Florence Welch shares how anxiety came with her sobriety as she and the Machine embark on tour

Florence Welch feels things intensely.

From early hits “Dog Days Are Over,” “Shake It Out” and “Spectrum (Say My Name)” to the evocative emotional tsunamis on fifth album “Dance Fever,” Welch’s music with her band the Machine takes root in your soul.

The London-born Welch and seven-piece Machine launch a North American tour on Friday that will roll through October before heading overseas.

The band’s brew of indie pop and Welch’s distinctive mezzo-soprano voice – enticing on record – is even more striking on stage.

Calling from home on “Flo’s iPad,” Welch, 36, talked to USA TODAY about the intriguing songs on “Dance Fever,” filming videos in Ukraine and how Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham factors into the upcoming tour.

Florence + The Machine's North American tour to support "Dance Fever" will take the band to Boston, Washington, New York, Chicago and Seattle.

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Question: “Dance Fever” is such a phenomenal album. Can we talk about the song “Free"?  

Answer: “Free” was written in 2019 and ironically was the last song written before the first lockdown in the U.K. But even before the pandemic, I had been struggling with panic attacks and anxiety. There’s this thing that happens when you’ve been sober for a while and it’s been eight years for me. Your anxiety or whatever you’ve been suppressing comes to meet you, and when you get sober, you’re still managing it in other ways. When your life basically is settled and stable, it’s almost as if the body goes, “OK, time to release this,” but it was confusing to me, like why? The anxiety has been a constant force in my life for as long as I can remember, but there was a period in 2019 when it was particularly bad.

Can you share the backstory about the video, too, which you filmed in Ukraine and stars Bill Nighy?

There is a character in this video. I’m always running from something, so what is this something and how do we represent this? It’s extremely British to say something terrible and then be like, “ha ha ha.” We wanted to capture the sense of humor in the song, and (video director Autumn de Wilde) said, what about Bill? I didn’t think he’d say yes and he did. He was so good. He’s playing my anxiety. He’s a complete treasure. 

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Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine will bring her theatrical sensibility to the production for the band's fall tour behind the album "Dance Fever."

It’s a beautiful scene at the end of the video, which you shot in Kyiv in November, along with the videos for “King” and “Heaven Is Here.” Do you feel a strong kinship with the Ukrainians?  

I can’t talk about it without crying. It was an amazing crew, amazing people. We had such an amazing time. We knew we were going to do a lot of stunts and they have amazing stunt people. It’s all been so devastating. A lot of it lately has been finding out if people were OK, making sure people were safe.

Does “King,” where you sing about mixing motherhood and a career, take on even deeper resonance now with everything women are dealing with in the U.S. with reproductive rights?

I think songs can hold things. The reason I make songs and I do performances is to give out statements. Songs can hold my feelings about things. They do tend to reflect what’s happening and it enters into the song and changes it.

You got me fascinated by choreomania (explored in a song of the same name). When did you learn about this phenomenon, where groups of people danced themselves to hysteric exhaustion?

I discovered it in 2019 when a friend told me about it and I went down a complete rabbit hole. I’d never heard of it. I couldn’t believe that this thing existed and there were outbreaks of it all over Europe from the 14th to 16th century. There are lots of theories about why it happened. It could have been a virus or a hallucinogenic brain and people were high or it was a psychological response to stress. I understood deeply that you could be so stressed that you could go onto the street and dance until you collapsed.

Florence + the Machine released the critically praised "Dance Fever" in spring 2022 and will tour North America this fall to support the album.

What can you share about the production for the Dance Fever tour?

We were looking at a lot of Miss Havisham references. There’s a funny sense of tragedy ascribed to unmarried, childless women at 35 and I do think people maybe think I sit in an old, crumbling mansion, crying in a wedding dress. So I was like, let’s just make that, then! I wanted to play with the humor and that sense of tragedy.

When you’re on the road, are there any must-haves on the tour bus?

I have to bring stuff to decorate every dressing room. Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of old piano shawls from various vintage stores and bring my own embroidered bedspreads. That really helps. No matter what hotel room I’m in, no matter what bus I’m in, I have things I can dress a room in.

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