Since she was discovered, as the story goes, singing Etta James while drunk in the loo of a London nightclub just a few years ago, the flame-haired singer Florence Welch has ascended to superstardom with a sureness and swiftness that feels almost pre-destined. When her band, Florence + the Machine, releases its second studio album, “Ceremonials,” this November, the eyes and ears of the world will be upon her. To her surprise, she’s okay with that. “I don’t think I could have been more stressed the first time around; I was a wreck,” says Welch. “What’s nice is that this time I do get to look back…so I actually feel a bit more comfortable. Is that weird?”
Released in the summer of 2009, Florence + the Machine’s debut album, “Lungs,” spent 27 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, with tracks heard everywhere from “Glee” to “Twilight” to the “Eat Pray Love” trailer. The group received a Best New Artist Grammy nomination in 2010, and by the time the ceremony came around this February, Welch was part of the show opener, joining Jennifer Hudson and Christina Aguilera in a tribute to Aretha Franklin.
She’s still only 24 and living with her family in South London, but like Adele and the late Amy Winehouse, Welch is an old soul forging a new soul sound — ghostly pale and six feet tall in flowing gowns, with a bluesy wail and the songwriting chops to elevate the dramas in her head into grand epics. On this summer’s North American tour, Welch traded her signature vintage looks for custom Gucci garments designed by the label’s creative director Frida Giannini: just one of the fashion folk who has claimed the ethereal singer as her muse.
“Ceremonials” will surely only add to her mystique. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Paul Epworth, the songs are ambitious and sonically grand in the vein of “Cosmic Love,” exploring themes of life, love and death with orchestral swells and layered, soaring vocals. For Welch, this is an even more natural form of expression than talking. “Maybe because I have this massive musical outlet,” she offers, “when I have a conversation I feel like I’m not saying it properly.”