INTERVIEW: Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine on Elvis, Kate Bush, ‘Dance Fever’

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

She will be at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre Sept. 21 for her second visit to that venue.

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine knows how to pour on the dramatic flourishes, be it in her outfits or her music or her basic stage presence.

Don’t expect anything less when she arrives on stage at Ameris Amphitheatre on Sept. 21 to promote her latest album “Dance Fever.”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

“I love breaking barriers in my performance,” Welch said in a lively Zoom interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It never feels right to just stay on stage. I like getting as close to people as possible so I’m able to get down there to hold someone’s hand.” And with the pandemic less of a concern, “I feel there’s more freedom for me to just be the performer I am, which is incredibly physical and right in there with the crowd.”

This will be a return appearance at Ameris for Welch and her band. They last performed there in June 2019.

That particular tour was emotionally taxing and left her wondering what to do next.

She was 33. Friends and family began bugging her about starting a family. To her, that sounded like a sensible plan. “It’s something I want,” she said.

But then she heard from a friend about choreomania, a phenomenon in which Europeans would dance to the point of exhaustion and injury in the 14th to 17th centuries. “Medieval plague” is how Welch described it cheerfully. So out came her latest record “Dance Fever.”

“This album just came rushing at me screaming to be made,” Welch said. “No, you are not done and you have to make another record and get back out on stage. It feels like an out-of-body compulsion sometimes.”

The first song on “Dance Fever” is the starkly anthemic “King,” which explicitly tackles “this pull between practicality and passion,” she said. “‘King’ tries to analyze the push and pull between these desires.” Behind an urgent, relentless drumbeat, she sings: “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king.”

The use of “king” over “queen,” she said, was not something she thought about when the song came out of her brain, almost fully formed. “As a live performer,” Welch said, “I have almost exclusively modeled myself after male performers.” Examples: Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Nick Cave. And though she often wears flowing feminine outfits on stage, she said, “if you come see me live, there’s a masculinity to it. I think I’ve never felt like my gender came into it.”

So she said the song is a commentary about how men can “carry on without these time pressures and limitations on their body.”

Months before COVID-19 shut the world down, she penned “Choreomania,” a propulsive tune that merges references to that odd mania with her own panic attacks. The chorus features the line “something’s coming” numerous times.

“I’ve always been interested in the prescience of songwriting... It’s like picking up on vibrations of what’s coming,” she said. “So when something actually came, I freaked the [expletive] out! I had to put that song down for a long time.”

The album is chronological in a sense, she said. She actually came to New York City to write the album before the pandemic began and there’s a song for that called “Back in Town.” But COVID-19 was already there and spreading.

“I was walking around New York,” Welch said. “I don’t know if it’s the echoes of the buildings but you could hear what everyone is saying. I was walking past people who were talking about it... I remember the last person I hugged in New York was a fan. We had this hug in this coffee shop. I still remember the closeness of it.”

TikTok exploded during the pandemic. Welch herself initially resisted its centrifugal force but once her label Republic Records pressured her to use it to promote “Dance Fever,” she got sucked in.

“The fans on there are so cute!” she said. “The sense of humor really appeals to me. I’ve had such a funny journey with it. I’m stressed. I don’t know what this is! I don’t know how to work it. But once I got on there, it allows you to interact with your fan base in a different way. I now find it fun.”

TikTok, she said, meshed well with the album itself: “’Dance Fever’ has so many layers and elements. Rock and roll tragedy of Elvis. Vampirical themes. Demonic themes. There’s heaven and hell. The chaos of that suits the chaotic nature of TikTok. You can make these tiny things out of lyrics that embody a certain part of the record.”

The album ends with “Morning Elvis,” a decade-old tale of a time when she was drinking too heavily after a concert in New Orleans, causing her to miss a scheduled visit to Graceland the next day in Memphis.

So in May when she was in Las Vegas for the Billboard Music Awards, she saw multiple Elvis Presley impersonators everywhere. So she decided to go to a Vegas wedding chapel and sing the song in front of an Elvis lookalike. The TikTok video, she noted, “was a way to capture the synchronicity of it all.”

@florence

🌸 For an album that is so much about tragic rock and roll mythologies, fantasy verses reality, and performance itself, to end up releasing it in Vegas was pretty mystical. Thank you so much for embracing this record. I love you all. 🌸And yes, I finally got to see Elvis. X x

♬ Morning Elvis - Florence + The Machine

Welch’s free-flowing on-stage style evokes a bit of Kate Bush, who is having a career renaissance thanks to Netflix’s “Stranger Things’ using her 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” so effectively.

She actually was not familiar with Bush’s work until she was around 20 years old. “I was very much into the British indie scene,” she said. “All guitar music. There was this band Futureheads that did an amazing cover of ‘Hounds of Love.’ My artsy friends told me I had to hear the original.”

Once she got into Bush, she said, “it was so revelatory.” And she’s thrilled to see a new generation catching on to Bush’s otherworldly ways, “like a new world is being opened up. That’s exactly how I felt when I heard her music for the first time. There’s no one else like her.”


CONCERT PREVIEW

Florence + the Machine

8 p.m. Sept. 21. $40.50-$80.50. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta, livenation.com.

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