What Makes Florence And Her Band Unique

Florence + The Machine are more like FLORENCE + the machine: There’s no question who dominates.

Florence Welch was first signed as a solo artist, and the CD booklet for their latest album, Ceremonials, has 14 pictures of Welch, none of anyone else.

But her band plays an integral part in her otherworldly sound: “She has definite ideas about what she wants and she feels like she can trust us to deliver the goods,” said harpist Tom Monger.

Photo: Jen Lowery
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And if the band ever has a breakout player, Monger might be it. Welch calls his addition to the band, which now stands at seven, “a total fluke”: Shortly after recording the “Dog Days Are Over” from the band’s album Lungs, which included a keyboard sound simulating a harp, Welch was sitting in a studio when Monger walked by, carrying something that Welch said “looked like a telephone box wrapped in a blanket.”

She wondered what it was, and Monger told her it was a harp. She quickly invited him in, and The Machine soon had a new member.

But he’s not your parents’ kind of harp player. He takes the instrument out of the parlor and plays with strength and aggression.

“There is still this kind of stigma or stereotype to the harp being a romantic instrument played by ladies in long dresses and very regal settings,” he said. “That doesn’t have to be the case.”

Leave all that to Welch, who has drawn comparisons to Stevie Nicks for flowing onstage outfits and a witchy woman persona. The Ceremonials opening track, “Only If For a Night,” is about a ghost (the singer finds it “so strange, so surreal, that a ghost should be so practical”). In “Seven Devils,” she talks about how “all your love will be exorcised.” She proclaims on “Shake it Out” that “it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.”

Florence + The Machine’s first album, which sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, was a quilt with a number of different producers, including Paul Epworth, whose work with Adele helped take the British singer to the top of the pop world this year.

“I wanted to make a sound that was cohesive, that was a whole, rather than a collection of songs that sounded quite separate,” the 25-year-old Welch said. “I wanted a sound that floated through the whole album.”

She and Epworth took a different approach for “Ceremonials,” which was released last month. Welch feels it represents her varied influences, which range from Hole and Nirvana to Kanye West and Jay-Z, and Beyonce. Rihanna and Lady Gaga are also favorites, as are Spiritualized. And Kate Bush.

“There’s a real sense of people being into loads of different stuff at once,” she said in a recent interview. “I think you kind of get that from this record, the fact that I’ve been into so much different stuff. Style-wise, it touches on so many different things.”

Welch said she and Epworth “kind of geek out together on drum sounds.” They frequently sound like miniature bomb blasts on top of music that might otherwise be considered ethereal, reminiscent of Bush’s work.

Rolling Stone described it, without really defining it, as “a very British record,” a point that was echoed by VH1 music executive Rick Krim.

“It’s not American, whatever that means,” said Krim, executive vice president for talent and music programming. “It feels like it’s from the hills of England somewhere.”

Krim and VH1 have signed Welch to participate in its upcoming “Divas” special, where she will represent British soul music. Next year, MTV will air an “Unplugged” episode with the band. Krim said he was impressed by the distinctiveness of Florence + The Machine’s second disc.

“She’s not trying to make cookie-cutter Top 40 music,” he said. “She does one thing and hopes the audience gravitates toward her instead of doing something that will fit a format.”