Iceland's finest musical export and avant-pop queen talks to Time Out
Your latest album Vulnicura is quite emotional. How are you feeling now? I feel very, very different now. I wrote those songs a couple of years ago, which is a long time in affairs of the heart. Vulnicura was extreme. It was like, ‘How melodramatic am I being here?’ I decided that if I went all the way, it’d be tidiest in the long run. If I go really messy now, the mess will be done.
When you listen back to tracks that made you famous, such as ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, what do you think? I have a good relationship with my old songs. Obviously I can’t say that they couldn’t have been better. But I did my best at the time, and you can’t do any more than that. I also feel that each was very much a child of its time. I have an obligation to be the person of the age I am. At 49, I’m going to do a very different album than when I was 25.
Has making music become less mind-boggling? Every single time it’s going to be as difficult to solve the mystery – like, ‘Who am I?’ There are more hindrances because I’m a woman. Being the sort of topsy-turvy prankster I am, that makes me even more excited about the impossible riddle of that. Not many women singers have documented themselves after the age of 60.
How can you do that without pretending you’re 25? I have this beautiful album by [French artist] Louise Bourgeois where she’s singing – when she’s 70 or something – French children’s songs. And coughing between and smoking. I love it.
Your 2011 album Biophilia was released alongside a series of iPad apps. Can you imagine doing another album that’s multi-platform? I can see that happening. I’m just not sure what it is yet. It would have to be from a totally different angle. I’m flattered because people think of me as this really techy person, but I’m actually not.
Really? I’m a messenger of the average person. The way I use technology has always been waiting for it to come to me. I worked for such a long time in studios, and I see it quite a lot, people learn one gear and they get really good at it, and it starts directing the songwriting. The tool becomes the leader. I’m a singer, that’s my main tool, so that directs me a lot. With the Biophilia apps it was like, ‘Wow, now it’s so simple. I understand it.’
You had surgery on your vocal cords last year. How’s your voice holding up? Since the operation, I have some of the high notes better than I have had for a while, but also I’ve got some deep notes that I didn’t have before. And I haven’t used them. I’d like maybe to do an EP just with the deep notes. Vulnicura is available on www.apple.com/ae/itunes
Albums in review
We check out the latest offering from England's quirky lady ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ Florence and The Machine 5/5
If you’re still on the fence about Florence, I’m here to gently nudge you off it. We’re at album three. By now, we know all the keywords and clichés used around Florence Welch: kooky, loud, bohemian, baroque. What we rarely hear is the word ‘songwriter’, and that’s a monumental diss.
Her first release was ‘Lungs’ – good, but inconsistent, in that particular way debut albums can be.
Her last was 2010’s ‘Ceremonials’ – also good, but so overblown it sounded like four simultaneous Olympic openings, all soundtracked by Hans Zimmer. It’s taken three goes but to my mind, ‘How Big’ is her first really great album.
The trope around successful female artists is often to paint them as singular auteurs constantly shifting a paradigm, à la Kate Bush, Björk or FKA Twigs.
With complete respect to Flo, I don’t think she’s that person. Some of the songs here recall the searing drive of Fleetwood Mac, others evoke Led Zeppelin. There are moments that even sound a bit Radio 2.
Yet at a time when rock is mostly dying… Florence and her band have crafted an album with more hooks than a Cornish fishing town.
Speaking of which, some Florence perennials still exist, not least the nautical references: opening track ‘Ship to Wreck’ for example, or ‘Various Storms & Saints’. And then there’s still that foghorn voice.
But the crucial difference here is that the bombast has been reined in just enough to let the songwriting shine.
The hushed, ‘Like a Prayer’-style opening of ‘What Kind of Man?’ gives way to stabbing guitars that excite like never before. Sparky, offbeat phrasing keeps songs like ‘Third Eye’ utterly riveting, and then there’s the title track: a jaw-dropping centrepiece that begins like a serious ABBA song, before sliding with glacial grace into a long, pastoral brass arrangement that will probably see the greatest (legal) release of endorphins at festivals this year.
Still on the fence? I hope not. This is an overwhelmingly accomplished record that deserves your time. Oliver Keens