As the guitarist for Florence + the Machine, Rob Ackroyd has had a whirlwind couple of years. The band has toured the world to support their multi-platinum debut, Lungs, and its mega-hit single, “Dog Days are Over.” Soon they’ll be rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite (at Elton John’s post-Oscar party) and sharing a stage with U2 (when they open for the rock giants in June). In between tour dates and planning the next Florence + the Machine album, Ackroyd also has been working with Pixie Geldof (Bob’s daughter) and her band Violet. The guitarist recently took some time to chat about his artistic relationship with Florence Welch, working with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, meeting his guitar hero and what the Machine has in store for 2011.

You’ve been with Florence + the Machine for a little while now. Can you tell us some of the musicians you worked with before you joined the group?

Florence + the Machine is actually the first band I’ve played with. Until I met Flo three and a half years ago I was, at best, a bedroom guitar player. We met through mutual friends and it was fortunate timing as Florence was looking to expand her gig. Other than Matt Allchin of Rum Shebeen, Flo had been almost singing a capella as her act.

How did you first become part of the Machine?

Florence’s manager had linked her up with various producers in London in order to get some ideas recorded. One of the first sessions was with Stephen Street. I was working for a production company in Soho at the time and would have to smuggle my guitar into the office and escape early afternoon under the guise of attending meetings. Mairead [Nash, Florence’s manager] called me one morning and invited me down to hang out at the studio whilst Florence was recording vocal takes on an early version of “Bird Song.” Dev Hynes (Lightspeed Champion) and Rich Mitchell (Chapel Club) were both in attendance playing guitar and drums, respectively, and I ended up playing ukulele. Real cool!

Did you and Florence Welch just click? Do you have similar musical sensibilities? 

Florence’s and my taste in music often overlap in harmonious fashion; we’re both big fans of hip-hop and American indie. But she’s also a big fan of unadulterated pop music, which cuts through me like a knife. I guess it’s the professional musician in her keeping abreast of all the cultural movements. In terms of our own music, though, we are perfectly matched. Florence and I are more interested in modulated electric guitar sounds as opposed to clean playing. Our instrumentation should provide a hearty, austere and forceful support for her voice, which after all is the star of the show.

What have you liked best about being in the band so far?

It’s an incredible privilege to be able to play live in so many different countries. One of the first gigs Florence and I played together was at South by Southwest in Austin. Prior to our trip to Texas, the extent of my travels was holidaying in the Canary Islands. We have been lucky enough to play some incredible venues, too, from a 2,000-year-old amphitheatre in Nimes to a car park in Auckland.  Playing guitar for a living can feel a bit like getting away with murder.

Who first made you want to pick up a guitar?

I think people like Izzy Stradlin and Slash really glamorized the guitar for me when I was a kid. We got Sky [TV] in our house quite early for two reasons: The Simpsons and MTV. In the early ’90s it seemed like every weekend was Guns N’ Roses weekend on MTV and I was galvanized by Slash. I (kind of) fulfilled my dream of meeting Slash last summer when Florence + the Machine shared a festival bill with him.

What guitars have you been gravitating toward lately?

Gibson 335s, 345s and 355s are the only guitars I feel entirely confident playing.  I love the natural warmth and bell-like tone that they produce. The shallow hollowbody provokes just the right amount of malleable, almost three-dimensional, feedback which I tend to utilize as an affected music bed for many of our songs. The body shape and weight suit my frame perfectly, too. I love Les Pauls, but I’m so tall they just don’t look right.

What is special about Gibson guitars for you?

My dad showed me a documentary on Les Paul when I was really young, and the film worked as compelling propaganda as seemingly every truly great guitarist played Gibson. As a kid, you only really know the BIG bands, so to see Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Angus Young and John Lennon play Gibson was confirmation of the brand being the elite. It was at that time I was being brainwashed by Guns N’ Roses and for a while all I wanted was Slash’s black double neck SG. Marty McFly also played a 345 in the Enchantment Under the Sea dance scene in Back to the Future, and that film certainly has resonance with me.

You’ve been playing with Pixie Geldof lately. Have you been touring, recording or both?

Pixie and I have been friends for years. She has always been a writer and a singer behind closed doors and last summer, when she told me she was ready to make a go of music, I leapt at the chance to play with her. After three years of promoting Lungs we (Florence + the Machine) were due a year off. By “off” I mean back home in London writing and recording the new album, but nevertheless a much more consistent and anchored year. So I thought whilst Florence is quiet I could spend six months playing and writing with Pixie.

Pixie and I went out to Los Angeles recently and worked on three demos with Dave Sitek. I’m a huge fan of TV on the Radio and his work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, so that was an unexpected and incredible trip. He lives in James Dean’s old house up in the hills and has filled the place with amps, guitars, pedals and gadgets. We literally spent three days with our heads against amps blowing our ears out with reverb and delay units, really indulging ourselves. There are about 38 guitar tracks on each demo!

Pixie has a pretty well-known dad – does she share any similarities with her father?

You know, other than A Tonic For The Troops, I’m fairly unfamiliar with The Boomtown Rats. Pixie is influenced by acts such as Hole and Mazzy Star. I guess it’s inevitable that she would share that punk attitude that fired The Boomtown Rats, but sonically Violet is entirely different. We are in the formative stages of getting the band equipped to play live and trying to establish a sound of our own. We’ve played three very random, tiny shows and each one has been wildly different from the last. Recently, the sound has been a bit Sonic Youth-y, which I’m delighted about.

Do you have plans to work with any other artists soon?

I would love to work with as many differing artists as possible, but for now I’m enlivened by the potential of Violet and eager to get working on the new Florence record.

What’s next for Florence, the band and the new record?

Our live schedule is still keeping us busy long after it was supposed to have gone into hibernation at the close of summer 2010. Flo is out in the States at the moment singing with Christina Aguilera opening the GRAMMYS… or something along those lines. Then we are performing with Elton John at his post-Oscar/AIDS benefit party and have a monthlong North American tour in June along with a U2 support slot. Work on the second album has begun with Paul Epworth and there is talk of booking out Abbey Road for a month in April/May to record. Which is nice.

Photo credit: Marc Hibbert