Sure, nowadays it wouldn't be too hard to imagine the hauntingly gorgeous Florence + the Machine frontwoman singing in a cemetery. But can you imagine any little kid being a regular performer at funerals?
In an interview with the Telegraph, Florence Welch detailed her earliest gigs, saying that by age seven she was the go-to performer for family weddings and funerals...then quickly clarified her statement, admitting it was "mainly funerals."
She might look like one of the fiercest frontwomen out there, but Flo used to need to drink before every performance. She kept up that regimen for nearly four years, but when she tried to return to her old habits to promote How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, she wound up breaking her foot during her Coachella performance. The injury was a wake-up call. She told Billboard:
"I'm quite shy, really—that's probably why I used to drink a lot. But I don't anymore. When I finally took time off to make this new record, I had time to strengthen. And when I was coming back into the fray, I really didn't want to lose that. I thought I could go dive-bomb back into it, but look what happened. I dived into it and literally broke myself."
Florence's drinking habits not only took a toll on her body, but her wallet. The singer detailed an account where she had "about 17 dirty martinis" while hanging out with fellow music geniuses Kanye West and Lykke Li. The night of partying led her to lose her phone, ruin a dress, chip a tooth (!) and worse.
She told Q magazine:
"I lost my phone and ripped my dress very badly. I accidentally set fire to The Bowery Hotel because I'd left a cinnamon tea light burning. I came back to the hotel, passed out in my ripped dress - no phone, chipped tooth - came round and there was black stuff all over the wall, my book had melted on the bedside table and there was a bucket of water on the floor. Actually the last scene you want to wake up to with a hangover. Half the room was singed."
The singer added the damage cost her "a couple of hundred" pounds alongside a hefty bar tab.
Taylor Swift is known for her gang of strong gal pals and Welch is unsurprisingly one of them. What is surprising is how the country-turned-pop star ended up influencing Welch's new album—a record that really couldn't be any more different than a Swift LP.
"Taylor said that you must sing about what’s happening in your life," Welch said about Tay's songwriting influence on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. "It’s about being honest. This could’ve been a breakup record, but it was much more about trying to understand myself."
Though the two have never been photographed together, Taylor and Florence's relationship is strong. Swift said that Flo is one of the "very few people [she's] met in her life who are truly electric...every time I've been around her, she is the most magnetic person in the room," while Flo visits Tay every time she visits New York.
Welch has revealed she suffers from dyslexia, anxiety and dyspraxia (a neurological disorder that impairs motor, memory, judgment and other cognitive skills). On top of this, Welch's childhood wasn't easy, with her parents divorcing at age 11. She moved into her stepfather's home shortly after, and at the age of 13 witnessed her bipolar grandmother commit suicide.
A young Flo would instead channel her frustrations into songs and focus on herself, slowly creating the Florence Welch we know today.
At age 18, Florence started writing music with her younger sister's babysitter, Isabella Summers who was six years her senior. Isabella would go on to be the first member of "the Machine" in Florence + the Machine and today remains the band's keyboardist, co-writer and the singer's best friend.
You've been duped this whole time! After Florence was signed in 2008, the singer—who's naturally a brunette—began promoting at festivals like SXSW and opened for early MGMT tours which led her to begin dying her hair and wearing elaborate costumes.
Though, Welch admits that her looks were most a defense mechanism. She explained to Billboard:
"I did my first press shot when I was 20, and it was the first time I ever saw myself in a newspaper. I was in shorts, with a goofy grin, and I was terrified. I saw that and was like, 'No way.' It was too raw, too exposing to be that real. And so over time, I found ways to protect myself: The hair went bright red, my eyebrows went bleached off, my clothes were completely black and goth. I had a Siouxsie Sioux phase—I looked like a kind of bat. I was always climbing the rigging, always super drunk, yelling and crowd surfing. It was my way of dealing with all the attention."
Before Florence + the Machine even existed, Welch snagged her first big gig by approaching the well-connected DJ/promoter Mairead Nash in the bathroom of a bar. Describing her state of mind as "really drunk," she cornered Nash and sang Etta James' '60s hit "Something's Got a Hold on Me." She got booked to play a big industry Christmas party from it and Nash eventually became her manager.
Watch (a much more famous) Florence perform the classic, which she describes as "the whole reason I'm here today," above.
As a soloist, the singer we know today originally went by Florence Robot Was a Machine. Could you imagine the GRAMMYs calling up that name?
Her first band name was pretty gross (the punk-inspired Toxic Cockroaches) and things remained terrible when she teamed up with Isabella Summer for the duo known as Florence Robot/Isa Machine.
Welch and Summers eventually settled on Florence + the Machine after recruiting guitarist Robert Ackroyd, drummer Chris Hayden, bassist Mark Saunders and harpist Tom Monger.
Some musicians are picked as the face of a fashion brand or walk in a runway show, but Ms. Welch acts as inspiration for entire lines. In 2011, Gucci revealed the singer as the brand's inspiration ranging from the clothes to its runway models all wearing fiery-red hair.
The label's creative director Frida Giannini (above with Flo) told Dazed Digital: "As I was imagining this collection I was thinking of a strong and somewhat mysterious muse. Florence is that kind of woman."
...of dancing in supermarkets.
Of course, today we know that Florence majestically moves through her interpretive stage performances. But that all comes from her love of grovin' in grocery stores. She told Interview magazine that it more or less defines who she is:
"What I really like seeing from the stage is people having their own moments—like, if I’m singing 'Cosmic Love,' I’ll sometimes see people in the crowd doing [mimes out with hands] 'The stars! The moon!' I mean, I was always that girl growing up who you could find dancing down supermarket aisles. It's that sense of not feeling inhibited. Dancing in supermarkets is my favorite thing...it’s such a strange place because no one will look at you. Everything has such order and everyone is so focused on doing what they’re doing that no one ever pays attention to you spinning and dancing around supermarkets."
For such a musical force, you might be shocked to learn that Florence's mum really has no interest in music. Though she was a Studio 54 regular back in the day, Evelyn Welch "doesn't listen to music," according to her daughter and was was much more focused on academics—she's currently a renaissance studies professor and a vice principal at King's College London.
She says her dad, on the other hand, "knows everything about music."
The stunning singer said that her first album—the platinum-certified Lungs that included her band's breakout hit "Dog Days Are Over"—was a hodgepodge of influences:
"I grew up around this big art college that was producing a lot of these amazing art-college punk bands. Then the only music I was listening to for ages was old soul. So I wasn't listening to a lot of new music—especially indie music. I was listening to Nina Simone and Etta James and Billie Holiday and maybe a little Talking Heads and Joy Division, and then going to see these punk shows. So it was the really strange mix."
Old soul, punk and new-wave made one of the biggest albums of 2010. Sure, why not?
Nevermind how her gowns and flowing red locks would make her the perfect Disney princess, Flo has said her earliest musical memories include being a pretend one. She told ABC News, "Growing up, watching Disney films and musicals, I would always be in my nightgown in my room by myself, singing into a broom handle. It was kind of always there."
A real-life Cinderella!
It's well known in tabloid town that Flo's BFF is Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively. But not only is the stunner Florence's best gal pal, she's probably the best fan she's ever had.
"[Blake] actually came to our very first New York show," Florence told E! "She's been to all of the shows that we've done in America and she flew out to Las Vegas just because I was performing there over the New Year."
The girls have had one another for a ton of major moments in their lives including Lively bringing Florence on an episode of Gossip Girl while Blake had the singer perform at her secret wedding to Ryan Reynolds. Just watch their friendship in real life above.