Florist’s music always seems to thrive in liminal spaces. In ways both mesmerizing and demystifying, their songs explore and swing between the mundane and the metaphysical, the profound interconnectedness of nature and the constant blurriness of home, love and death. It’s a project firmly rooted in vulnerability and collaboration, with friendship at its core; but it’s also, as a press release for 2019’s Emily Alone put it, a “mutable entity,” one that responds to the mysterious and necessary ebb and flow of existence as much as it seeks to document it. Emily Sprague wrote and recorded that album alone in the wake of her mother’s death, a traumatic event that led her to isolate herself in Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from the band’s base in Brooklyn. It was still released under the Florist moniker, she has explained, because though none of her bandmates – guitarist Jonnie Baker, bassist Rick Spataro, and percussionist Felix Walworth – play on the record, she could feel their presence.
On Florist, the band’s fourth LP – out today – you can certainly hear it, too. In June 2019, the group convened in a rented house in the Hudson Valley, where they lived together for a full month. The intensely collaborative process may sound like the exact opposite of the one behind Emily Alone, but it’s not hard to understand why it’s billed as its companion. Rather than merely reflecting on the idea of opening yourself up in the aftermath of loss and personal turmoil, the almost hour-long self-titled album captures the intimacy, wonder, and darkness that permeates a certain space in time. As a result, it achieves an impeccable balance, paying attention to both internal changes and external details, leaving room between them while also letting them bleed into one another. On the standout ‘Sci-Fi Silence’, the band sings with inexplicable joy of the thing that endures through it all: “You’re not what I have but what I love.” It’s a sign of relief, a miraculous revelation laid out in its purest, most gentle form.
We caught up with Florist to talk about the making of their self-titled album, their memories of June 2019, their friendship, and more. Read the interview and listen to the album below.
When you find yourselves talking about the album nowadays, between the four of you or with friends and family, what usually comes up in those conversations? Is it memories from June 2019? Certain sounds or lyrics that have taken on new meaning? Any abstract thoughts?
Rick Spataro: We’re in upstate New York right now. It’s basically the same sort of weather as when we were recording in June of 2019, and we’re probably like a 20-minute drive from where we were recording. Even just talking about the release coming out, I’m feeling very much taken back to then. Just the humidity, the bugs, the entire environment. I have very vivid memories of the environment we were recording in more than anything, just being in that house we’re in. It’s super evocative of that to talk about it and also be in a similar literal climate.
Emily Sprague: Yeah, I feel like when we talk about it in private or amongst each other – not that it wasn’t this way immediately after, but I feel like now that so much time has passed since that first month in June 2019, I would say we all remember it I think really fondly. We’re really nostalgic about it. It really became, at least for me, this huge memory in my life that is really important and just feels really good to think about. So many things will trigger that memory, like being in similar weather and similar time of year. Hearing the songs obviously does still take me back there. But I feel like when I tell people about it, too, I’m just like: It was intense, but it was one of the best things ever. I feel really warm and fuzzy inside when I think about it. [laughs] I think we tend to talk about it that, we like to reminisce about it.
RS: Obviously, with a pandemic that we didn’t know was going to happen, it seems like longer ago than it was, I think, because so many different stages of life have happened. It seems distant in a lot of ways, when it really is not that long ago.
ES: It’s both kinda long ago but not really that long ago, but a completely different world. In so many ways, it’s like looking back on someone who has no idea what’s coming. There’s maybe a bit of innocence to my memories about it in that way, too. I feel like I can look back and be like, “Wow, we were just so… almost like animals or something.” [laughs] Just living kind of a simple existence, doing this thing there. And it feels surreal to look back on that, because it’s just not what our life has ever been since. But it’s beautiful that we have the record of it – literally the record of it, right?
It feels even more so like your record of it because you’ve integrated so many sounds and recordings that evoke the environment in almost accidental and literal ways – the rain, the crickets, the collection of bells that were in the house. I also read that you set up gear on the front porch of the house. If I were to close my eyes and imagine it, how would you describe the view looking out from that porch? What would my eyes follow? And does it change from day to day – even just the feeling of it, the atmosphere?
