She starts with the lyrics, filling graph-paper journals at home, some of which are replicated in her book, complete with whimsical doodles. “I could fall in love with a plastic bag, if it paid me some attention,” goes one, with a sketch of a heart-adorned bag. The album has its share of songs about wanting, and love, though not always romantic love — “Patricia” is about Patti Smith, whom Ms. Welch calls her “North Star.” Though Ms. Welch herself is bad with directions (she gets lost even in the grid of Manhattan, she said), her music has an urbane sense of geography, skittering from scenes in a rainy Los Angeles to a bleak Chicago and a nostalgic London. And it also gets wry. The song “Big God” is about “obviously, an unfillable hole in the soul,” Ms. Welch said, “but mainly about someone not replying to my text.”
Over a two-hour conversation, she laughed often, and robustly. In the hotel lounge, she spilled her secrets in a voice loud enough to demonstrate she didn’t care who else heard; she has the surprisingly rare ability, as an artist, to translate how her emotions and music intersect. “You know, having an overactive mind and overthinking stuff, and being anxious — ever since I was a kid, if I had a song that I could follow, everything would become very calm,” she said. “It was like this cocoon that I could go into.”
She was sitting on a dusty-gold velvet couch, beneath a Renaissance-looking tapestry, that, in her own vintage tapestry coat and ruffled ivory blouse, she might’ve slid right out of. She wore necklaces and rings on six fingers, many adorned with horseshoes, and tucked her wild, softly glowing hair over her right shoulder. Her natural color is more mousy reddish-brown than her signature flaming tresses, she said. In concert, her energy is brash and soaring, and she moves like the music is catapulting her — a fierceness that seems at odds, but shouldn’t be, with her romantic vibe.