The florist is here to make friends

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For Florist, a jam is not just a jam. The four-piece folk band (consisting of Emily Sprague, Felix Walworth, Jonnie Baker and Rick Spataro – all multi-instrumentalists) have been making calm, contemplative and delicate music and have been doing so for years; the first two albums of the group, those of 2016 The birds outside sang and 2017 If blue could be happiness, are long-loved cornerstones of DIY indie music. But now, on his self-titled fourth album, Florist’s music has gone wild, untamed. The record’s runtime includes as many ambient instrumentals as conventional songs, and many tracks feature long, sprawling improvisational sections.

The quartet’s decade-long friendship has always been the foundation of Florist’s music, but this musical shift was brought about by 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 Florist’s only solo album, 2019 Emily alone. The company had become a difficult concept for her. When the group came together to make Florist, living together for a full month in a rented Hudson Valley home, was a step toward reconnecting; and as they rediscovered their relationships, their music followed suit.

“A lot of it is just registering our different emotional stages throughout a day, throughout a month — we’re just open with each other,” Spataro explains. “There’s a lot of impromptu stuff, the feeling that we just exist around each other. If I listen to the music, I remember the rest of the band and what that 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 performing together as a florist; they met Walworth while on tour in 2012. All of their connections were instantaneous and intuitive, they say, forming a deep bond they describe as family.

“I rarely meet people as strange and sensitive as we are,” Sprague says. “When you meet someone who is also like that, you are attracted to them, because I think we have 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 fully exposed to each other”.

“We’re not friends like we go out and talk about the weather,” Sprague said. “We are friends as if we were part of each other’s souls.” Common topics of conversation between them are mental health, death and “different [planes] of existence.” In the early days of their friendship, Baker says, he and Spataro would get high, play the piano together without a word, and allow each other to touch hands.

This rawness also extends to their musical process, which Walworth describes as “incomparable”. Since the band’s inception, the members have written their music in the service of vulnerability and honesty, they say, and a lot of that involves trusting their own impulses and those of others. It can be a capricious process, varying with the mood and energy of the four, even from minute to minute. “We have homeostasis or something. We have to balance our chemicals,” Sprague says.

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“Yeah, and when they’re not, we almost don’t know what we’re doing. But when it’s balanced, it’s that religious experience,” Walworth says.

Although Sprague wrote it in sunny California, Emily alone was Florist’s darkest and most wintry album. It’s a naked, deeply lonely walk through grief, stopping to ask questions of the ocean or the wind but never leaning on another human shoulder. There was a certain fear that drove Sprague’s desire to be on the opposite coast of his blood and chosen family. “The pain of losing my mother really made me wonder if I could have relationships in my life,” she says. “The fear of having that feeling again made it quite tempting to just cut it all off altogether.”

Yet the friendship and love at Florist’s heart was felt in the absence of the other band members, in their support as Sprague worked through whatever inner questions she needed. Although it is a solo album, she says, Emily alone is a Florist registration “because, [while] these people have not played on it, they are on that.” That opened the door to making Florist, which not only welcomes the rest of the group into the fold, but celebrates their presence with new intentionality. “It’s this sacred ceremony of being in community and having a collaboration and a 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 his father, reflecting on how their home, once a sanctuary, now carries immense grief for both of them. It is an encouraging and tender song; “She’s in the birdsong, she won’t leave,she reassures him. Whereas Emily alone was about quarreling inwardly with despair, the lyrics on Florist communicate outward moments of support and comfort. “Family, don’t let me go to the place I don’t wanna come back from,” Sprague sings on “Two Ways.” On “Organ’s Drone”, her comrades join her in rehearsing “Don’t Say Goodbye”.

During recording Florist, the band often played through outings on the porch, let nature play a role in their communion; rain and the sounds of cricket cover many recordings. The album was shaped at a leisurely pace, without too much of a plan. Some days the members would split up and spend an entire evening working on song parts alone; others simply turned on the tape recorder while they played with instruments. After the album ended, Sprague returned to her hometown of Catskills, finally ready to kiss the love of her life again.

“You came out of those feelings of wanting to step back and build self-sufficiency — which is also a deeply important journey — and you came into this project with this totally fearless relationship to collaboration,” Walworth told Sprague. “I remember sitting down with you and going through the lyrics together, which [over] the past 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 occupy space around each other. This time, there was generosity from everyone.”

“It’s really this document where we work on our relationships and have a long overdue reunion on this musical thing that we’re doing together,” Sprague confirms. Although the album sounds like Florist in its most ambitious form, it is more precisely about Florist in its most open form. “I love that the songs are all so long, and it’s hard for them to be singles, and there are instrumentals between each song, and it’s really meant to be listened to like an album. is so important to me, that it’s a challenge, and it’s patient. It’s not easy to digest. Because it’s an attempt to talk about this kind of stuff that you almost can’t talk about with words,” says Sprague. “He needs all those pieces, and we’ve all contributed to that, and that’s why he’s as lush and has as much depth as he has. I’m not interested in doing anything easy. Because life is not easy, you know?

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