ES: The house was situated on a pretty steep hill, so when you approach the house from the front, it just kind of looked like a normal house. If you’re looking at it from the front, the porch was coming off of the right side of the house. But the way that the hill and just the landscape was and how this house was built into the landscape, it dropped off pretty quickly halfway through the house, and the house was stilted up, the back part of it. And the porch itself, from the front, it was just a few feet from the ground, but from the back of the porch, it was probably like eight or 10 feet from the side of the hill. So when you walked into the porch from the house, it like felt like you were floating, kind of. You were surrounded by trees and looked out at this hill – but the trees, you would see the tops of them that were at the hill below that were just coming up from outside of the porch. It just felt like a really remote canopy tree house type of thing.
Felix Walworth: Almost like a pavilion or something.
ES: Yeah, it was just very exposed and the ceilings were high. Like a pavilion, or even almost like an outside temple or something. It had a really interesting spatial relation to everything.
RS: When you were on the porch, it was entirely screened in. Besides the side that went into the house, you were seeing all the way around as much as you could. And the hill went down and it was a floodplain; at the bottom of the hill there was sort of an open field. And there was this creek, so you could look down the hill and see the creek, but you couldn’t really see any other houses. There were some that weren’t too far away, but more or less if you just looked around you wouldn’t see other structures. You’d see flatland in front of the house and then the steep big hill and creek behind the house.
ES: And at nighttime, it would be pitch black dark outside past the screen, but you could feel like the outside was right there. And then also that sense of, it just became a big open air space kind of thing, like you were in the middle of a big open space. You could feel it, but not exactly see it.
FW: Other than the sort of visual sensory experience, you could really feel the thickness of the air. It was really humid, we were always outside playing through that and breathing this heavy summer air. I think about making that album when I’m out here on the porch, not making the album. [laughs]
ES: We probably could have released the album earlier, but I think it was important for it to be heard for the first time during that season, at least for us in North America. It was this type of upstate New York, East Coast, Northeast kind of summer feeling that I think is ingrained in all of us in a pretty nostalgic way just from growing up here. It’s just that feeling of a summer night where it feels like there’s kind of nothing to worry about. That’s such a classic trope, almost, but the record that we made has this darkness to it that also holds that – the feelings are so strong with the environment and with the time and space and that almost memory capsule, but then it also has this spookiness about it that’s meant to communicate with that nostalgia feeling or the feeling of time being bottled up. I think the space was just perfect for that.
RS: I think overall, there was no way to be on the porch where we were recording and not smell and hear and see things that were going on around you. There’s pretty much constant – some sort of bugs or birds or something making noise. You were feeling the wind or any of the weather –
RS: Right, big storms a few times. Basically, we had to blend into that environment. We couldn’t fight it. There was no way to record songs and not have those sounds captured. And I think we were generally okay with that. But it was just what was naturally there, we didn’t add field recordings or anything like that. It was basically just, you hear what’s happening while we’re doing it.
You were both living together as friends and working as collaborators during that time. Did you find that it was necessary to ever draw a line between those two things?
ES: There are no lines, really. I think a big part of the album, also, is that it is this musical representation of what we do when we just get together as friends, the ways in which we play music. I don’t think we’ve ever had a relationship to each other that was like, either or.
FW: I don’t think we ever had a schedule for any day. We woke up and we all sort of just fell into the process of making music together, when it felt correct. We were all also during that time going through a lot of different things in our lives privately that we were bringing into the space. And we made this process our whole lives – that was kind of intentional. Rather than waking up and going to the studio, and then going back home and tending to ourselves in whatever domestic space we had, we were like, “No one has a life. [laughs] This is life.”
Jonnie Baker: I think we were all pretty happy to be able to do that because we hadn’t been able to do that before, we hadn’t had the resources to do that in that way. We all wanted to do that. It wasn’t like we were holding ourselves hostage or something.
