Florence Welch may be the guiding force and namesake behind the baroque rock-pop outfit Florence + The Machine, but the 24-year old Brit isn’t too fond of the spotlight. “I like to be able to wander and I like to go places unnoticed,” the singer-songwriter-harpist told us in a recent phone conversation while visiting New York. “I don’t want to be the center of attention everywhere.” After Sunday’s 2010 MTV VMAs—in which her mesmerizing video “Dog Days Are Over” is up for four nominations, including Video of the Year—we have a feeling that will start to change.
Florence, whose spellbinding debut LP Lungs was honored with a BRIT Award for Best British Album, chatted with Idolator about how it feels to be in the same league as Eminem and Lady Gaga, the inspiration behind her hypnotizing video, and discussed her mutual idolatry of both Green Day and Nicki Minaj. Jump below for our exclusive interview with the redheaded chanteuse.
IDOLATOR: First of all, congrats on all your nominations! You’re up for four VMAs—Best Art Direction in a Video, Best Cinematography in a Video, Best Rock Video, and Video of the Year. Are you pinching yourself?
FLORENCE WELCH: It’s kind of crazy! I really didn’t expect it. It’s one of those things you watch on TV and you think it’s a million, million miles away, and to be actually going and being a part of it… and I don’t think they’ve had new acts like this, and especially British acts, for awhile now at the VMAs. I’m really honored.
You made the first video for “Dog Days Are Over” last year, and the 2010 version is the video that’s nominated in this year’s race. Why make a second video?
[Island] decided to give us more money. We did the first video on an ultimate shoestring budget. We had one camera and a couple of bags of crisps for catering and I got all my friends together and I put them all in clown suits. I absolutely loved it, but we had no money, just a load of clown suits and a load of enthusiasm.
This time when they were re-releasing it, they were just going to give us some money anyway, so we thought, well, why don’t we make a video with a budget this time? And we tried to make it as creative as possible. We tried to do things we couldn’t afford to beforehand.
Florence + The Machine – “Dog Days Are Over”
It’s a glorious video. What was the inspiration behind the clip?
We tried to incorporate, like, a dreamy, ecstatic, orgy explosion. A charismatic, apocalyptic event. And there’s no way to put that into visuals, so I just said, ‘Yeah, I just want people to explode.” [There’s a ]reckless abandonment, and color, and it’s very sensual, psychedelic as well.
Between you, Eminem, Lady Gaga, B.o.B and 30 Seconds to Mars, there’s an eclectic mix of artists up for Video of the Year. What are your thoughts on the other acts in your category?
I was first in the queue to download Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video! They’re huge stars! I don’t really see myself as in the same category. They’re all really, really established artists, and I’m standing here in Soho, talking to you, wearing a dress that cost one quid from a thrift store, and no one gives me a second glance. To be honest I feel slightly amazed that I’ll be at the VMAs!
What was your favorite music video from the past year that wasn’t nominated for a VMA?
I loved Hot Chip‘s video [“I Feel Better”], the one with the guy in the white suit, with the fake boy band. It was amazing and terrifying and really, really incredible.
We’d love to get your pick for one of the categories. Who should win Best New Artist?
Best new artist, Nicki Minaj! I’m absolutely obsessed with her. I think everything she does is golden. I’m a huge fan. I love her!
Would you collaborate with her? She’s worked with just about everybody under the sun at this point.
Of course, I’d love to! In fact, if she ever wants to do something with one of my tracks, I’m totally up for it.
What’s your favorite memory from watching the VMAs?
Obviously, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, the first time she performed. Lose my mind! Incredible. There’s no choreography, there’s no smoke or strobes, she was just writing around in a wedding dress, and it’s so sexy… and kind of outrageous. It was a really incredible thing. And Britney’s performances like “Toxic” [at the European VMAs], and when she did “Satisfaction”… blew my mind.
It seems you can definitely appreciate pop music! We also hear you’re a huge Green Day fan as well.
I was really into New York skater punk when I was growing up. I was a big fan of Dookie and Nimrod. Me and my friend Devonte Hynes, he’s the singer in Lightspeed Champion, we covered the whole of Nimrod. We covered every song.
A non-obvious choice! Why Nimrod?
I just think it’s an amazing album!
Florence Welch & Devonte Hynes – “Scattered” (Green Day cover)
I’m really into the Best Coast album, I like them a lot. I’m in such a hole of touring, it’s hard to listen out for good new music. And The Drums! I love them!
Many of your tracks, like “Kiss With A Fist” and “Cosmic Love”, are very romantic, but also very morbid. (The lyrics to “Kiss With A Fist” especially—”Broke your jaw once before / Spilt your blood upon the floor / You broke my leg in return / Sit back and watch the bed burn.”) Where do you think that attraction to gothic imagery comes from?
I’m not really an aggressive person, I tend to direct a lot of anger inward, to myself, so that’s my way of dealing with that. My imagination always leads me to the worst possible place, which I suppose is why in my songs, they’re all so much about imaginary situations, they do go to a darker place. I’m always imagining the most horrifying situation possible. I am just generally inclined to morbid thoughts.
We heard you used to sing at funerals growing up.
It was a time, in sort of quick succession, a lot of people close to me died, like older people like grandparents and my godfather. I was known as the kid in the family who sung, so I was always asked to sing. Those were my first gigs, really.
I love your minimalist cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love.” What inspired you to cover that song in that way?
You can’t sing like Robert Palmer, you can’t recapture the glitzy gloryiousness of the 80s… so you have to strip it back, and you have to make it as minimalist as possible. I tried to do a proper cover cover, they asked us to do it—it was Island Records’ 50th birthday party and we all had to cover a song that a person from Island Records had done. I chose Robert Palmer. We tried to do it the normal way but it was just awful. So we kept stripping it back and back until it was just total drone fest.
Florence + The Machine – “Addicted To Love” (Robert Palmer cover)
“Dog Days Are Over” is played during the Eat Pray Love trailer, and “Heavy In Your Arms” is featured on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack. What made you want to be associated with those films?
I’m really, really careful what I attach my music to, because I really feel like think it has to fit. I never really read the book [Eat Pray Love] but I saw the trailer—they synced the music to it—and for me it seemed to really fit, the landscapes and the whole attitude of the trailer seemed to work. I thought it would be okay. [For the Eclipse soundtrack], I had read the books, I was a Twilight fan, I liked the movies, I thought I could do something that would fit the atmosphere of that. I’m very careful and pick things very cautiously and I have to make sure that they work and that I’m comfortable with them.
I said no to so much stuff. They told me I would sell five times more in Spain if I did this car advert, and I watched it, and I went, ‘No fucking way!’ I’m really cautious about what I attach my music to.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re recording now?
I’ve already recorded a few songs. One of them [is] the most epic monstrosity of song, there’s so much bass and loads of drums. We don’t have a name for it yet… it has the most insane choral outburst, its really spacey. It’s pretty epic. We’ll probably strip it back, but we’ve gone properly intense.
Will it be a departure from the sound of Lungs?
It’s evolving. I can’t really control it. I never make a conscious decision about what kind of music I’m going to make. It’s about what I’m having fun with at the time or what I’m into, what I’ve been listening to. Whatever happens when you get the keyboard, you kind of have to trust in that.
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Check out Florence + The Machine at this Sunday’s VMAs, and head to their official website. And go buy Lungs, because you should have eons ago.