For Florence Welch, the Machine albums Lungs (2009) and Ceremonials (2011) meant five years of back-to-back recording, promoting and touring. The album was written while on the road and recorded straight after coming off tour.
At 21, with two albums behind her, Florence discovered that in giving seven years to her music, some elements of real life had been left by the wayside. Coming back from tour and moving out of her mother’s Camberwell home, Florence re-engaged with normal life: going out, falling in and out of love, and simply trying to learn how to look after herself outside of the hermetic bubble of life of the road.
“It was sort of a crash landing” Florence freely admits, “I guess although I’ve always dealt in fantasy and metaphor when I came to writing, that meant the songs this time were dealing much more in reality. Ceremonials was so fixated on death and water, and the idea of escape or transcendence through death, but the new album became about trying to learn how live, and how to love in the world rather than trying to escape from it. Which is frightening because I’m not hiding behind anything but it felt like something I had to do.”
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, a collection of songs, written and recorded over the course of 2014. Produced by Markus Dravs (Björk, Arcade Fire, Coldplay) with contributions from Paul Epworth, Kid Harpoon and John Hill.
“Markus has done a few Arcade Fire albums,” Florence tells us, “and he’s done Björk’sHomogenic, which is a huge record for me. And I felt he had that balance of organic and electronic capabilities, managing those two worlds. And, you know, he’s good with big sounds. And I like big sounds. And he’s good with trumpets, and I knew I wanted a brass section on this record,” she adds of a group of musicians who were arranged by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp.
“And with Markus,” Florence continues, clarifying, “I wanted to make something that was big but that had a gentleness to it. That had a warmth, that was rooted. I think that’s why we went back more to the live instruments. Something that was band-led almost.”
“‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ was the first song I wrote for this record, literally as I just came off tour,” she explains, “and then I went off and had this incredibly chaotic year, and that all went into the record. But in the end, the feeling of How Big How Blue is what I came back to.
“The trumpets at the end of that song—that’s what love feels like to me. An endless brass section that goes off into space. And it takes you with it. You’re so up there. And that’s what music feels like to me. You want it just to pour out endlessly, and it’s the most amazing feeling.”