FW: No, it was beautiful. It did feel very boundaryless, but not in a way of people pushing past each other or transgressing, in a way of really listening to each other and cohabitating. I think the sound of that is on the record, too, especially in the more improvised tracks that are evidence of people sort of wandering in and out of this space. Like, you can hear when someone isn’t involved because they’re making dinner or, like, crying or something. [all laugh] Or at least I can hear that.
RS: Yeah, there are things that ended up on the album where one of us literally during the recording is walking into the room.
FW: Like turning on an instrument.
JB: The first track on the album [‘June 9th Nightime’] was that. I was recording something by myself and then Rick just walked in – I don’t know the way we cut it if you could hear him walking in, but he literally just walked in, turned on his amp and started playing while I was recording.
ES: You can listen closely to that first track and hear that, and then hear Felix talking to somebody.
JBL Yeah, that’s right.
ES: It’s really quiet, but you can find that if you really listen.
JB: I love that.
FW: It’s so sick.
Now that you mentioned that detail, I’ll always try to tune in to it. I wanted to single out another track, too. Even though it’s one of the quieter moments on the album, ‘Organ’s Drone’ also strikes me as one of the more communal. What do you remember about it? What does it bring to mind?
ES: That was one we did live, right?
FW: I think we tracked that entirely live.
ES: Yeah, so that makes sense.
RS: I think we recorded the song live, but then we overdubbed us singing the chorus. I do remember doing that. So, about halfway through the month, we found out that our instruments were getting kind of messed up on the porch, so we had to move the recording setup downstairs. Some of the other tracks were recorded downstairs in the house, and this was definitely on the porch, but maybe it was one of the later ones we did on the porch. For me at least, because they’re all sort of like landmarks in the experience, a lot of the working titles we had for the album had the dates in them, so they’re tying each song to a certain part of the experience as a whole. But yeah, I just have that memory of doing the group vocals out on the porch.
JB: I thought it was funny how we immediately all looked at Rick for that because we know he has the best memory of all of us. [all laugh]
ES: Rick remembers everything. But I do remember the feeling of making that song, and it being like one of the strongest moments of us doing something like playing live. There’s a lot of playing live on the record in terms of the arranged stuff, but there’s also a whole range of us working on stuff at different points and alone or separately or together. But the first thing that we started to do when we got there was to play a handful of stuff, just recording takes on the tape machine and getting used to playing together, just trying to figure out how to get things to sound the way that we want them on the porch.
And I remember that one being almost like the culmination of doing that. We had done almost everything that we did on the porch, and it was just this really easy song, almost – all the other songs have a lot more of a heaviness to them. And that song is a little bit more of Florist six years ago or something, and that also felt weirdly perfect. I remember when we were doing that after having done a few of the other ones out there, like hours of takes at night, kind of being in this really weird, almost demented mental headspace. [laughs] And then that one just being this bright, easy, sunny feeling. It was a nice day, I remember, that day. We were all kind of laying about in there.
FW: I remember the feeling of nailing that one. There couldn’t have been too many takes, it was probably four or five.
ES: Yeah, that was the one where immediately we just got it and it felt right.
FW: It felt so good. There was like a weight to the rhythm of it, and we were all so perfectly synced up. And the process of recording, because we were living together and doing this constantly – and also being four people with really sort of volatile mental states at times – there was an ebb and flow of alignment and misalignment, but we converge just on this emotional state, this place of connectedness, and make something that we all just know in that moment – we’re like, “Ugh, we got it.”
ES: The rhythm section on that song too, when we went into recording it, I don’t think there was any arrangement at all. I was maybe even thinking it would be super minimal, not even have drums. I tend to think things shouldn’t have drums, but that’s why we make decisions about that together. There are definitely things on the record that we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the arrangements of and exactly what was going to be on it, how it’s gonna be played, but this one, I don’t think there was any real discussion about what it was going to be. You two [Felix and Rick] just immediately started playing that rhythm section at the end. It was one of those easy things that you’re always pretty lucky to get.
