Just to get onstage, Florence Welch has to induce herself into what she calls a “trance state.” She listens to whatever music she’s been loving lately and simply zones out.
Her playlist lately — as she’s been readying herself for months of twirling dervish performances on Florence and the Machine‘s new North American arena tour, in support of this year’s excellent High as Hope LP — has included the new album by indie rockers White Denim, the rigid, nearly rapped “Chequeless Reckless” by the Irish garage-rock group Fontaines D.C. (“It’s incredible,” she fawns) and the soulful “Jewelry” by Blood Orange. “Sometimes I’ll put on something and listen to it over and over again,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I have to start giving myself over to whatever it is that’s in charge of performances — the performance spirit or whatever the fuck it is. I don’t know, because it’s not really me.”
On the handful of dates she’s played so far this year, her set lists have featured about half of High as Hope along with selections from her three previous albums for typically emotional performances. The only way she’s able to do it, she says, is by surrendering to the moment — whether she likes it or not. Ultimately, it’s about trust. “I always feel like there’s some sacred ground on the stage,” she says.
One time when she unwittingly ventured out of her trance state led to disaster. At Coachella 2015, she infamously tried to jump off the stage and broke her foot in the process. “I had suddenly become self-conscious,” she recalls. “I’d just taken my shirt off in front of a bazillion people, and I realized that I’d done that. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, what the fuck?’ When you’re in the trance and you go with it, you’re like, ‘Everyone take your clothes off,’ and you’re with everybody. But in that act, I suddenly … it’s like the fucking Adam and Eve thing: ‘Oh, my God, I just realized that I took my top off in front of all these people. I’m not supposed to do that.’
“I became self-aware for one second, and I was like, ‘I have to get off this stage because all these people can see me,'” she continues. “So I threw myself off the stage, but in a self-conscious way that hurt me, because I back in the physical. It was like I suddenly became clunky. When you’re in the almost out-of-body space, you’re usually pretty safe because you’re doing things in such a fluid way that you won’t hurt yourself.”
Sometimes the dichotomy between her trance state and her actual self becomes too much for her to bear. It’s a tug-of-war between self-consciousness and discomfort, she says. “It may be part of the performance itself, where you’re at odds with yourself sometimes,” she says. “But I wouldn’t say all the time that I’m totally comfortable. It’s almost in the anger at that and the pushing through and the sort of ‘fuck you’ to myself that the performance comes out.”