Florence Welch On Breaks, Breakdowns, and Breakups

At this year’s New Yorker Festival on October 11, 2019, Florence Welch, frontwoman to the band Florence + the Machine spoke candidly about her struggles with alcoholism, anxiety, and depression in an interview with John Seabrook. Known for such hits as “Dog Days Are Over,” “Shake It Out,” and most recently “Jenny of Oldstones” for Game of Thrones, Welch has made a name for herself with her haunting yet ethereal voice lending to her unique sound. She is known for her use of harps in her music, as they appear in all four of her albums, “Lungs” (2009), “Ceremonials” (2011), “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” (2015), and most recently, “High As Hope” (2018), giving her music an enchanted, spirited sound. 

As an avid fan since I was 13, I jumped at the opportunity to see Florence Welch perform live in an intimate 812-seat theater, the New York Society for Ethical Culture, a converted church with acoustics that lived up to the hype. There was not a bad seat in the house as we gazed from the pews to listen to the songstress open up about her struggles since gaining fame. 

Welch dived straight into describing the life of touring, something she had become all too familiar with since “Lungs” shot her to fame at 21 years of age. She called herself a “high functioning f***-up” in the way that her lack of will to take care of herself manifested in messing up hotel rooms, relationships, and her life (but never any shows, much to her surprise). She views as the period between her second third albums as her “break”, “break down,” and her “break up” not only with a partner, but with her old life of partying. The “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” tour would be her first tour sober. 

 

Florence Welch talking to the New Yorker’s John Seabrook. 

Photo Credit: Juliette Kimmins 

Welch feared meeting an early demise like many other young entertainers that relied too heavily on drugs and alcohol. She went on to explain a poem in her book Useless Magic that details a divergence in her life-- the life of the girl who partied and met the fate she had always feared and the life she currently lives, sober and steadily improving. She speaks of her frequent hangovers saying, “I just didn’t want to feel that way anymore and it was so repetitive. At some point the fun...the fun bit...had gone. As much as I tried to get it back, I just couldn’t. When the fun goes, it does not come back. The first year that I stopped [partying], I felt like I really lost a big part of who I was and how I assert myself. I also felt like I was letting down ‘rock and roll’ history because I couldn’t cope. I had to rebuild from scratch a little bit.” 

 

Florence Welch following her interview with John Seabrook, performed live acoustic renditions of her songs.

Photo credit: Juliette Kimmins 

The interview ended on a high note with a question and answer period. Questions were asked about Welch’s favorite kind of tea, her inspiration for her dance moves, and her advice for aspiring artists looking to make it big in music. Lastly, the crowd enjoyed a live acoustic performance comprised of the songs “June,” “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” “Big God,” and “Dog Days Are Over.” Despite my attachment to her music, I had never really delved deep into the inspiration behind the songs I had come to adore and identify with so much. The night gave me a newfound appreciation for the music I was already listening to on a weekly basis, something I feel so lucky and grateful to have heard in person with the artist standing before me.