RS: I remember the whole month, especially the first couple of weeks on the porch, trying to get the actual sounds to be a certain way, the sonics of the recording.
ES: That one has the car keys on it, right?
RS: It does, yeah. And it always felt like a work in progress. I think something about this one – it does to me sound pretty loose, there’s quite a bit of noise, the drum sound has a lot of bleed in it. I think we might have done the acoustic guitar and the drums live, so there’s quite a bit of bleed. There’s something sort of crunchy about it. But when you get it right, having it not be perfect serves the song better. I remember that feeling of this slightly janky sound working perfectly for that.
FW: There’s one thing in the song that, to me, really makes the song. There’s a sound right at the beginning of the second verse. To me, it sounds like a car pulling out of a driveway, even though I believe it was a synth sound that was overdubbed actually like two years later. But it just lives in this space of possibility within the house we were living in. Even though I know for a fact there was no super loud car pulling out of the driveway in the middle of our take, I picture it as, like, one of our friends is going out to the grocery store or something.
RS: We did have a lot of visitors, too.
FW: Yeah, it was just like a hive.
Can you each share one thing that you love about everyone else in the group?
ES: There’s so many things. [laughs] I think my favourite thing about us is our ability – everyone’s individual ability and then as a group – the ability to just be patient with each other and love each other unconditionally. I really feel like there’s something that has given us the longevity that we have as friends that is really rooted in patience and respect and trust.
JB: I feel like one of my favourite things is just the mystery of, like, how the hell I ended up with you guys.
ES: Yeah, that’s a big mystery.
JB: It’s very strange. It’s absurd how well it works. I think about it most days of my life. [Emily laughs] I’m just like, How did that happen? And it’s not a very definitive answer – I don’t mean to worship my own confusion, but it is just an insane thing that happened. And I love that.
ES: Well, it’s just the chaos of the universe, basically, and that being undefinable. You can’t, like, solve it.
FW: I feel like so many relationships and friendships that have lasted as long as ours have a tendency to splinter as people change, in ways that are good, often – you know, people change, and they become misaligned and it’s important to examine these things. But I’ve just been thinking lately about, like, we’ve all changed so much.
ES: Many different times.
FW: The people that we were when we met each other are just four or five iterations of self ago. But through all of the changes that we’ve experienced – on a personal level and in our relationships, the sort of modes of our relationships changing in pretty intense ways over time – we’ve grown entangled around each other in this beautiful way. It’s miraculous. I just can’t believe that every time one of these guys grows in some way, I’m like, “I love that one, too. [all laugh] I want that one around me.”
RS: We have the freedom within this friendship, within this band, to be ourselves as intensely as we want to be, as we feel at any given moment. And I think that is, in a lot of ways, what makes this special to me. And in the music, I notice that too – I don’t know if that’s something that’s heard by everyone, but each of us having our own tastes and our own personality, but accepting each other and loving each other for those differences, different strengths and whatnot. I’m just happy that I can be myself and that I can watch them be themselves.
FW: That’s so beautiful.
ES: So beautiful.
FW: And it’s so rare. I think about so many relationships that I have, where I’m like, Can I really pour everything about myself into that and not to be scared? I’m so able to just be a total piece of trash around you guys – have been like a million times. [all laugh] You know, deeply disappoint you…
RS: It’s really important, though.
ES: It’s balanced. And it’s realistic.
FW: And I have that for you guys. I have infinite – I expect you to be you at your worst when you need to be. You know that. It’s just so rare and precious.
ES: And not to mention, somehow, without even really having to workshop this at all musically, we rarely ever disagree. Even since we started playing together – every time we’ve been at that beginning stage, the sensibilities of what we like, we have really similar ultimate visions of what we’re working on or what the sound is that we’re trying to get. Which is a totally secondary thing to our relationships, but that is a weird mystery as well. And pretty awesome. Everyone is just different enough in those things that when it comes together, it creates the combination of all of us, in a way. Maybe that’s obvious, I don’t know.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.