An interview with Imogen Heap.
By Melody Alderman
P.S.: Your music is very unique in the sense that it seems to come from a very genuine place that is overlapped with this emotional electronica.
IMOGEN: The thing about my music is that it is electronica but it's all based on organic sounds. There are hardly any samples. It's all based on real instruments.
P.S.: I got the record a few days ago and one of the things that really struck me upon listening to it was wondering how you would translate it live. There's just so much going on behind every song.
IMOGEN: I know, it took me a long time to figure out how I was going to do it. I don't want to just press play but at the same time I don't just want to play the piano. I want the audience who hasn't heard it to realize that there's much more to it than just piano but at the same time, I'm not just some little girl who sings to backing tracks. That was the thing about touring with Rufus (Wainwright) back in the day. A lot of people would buy the record and assume it was going to be how I did it that night with just acoustic piano and there's definitely much more to it than that.
Because I'm sort of barricaded by this gear I'm sort of like the Starship Enterprise. I don't think that people in the audience can actually see what's going on. They can see my hands moving but they don't really know what I'm doing. So, I decided after about five shows that I needed to sort of introduce my band. I'd say, here's my bass box, here's my parrot, here's my laptop and I'd play a bit of my harmonizer. I'd show them samples of what each of them sound like. I think that when I do "Hide and Seek" live they think I'm singing with backup tracks rather than understanding I'm singing live. It's actually really simple to do.
P.S.: Is it difficult as a musician to lose yourself in the work of other musicians or is it more difficult once you know the tricks or visage behind the curtain?
IMOGEN: I am picky when I sit back and listen to music. It's hard to fully enjoy it. Maybe painters are the same way because they know how to paint and they know what's good and they know what they like. Filmmakers as well because they know how everything's done. I'm lucky that I don't know anything about film or art. I can just enjoy it like people enjoy music. Then there are times when I do just sit back and enjoy certain artists, especially live.
P.S.: Speaking of live, didn't I see some advertisements that you were supposed to be touring with Tori Amos this summer?
IMOGEN: Yes, I got this call back in May or maybe June while I was working on the video for "Hide and Seek." I got this call from my agent saying, "Tori wants you to support her on her tour." I thought that was amazing and said, "I'd love to do it but we can't say yes yet because we don't know what's going on with the label and we're going to need money to do this," (Imogen was in the process of choosing a US label at the time). "We'll keep you informed." Then a week later we were on the posters. Even on the radio, people were saying they heard it announced and showed up expecting I'd be there. I never confirmed it though. Even on my website I was saying we weren't 100% sure because I hadn't yet signed a deal. If it would've just been me and the piano I could've paid for it but the problem was that she wanted a bit more going on. She didn't want just the two of us on our pianos. I'm loving this tour though (Hotel Cafe) because I think actually this tour's much better for me. I'd much rather do smaller, intimate gigs than bigger venues where it's harder to get the audience on a level with you. It's much harder to connect. You can't see eachother's eyes.
P.S.: For fans of the Garden State Soundtrack, the Hotel Cafe tour is a great opportunity to see both you and Cary Brothers during the same show.
IMOGEN: Cary was actually sharing with me the story of how "Let Go" got onto the Garden State Soundtrack. I had been told that it was somebody at my ex-label who was able to get us on there. The real story is that Zach's girlfriend basically said, "This is the song." I think somebody big, no names, was going to go on it but they didn't want their song to be used at the end. Then they said, "Fine, we'd like to go on it," but it would've cost a million pounds or something and they couldn't afford that. So then they were frantically trying to look for a song in the last week that would fit the final piece.
P.S.: It's very odd to think of that song not being included on Garden State because it became such an intricate part of the film and even the trailer. It elevated it to a magical level.
IMOGEN: The amazing thing is that whenever we hear that someone wants to include one of our songs in a film, we realistically know that it's only going to be five seconds behind a conversation and you'll barely be able to hear it. With this, they actually came back to us and asked if they could extend it and there's hardly any narrative over it. If you're lucky, you get one of those in your life that will have that much of an impact. The OC had a real impact as well (referring to "Goodnight and Go" and "Hide and Seek", both included on the popular drama).
