Florence Welch on sobriety, ‘High as Hope,’ and new beginnings

Florence Welch
Florence Welch Vincent Haycock

It’s early April, and Florence Welch is finally feeling well-rested. In a month, she’ll be back on tour, bowling over entire stadiums with the baroque balance of grace and frenzy that few pop acts navigate as flawlessly as Florence + the Machine. But when Welch speaks to the Globe ahead of a new leg of US dates (including a stop this Thursday at Mansfield’s Xfinity Center), she’s on a break at home in South London, about as far from center stage as it gets.

“I just sleep,” says the flame-haired frontwoman, enthusiastically. “I don’t leave my house. My poor friends, they’re like, ‘I want to see you,’ but I can’t move.”


That Welch is known for leaving it all on stage is part of what makes Florence + the Machine such a powerful live act. The most recent tour dates proved especially draining; that’s because Welch’s fourth and latest album, “High as Hope,” is also her most personal. Welch reflected on making it, getting sober, and her tumultuous past decade.

Q. You’ve described “High as Hope” as a vulnerable record. Why is that?

A.It’s perhaps the realer side of me than the magical side I sometimes go into in my music. It’s more based in everydayness, and that itself is vulnerable. It’s very easy to hide behind esoteric metaphors, and I didn’t really do that on this record. There was a layer removed. You bring people closer to you and, because they have accepted you as you are — as flawed, as human — you feel freer.

Q. Eating disorders, depression, grief, the unbearable loneliness of being alive — you certainly cover rocky emotional ground. It must have been gratifying to see your fans embrace that.

A. I’m very grateful to the fanbase I have. I feel like they understand me, somehow. There’s a kinship there, where if they come to the shows, I will give them every part of myself. In the songs, I will tell them things I can’t even tell my closest friends.


Q. “High as Hope” is, gorgeously so, this articulation and exploration of struggle. It’s also the first album you’ve made fully sober. As a musician, you’ve seen how some in the industry buy into sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll stereotypes, how others work to shed them. How has your perspective changed on the industry, and your place within it, these past 10 years?

A. I definitely bought into the rock ’n’ roll idea. I bought into the idea that if I could party harder than anyone, I’d be more rock ’n’ roll. And before it got bad, I [expletive] loved it. Before it was really bad, I thought I was really good at it. And that’s the problem with thinking you’re really good at partying, that you’re actually, probably not good. It’s not good to stay up for a week when you were only meant to go out for a night.

Q. But when that’s what you’re constantly around, it’s harder to call that out.

A. I’d grown up in this scene in South London that was very boozy, and that's how I understood performance. You were just as drunk as possible, and then you got a bucket of paint, and you had a band or you didn’t, but you’d just go. And “Lungs” was totally like that. I was just trying to outdrink all the boys. I was pretty successful at it, I must say. I took that as a point of pride, that it was such a male-dominated environment and I could outdrink all these people. But I had to unlearn that. I wanted to be one of those people who didn’t give a [expletive], who didn’t care what they did on a night out, that they blacked out. That’s the idea of rock ’n’ roll, that you also don’t care.


Q. And that wasn’t you.

A. I cared so much! I was so sensitive and fragile, and I was trying to beat that out of myself. I didn’t understand how sensitive I was, and I wasn’t feeling that fully until I embraced that you could be feminine, emotional, sensitive, and still be a headliner. That you could wear [expletive] chiffon and still be up there with the men. That was really healing, I think. I was also nervous that my chaos was my creativity, that they were intertwined and that, without pain, I wouldn’t be able to make things.

“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” was made in and out of sobriety. There’s so much desperation on that record — “I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine, but maybe not tonight.” I finally did tour that record sober; but I’d been writing songs in and out of this nightmare loop, and then the first day we shut the door to record was the first week I was sober. It was horrific. [Laughs] So bad.


Q. But it was also you being more honest with yourself in getting away from that lifestyle, it sounds like.

A.The whole touring of “How Big, How Blue” was this kind of catharsis, because everything was new, touring sober. It really brought me back to myself. When I went in to record “High as Hope,” I had a couple years of sobriety under my belt. And the creative freedom that gave me was like nothing else. It was like I got to make my first record again. Toward the end [of my drinking], when I was in a really bad place, I was showing up to the studio on the wrong day, crying, dragging songs out of myself, in so much pain. This time, I could show up and have my creative autonomy back. The songs flowed. I was writing poetry. I’d managed to be successful despite my demons, not because of them.

Q. “High as Hope” feels like it’s about that too, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

A.When you can start to show up for your life, everything changes. It’s kind of miraculous. I really think I almost threw away what I’d been given. And it's amazing to be back.

Florence + the Machine

At Xfinity Center, Mansfield, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $35-$109.50, www.livenation.com

Isaac Feldberg can be reached at isaac.feldberg@globe.com, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.