October 2009

Tête-à-Tête: Imogen Heap

Plus, Brookville, David Gray, Kid A and more

Imogen Heap, 2-1, turn it up Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Since announcing her arrival in 1998 with her first solo release, iMegaphone, a mix of electronic and piano-driven melodies with self-referential lyrics that garnered critical praise, Imogen Heap’s ethereal voice is everywhere. After being stuck in record-label limbo, she reemerged with producer Guy Sigsworth as the duo Frou Frou. Their album Details spawned noteworthy and radio-friendly tracks, including “Breathe In,” which turned Heap into an in-demand songwriter-vocalist.

While producing and recording Details, she was fascinated by computer technology, and her next project (again as a solo artist) was the initially self-released Speak for Yourself. The album produced the hits “Goodnight and Go” and “Hide & Seek.” With her latest release, Ellipse, Heap has documented the entire process on her Website (imogenheap.com) and, most notably, Twitter (twitter.com/imogenheap), right down to showing examples of the artwork and CD package.

Nic Harcourt: You studied classical piano. Was this your parents’ directive or your choice?
Imogen Heap: I did it. I wanted attention, since I was the middle child. Perhaps playing with the loudest toy in the house. Then I learned the clarinet and cello. My plan was to learn about each section of the orchestra so I could lord around the planet with my own orchestra, composing as I go.

  • Brookville, Great Mistake
  • David Gray, Fugitive
  • Kid A, Wasnotwas
  • Imogen Heap, 2-1
  • Joe Henry, This Is My Favorite Cage

Brookville
“Great Mistake”
Broken Lights

From New York comes Andy Chase (Ivy) with his other band's third official release on his Unfiltered Records. In this track, our vocalist pines for freedom from a love gone wrong—through dreamy ambient pop.

For Fans Of Tahiti 80, Ivy

David Gray
“Fugitive”
Draw the Line

Gray led a brief charge of British acoustic singer-songwriters. His follow-ups have trodden the same path, but this track finds him trying out some new toys—sounding eerily like classic Elton John.

For Fans Of Joshua Radin, Damien Rice

Kid A
“Wasnotwas”
Single: myspace.com/kida

The artist’s name comes from a Radiohead album. But the music is a new proposition altogether—summer electropop to get you going. And who can resist a lyric like, “Your lips look like they’re on fire”?

For Fans Of Ladytron, MGMT

Imogen Heap
“2-1”
Ellipse

Heap consistently puts time and effort into crafting her songs, and it shows. The lyrics of “2-1” reflect on how “things are not always how they seem.” A standout track from a fine new release.

For Fans Of Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush

Joe Henry
“This Is My Favorite Cage”
Blood from Stars

A venerable collaborator, Henry also just keeps making great solo records. His albums have shifted from his early country influences to a more swampy look at dark nights and the people who inhabit them.

For Fans Of Mark Olson, Lucinda Williams

NH: When did other types of music enter your life?
IH: When I was nine, Michael Jackson ruled my world. I went to Sunday school because I thought that if I could get in touch with the big man in the sky, he’d tell Michael Jackson to speak to me. I prayed long and hard for those two weeks, to no avail. I’m so sad about his death.

NH: What did you learn from your time collaborating with Guy Sigsworth?
IH: Guy taught me to feel what the words mean and experience them as a listener. I never really considered that part of the equation when I wrote music before that. It was all about me.

NH: What did you set out to do with Ellipse, and how did your ideas play out or mutate through the process?
IH: I built this beautiful studio in the basement of my old family house. Before they finished construc­tion, I “heard” the house for the first time and decided my musical start­ing point should be Play-Doh’ing something out of it. The first song I did had me running round the perimeter of the house—it’s round—in this kind of tunnel. That set the mood and tempo for the album.

NH: When did you get on Twitter, and why? How many times do you tweet a day?
IH: I’d been blogging, and then I switched to video blogging [more than 40 are posted on youtube.com/imogenheap] regularly while building my studio and recording and writing the remaining songs on Ellipse. With the blogs, I could only say so much. So for those who were interested in the ins and outs of recording an album, I started tweeting and found it invaluable. Also, this is the first album I’ve made where I didn’t have a boyfriend. So at 4 in the morning, Twitter was my man—I’d wake up and tell him how it’d been going.

NH: You’ve been tapped to write songs for some major soundtracks, including The Chronicles of Narnia. Are you planning any more film work—perhaps scoring?
IH: I plan on shifting more toward that, to be honest. I’ve done four albums now and feel like a big gear change is in order. I want to cross-pollinate with art, multimedia, dance, theater—you name it, I want to try it. I want more spice in my life, I guess. I also want to travel, have a baby or two, find a man, get a veggie patch going, learn to sail, be more in synch and help others be with our beautiful blue planet.