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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

When British singer Florence Welch came by our studios yesterday, she was wearing Levi's short shorts, lacy white ankle socks and an old, black fedora on her flaming red hair. At just 23, she's become a sensation.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FLORENCE WELCH (Musician): (Singing) Happiness (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: Florence Welch was discovered singing in a London pub bathroom, and then - zoom. Her debut album, "Lungs," has sold more than a million copies in the U.K. and won her the British Critic's Choice Award last year. Now she's on her first U.S. tour with her band, Florence and the Machine, showcasing that voice, which can turn from delicate to fiercely urgent in an instant.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

Ms. WELCH: A strange kind of juxtaposition between being very imaginary, and then the whole making of the music is very physical and visceral.

BLOCK: How so?

Ms. WELCH: Well, I mean, I can't really play anything. So I just hit stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: What do you hit?

Ms. WELCH: Piano and drums. So it's kind of a mix of it's kind of tribal, primal bashing of percussion, mixed with the choral side of the backing vocals and then the sort of romantic lyrics, I suppose, that are actually quite horrible, as well.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: What do you think it is about that juxtaposition that you like as a singer and a writer?

Ms. WELCH: I think it was (unintelligible) Smith. I read (unintelligible) Smith essay that was really interesting, about what it is to, like, have soul. And I think there was, like, something about it that, like, soul is taking pain and turning it into something beautiful, and I guess I've always been really interested in soul music and blues singers and the idea of taking something kind of dark, painful, and turning it into something that people would actually want to listen to.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss With a Fist")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) You hit me once. I hit you back. You gave a kick. I gave a slap. You smashed a plate over my head. Then I set fire to our bed. You hit me once. I hit you back. You gave a kick. I gave a slap. You smashed a plate over my head. Then I set fire to our bed.

BLOCK: This song, "Kiss With a Fist."

Ms. WELCH: Yes.

BLOCK: Tell me about that song. How'd it come about?

Ms. WELCH: I just wrote it when I was, like, 17. It was like it was because I was hanging out with a load of garage punk bands, and they were kind of my first influences, and I guess I wanted to write a love song that was, like, as tough as their songs.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss With a Fist")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) A kiss with a fist is better than none.

Ms. WELCH: There are no victims in the song. It was kind of a metaphor for first love, in all its intensities.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss With a Fist")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

Ms. WELCH: There's such an extreme feeling to be in love, especially in quite an emotionally destructive relationship, where you're both kind of really bad for each other, but you love each other so much. Those extreme emotions, I think, can only be described with extreme imagery. You know, that's how you feel. You feel even though there's no actually physical violence there, you just feel so conflicted, its like you're sort of tearing each other up.

(Soundbite of song, "Kiss With a Fist")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) Then I set fire to our bed.

BLOCK: You know, you have such a delicate speaking voice, and I've noticed this with other singers, too, that the contrast between how you sound when you're speaking and the wild, sort of primal sound that you get when you're singing, it's hard to imagine that it's coming from the same person. When did you discover that strength in your own voice?

Ms. WELCH: I'm not sure. I think maybe it was from singing at squat parties and...

BLOCK: Squat parties?

Ms. WELCH: Yes, like squatters used to live, like, in these big, old co-ops and in big, old, like, supermarkets down the (unintelligible) road near where I lived, and there's a big art collective. I would kind of go to parties there, and there'd be bands playing, and there'd be open mics, and kind of in order to make yourself heard amongst all this, like, hullaballoo with, like, bad sound systems, 100 other people, like, running around, that's where I kind of first started singing.

BLOCK: Let's take a listen to one of the songs on the CD called "Cosmic Love."

(Soundbite of song, "Cosmic Love")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: Florence, I noticed this. You're listening to this. You're trying to bang on something right now. You're shaking...

Ms. WELCH: It's because it's so simple, that whole chord thing. I wrote it in 10 minutes, and I don't know where it came from. It's one of those magical things. I did it when I had the most awful hangover I ever had.

BLOCK: That really happened?

Ms. WELCH: Yeah, (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: I was lying on the floor of studio, I was, oh, God, I feel so ill. I feel so ill. And then suddenly...

(Soundbite of humming)

Ms. WELCH: Oh my God. That sounds good. What is that? Where did that come from? And then the whole thing just starts boom, boom, boom, boom. I mean, I can't play anything, really, and so when something works, you've just got to follow it no matter how simple it is, and the whole song is completely simple and written in half an hour, and then I got drunk again.

BLOCK: I think you joined a pantheon of musical greats who probably wrote in much the same circumstances, don't you think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WELCH: Maybe. I wouldnt recommend it, I don't think.

(Soundbite of song, "Cosmic Love")

Ms. WELCH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

BLOCK: Somewhere in there, a harp enters the picture.

Ms. WELCH: Well, we just kind of saw this guy walking past the studio, holding what looked like a telephone box wrapped in a blanket, and I was like, oy, what's that? What's that? And it was a harp. So we figured why not get him in to actually play it, and it sounded so great that we just decided to use it on everything.

And then we never thought we'd be able to actually have it in the band, but then he was really up for coming and playing.

BLOCK: What do you think it adds to the song?

Ms. WELCH: My style of playing is more enthusiasm and instinct than skill. So it really helps, I think, to have someone who has that lightness of touch and that skill. It adds a depth to it.

BLOCK: When you're trying to tap into that enthusiasm and instinct that you're talking about, when you're on the road, playing songs over and over again, how hard is it to maintain that energy and the intensity, maybe, that was there at the very beginning?

Ms. WELCH: When you play, it's like you know that there are people out there who are hearing it for the first time, and I think that's really important. I think I just get excited by music, and like, singing is a very physical thing. It releases endorphins in your body. You're using almost muscle in there, and I think that adrenaline really helps to kind of make the songs fresh every time.

And I love singing, and I love playing music. So it's a real joy for me to get up there, and I'm grateful every time I step on the stage that I'm allowed to do it.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Florence Welch, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. WELCH: Thanks. Thanks very much for having me.

BLOCK: Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine. Their debut album is called "Lungs." And you can hear an acoustic set by Florence Welch at npr.org. This is NPR.

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