Florist is here to make friends
For Florist, a jam isn't just a jam. The four-piece folk band (consisting of Emily Sprague, Felix Walworth, Jonnie Baker and Rick Spataro — all multi-instrumentalists) makes quiet, contemplative, delicate music, and has for years; the band's first two albums, 2016's The Birds Outside Sang and 2017's If Blue Could Be Happiness, are long-beloved cornerstones of DIY indie music. But now, on its self-titled fourth album, Florist's music has grown wild, untamed. The record's hour runtime comprises as many ambient instrumentals as conventional songs, and many tracks feature long, sprawling improvisational sections.
The foursome's decade-long friendship has always been the foundation of Florist's music, but this musical change was prompted by some substantial personal change. Sprague's mother died in 2017; soon after, Sprague moved away from the band's Brooklyn base to Los Angeles, and recorded the only solo Florist album, 2019's Emily Alone. Companionship had become a difficult concept for her. When the band reconvened to make Florist, living together for a full month in a rented Hudson Valley house, it was a reach towards reconnection; and as they rediscovered their relationships, their music followed suit.
"A lot of it is just us recording our different emotional stages throughout a day, throughout a month — us just being open with each other," says Spataro. "There's a lot of impromptu stuff, the sense that we're just existing around each other. If I listen to the music, I'm reminded of the rest of the band, and of what this means to me."
Spataro and Sprague first met in 2010, when Spataro recorded some of Sprague's early solo music. Soon after, Baker moved in with him, was introduced to Sprague, and the trio began playing together as Florist; they met Walworth on a tour in 2012. All of their connections were instant and intuitive, they say, forming a deep bond that they describe as familial.
"I rarely meet people that are quite as weird and sensitive as we are," says Sprague. "When you meet somebody who is also like that, you're drawn to them, because I think we need to find each other in this world." Sprague describes the comfort the band members feel around each other as an openness — "beyond just being honest," she says, "but being exposed fully around each other."
"We're not friends like we go out and talk about the weather," Sprague says. "We're friends like we are a part of each other's souls." Common conversation topics between them are mental health, death and "different [planes] of existence." Early in their friendship, says Baker, he and Spataro would get high, wordlessly play piano together and allow themselves to touch each other's hands.
That rawness extends to their musical process too, which Walworth describes as "unmappable." Since the band's inception, the members have written their music in service to vulnerability and honesty, they say, and much of that involves trusting their own and each other's impulses. It can be a temperamental process, varying with the four's mood and energy, even from minute to minute. "There's a homeostasis to us or something. We have to have our chemicals balanced," says Sprague.
"Yeah, and when they're not, we almost don't know what the f*** we're doing. But when it's balanced, it's this religious experience," says Walworth.
Though Sprague wrote it in sunny California, Emily Alone was the darkest, most wintry Florist album. It's a bare and deeply solitary walk through grief, stopping to ask questions of the ocean or the wind but never leaning on another human shoulder. There was a certain amount of fear driving Sprague's desire to be on the opposite coast from family both blood and chosen. "The pain of losing my mom really made me question whether I could have any relationships in my life at all," she says. "The fear of experiencing that feeling again was making it pretty tempting to just cut everything completely off."
Yet still, the friendship and love at the heart of Florist was felt in the other band members' absence, in their support as Sprague worked through all the inner questioning she needed to. Despite being a solo album, she says, Emily Alone is a Florist record "because, [while] these people didn't play on it, they're on it." This opened the door to making Florist, which not only welcomes the rest of the band back into the fold, but celebrates their presence with a new intentionality. "It's this holy ceremony of being in community and having collaboration and connection," says Sprague. "It's worth how much it's gonna hurt when we have to watch each other die, basically — that's what this whole album is about."
The first non-instrumental on Florist is "Red Bird Pt. 2 (Morning)." Sprague sings to her father, reflecting on how their home, once a sanctuary, now carries for them both an immense grief. It's an encouraging, tender song; "She's in the birdsong, she won't be gone," she reassures him. While Emily Alone was about internally wrangling with despair, the lyrics on Florist communicate external moments of support and comfort. "Family, don't let me go to the place I don't want to come back from," Sprague sings on "Two Ways." On "Organ's Drone," her bandmates join her in repeating, "Do not say goodbye."
While recording Florist, the band often played through takes out on the front porch, letting nature play a part in their communion; rain and cricket sounds blanket many of the recordings. The album was shaped at a leisurely pace, without much of a plan. Some days, the members would split up and spend a whole evening working on song parts on their own; others, they'd just switch on the tape recorder while they fooled around with instruments. After the album's completion, Sprague moved back to her Catskills hometown, finally ready to embrace all the love in her life once again.
"You came out of those feelings of wanting to recede and build self-sufficiency — which is also a deeply important journey — and entered this project with this totally fearless relationship to collaboration," Walworth tells Sprague. "I remember sitting with you and going over lyrics together, which [over] the last eight years would have been a big no-no. [And] it would have been so impossible for us to write a six-minute jam song before. It's so vulnerable, [to] all take up space around each other. This time, there was a generosity from everyone."
"It really is this document of us working out our relationships, and having a long overdue meeting of that music thing that we do together," Sprague confirms. Though the album sounds like Florist at its most ambitious, it's more accurately Florist at its most open. "I like that the songs are all so long, and it's hard for them to be singles, and there's instrumentals between every song, and it's really meant to be listened to as an album. That is so important to me, that it's a challenge, and it's patient. It's not easy to digest. Because it is an attempt at talking about this stuff that you can almost not talk about with words," explains Sprague. "It needs all those pieces, and we all contributed to that, and that's why it's as lush as it is and has as much depth as it has. I'm not interested in making anything that's easy. Because life's not easy, you know?"
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