating with Lady Gaga, all the while sporting an ethereal style reminiscent of an early Stevie Nicks. And yet, Welch seems reticent, reserved even, reciting her own poems from her new book, Useless Magic, in front of an audience at the Gucci bookstore in New York on Wednesday.
“This has been quite weird,” she tells the crowd. “I never thought I’d be here in front of all of you but thank you for being here.”
Writing has always come naturally to Welch but her book of poems, now available with a new Gucci cover design, reads more like diary entries than they do songs. Split into four different sections (one for each of the band’s four albums), the 288 pages of confessional poems offer a window into Welch’s world and peel back some of the mysticism that has followed the singer ever since she came onto the scene in 2006. Here, CR caught up with the Gucci Fine Jewelry ambassador before the reading to talk about her writing process, her new album High as Hope, and if she has plans to release any more poetry.
The song ‘Hunger’ on your new album High as Hope was originally a poem and not a song. How did that evolve and how is poetry writing different for you?
“It’s pretty hard to know what the difference is, because actually the process is pretty similar. The voice that comes out is quite different, so when I’m writing a poem, I really don’t think anyone is going to see it. With a song you know you’re writing with music so you’ll probably have to play this to somebody at some point. If you’re there with a piano, music is meant to be heard, but with poetry, it’s sometimes so private and so intimate. It’s almost the more introverted side of me, because I am kind of a natural introvert, so the poetry feels like it could probably never be seen by anybody. You’re literally writing a note to self, which is why in some ways with a song ‘Hunger,’ I could be so blunt, because I didn’t imagine that I was ever going to show it to anyone or put it in a song.”
How did you end up publishing your book if you never thought it would be seen?
“I love poetry and I love to read and to have even been a small part of that world is like a childhood dream. Before I was a musician, I was just a bookworm, an avid reader. When I was little kid, the first things I wrote were poems, and then it became songs, so I never thought that I could have a book but it has been such an amazing thing to be able to do. And I think I grew more confident as an artist, because I never really had the songs, lyrics, written down anywhere, because I was insecure that if I just saw them on the page, they’d be robbed of something or the music made them special. I just became more comfortable with who I was or something so it was OK to have it all in one place.”
One line from your poem says, “I guess I won’t write poetry.” Where did that humor and self-deprecation come from?
“Again, what was it? ‘I guess I won’t write poetry, I’ll just stare at my phone for fucking eternity.’ Well, I think that’s something that we can all relate to, which is ironic because literally, as I’m doing it, I’m writing the poetry on my phone. With all of the poems, they’re just things I’m thinking to myself. It’s also good to show the worst sides of yourself in poems, to show the things that annoy you about yourself, or that you find shameful. That’s quite interesting to me and it was about just trying to be honest, to move away from saying I’m like this mystical creature. I’ll be like here, staring at my phone as much as the rest of us. What’s interesting about that is it’s the work of the artist or the poet to remake what seems mundane and frustrating into something magical for yourself. I was like, if I’m going to be staring at my phone, at least I’ve got to turn it into art. That’s kind of your job.”
Did this book impact how you wrote your album?
“It definitely, definitely did ’cause I started feeling like I wanted to make poetry before I started writing High as Hope so I had been compiling poems and notes. Songs like ‘June’ and ‘Hunger’ and ‘South London Forever’ all started out as poetry so it really affected how they went into the songs. It created a very different record from the ones before because there was like another… it’s like I said, when you’re writing a poem you don’t really think you’re going to show it to anybody. When that moves into a song, it creates different kind of record which is perhaps more upfront.”
Do you think you’ll release more poetry books in the future?
“Maybe. I would really like to. I’ve been doing this scrappy thing everyday where I’ll write a little sermon every morning. They’re just poems, but I call them sermons, but they’re definitely not holy. A lot of it is just my inner ramblings in the morning, writing about my anxieties or that I want someone to take my phone away. I would like to put them together in some way and I’m always kind of writing. That could be interesting. I’d like to have them scrappy as they are, though. They’re all in like caps, but I’d like to leave it as that.”
You include a lot of notes and artwork in the book. Have you always been inspired by artwork in particular?
“For me, everything’s always fed into itself. Every album has been inspired by a different group of artists. The first record was really inspired by a few Pre-Raphaelites: Waterhouse, Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. I went to art college and then dropped out but then it was almost like I tried to continue my art education through making records. Tom Beard, who has done all of my album covers, we explore a different artist every time. For this one, we looked a lot at Francesca Woodman’s photography so the visual aspects of music, being tactile in nature by using a notebook, are very important to me. It was really nice to look over the whole body of work and realize that there has been a thread the whole way through, for better or for worse, I’ve always kind of been the same.”
What went into the decision of having Gucci Alessandro Michele design your stage costumes?
“I feel like Alessandro’s my aesthetic twin. We have such a similar sensibility and the stage costumes that he makes for me, they do their own performance. I really feel like he’s a magician. Everything that he touches feels so special. I love working with him. I feel very in-tune with what he does and how he sees the world, so it always feels really natural to me to work with Gucci.”
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createdAt:Thu, 06 Dec 2018 20:52:45 +0000