P.S.: The thing about The OC is that their soundtracks are so impressively eclectic.
IMOGEN: Yeah, and I see a lot of people trying to copy the Garden State format. I'm getting a lot of calls now (laughs). It's definitely becoming a good way for artists who don't make it onto the radio quite as easily as Britney or whatever. I'm not weird or funny about my song being in a film and people having that imagery attached to the song. I always say yes to things. The only thing I haven't said yes to is a sanitary ad for pads. I drew the line there (laughs).
P.S.: When the success of Garden State occurred, you and Guy (Sisworth, her Frou Frou partner) had actually began working on separate projects.
IMOGEN: Right, when we first started doing the record it overtook us. We hadn't planned on doing a Frou Frou record. I was in the process of working on my second solo record and was going back and forth with the record label who had told me I didn't have any singles, though I was convinced that I had. So I got second opinions and was told by different labels that they would sign me based on some of these songs. Then, half a year later I found out they were shutting down and had no intention of releasing anything. They had just kept me waiting all this time which was really frustrating. I started feeling like I didn't want to write music if I was doing it for them (the label) and not for me. So Guy rang me up and invited me down to his studio. He lived just down the road from me. He had this little idea which was the beginning of "Flicks," the first few bars. I then wrote the whole song from that. Then we finished the vocals and pieced everything around it and when we finished it, we thought, "This is really good." So then we did more and more and by the end of it we had six songs that were getting really good reactions from people.
Then, one Christmas Guy asked, "Would you be interested in doing this as an album and as an act with me?" So I took that Christmas to think about it and thought, what have I got to lose? It's nearly there. It will probably take another year to finish and maybe by then I'll have a label who actually likes what I'm doing. So we never discussed Frou Frou for eternity. It was just for fun, for now and see what happens. I mean, Guy has a family and he needs to make money. Unless you're Madonna status, it's most difficult to make money from records when you're signed to a label.
We just finished the record and then carried on with what we were doing before. We still really like eachother and do other stuff together all the time. We actually just wrote a song together for Britney (Spears). He's done stuff for Britney before and she was coming to his studio to do the song "Everytime" and she'd written it. So she was coming a couple of days later and Guy said he had some vocal ideas. He asked me if I'd come in and lay some stuff down and if she liked it, we'd do those songs as well because her record company said they wanted to do more songs. So we threw some ideas down and one of the ones that she really liked was a song called "Over to You Now." I laid down some vocals and Guy produced it and ended up leaving my vocals on it so you can hear Immi with Britney (laughs).
P.S.: I heard the boys took you to see Motley Crue the first night you arrived in the states for the tour.
IMOGEN: I'd just arrived and within ten minutes they were like, "We're going to see Motley Crue and you have to come." I was like, "But I haven't slept in 48 hours." But it was wicked fun. I'm glad I did it.
P.S.: I heard Tommy Lee was crushing on you.
IMOGEN: (Modestly) Oh no, it was great. Me and Butch were sitting right next to him while he was playing his drums and he looks amazing with all of his tattoos and hardly any clothes on (laughs). Every time he'd hit some cool drum solo he'd look back at us like, "Did you see that? Did you see what I did there?"
It takes a lot
Maybe not, all the time, all I've got
Been one of those days
Safety first, don't push
What's the hurry?
One nerve remaining
waiting on one look
Have you got it?"
Song * Have You Got It In You?
Album * Speak For Yourself
That's why I try to keep at bay
Be a hundred percent
when I'm with you
and then a perfect
heart's length away
Song * Half Life
Album * Ellipse
'Cause it's all going off without you
Excuse me too busy
you're writing your tragedy
These mishaps you bubble-wrap
When you've no idea what you're like
So, let go, let go, jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's all right 'cause there's
beauty in the breakdown"
Song * Let Go
Album * Details By Frou Frou