The sun is shining gloriously, perhaps summer has finally arrived. It’s making me smile as I make the call to the “Queen of Do-it-yourself” Imogen Heap. First attempt, the line is busy, so I try again. Thankfully this time I get through. She is bright and friendly, much lovelier than I had expected. After no messing around, we do only have 20 minutes to conduct the whole interview; we shimmy past the formalities and strike up a conversation about life, success and dreams. “I think the secret is that it attracts people who want to do music for a living. I don’t think there was anywhere else in England at the time that did that sort of thing. I went in it’s second year and it was still very much trying to find its feet. Its partly funded by the music industry, the BMI and so there is this sort of knowledge that it is where people go if they want to do well. They are well connected.” Heap is one of the Brit School’s earlier success stories. Having gone at a time when there were few alternatives, she thrived on being able to live out her musical ambitions. It doesn’t take much thinking time before she reveals a liking for “Amy Winehouse. She really feels the music. I hope God willing she will be able to keep going for a long time. The Brit school gets its fair share of celebrity wannabes, but you can tell that she really feels the music.”
I plan on making music for another 50 years.
Heap has played music from an early age and is classically trained in many instruments (including piano (her first instrument), cello and clarinet). It is little wonder that with her diverse musical ability, that Heap has, to date, self-produced all her own work. 2005’s Speak For Yourself took Heap’s career to the next level. Amongst the many nominations, there were 2 Grammies. Suddenly, the world was at her feet. Should she wish to, she could have worked with anyone she wanted. “Why would I do that? It’s a great luxury to be allowed the privilege of working on my own records.” However, Heap had no desire. Only briefly, back in 2002 was there the spark of collaborative interest. “I met Guy (Sigsworth) when I was 17. We kind of did each other a favour. I worked with his band. I love his band Acacia. He produced my first single “Getting Scared”. Guy’s an absolute genius.” Sigsworth and Heap went on to form Frou Frou. The initial concept being that Sigsworth would put together an album, featuring tracks written and produced by him alongside a singer, songwriter, poet or rapper. Heap was the first to be invited along to partake in his new project. He never invited anyone else. “It was a brilliant record. I got so much out of working with him, but it wasn’t easy. I had to get used to him producing and he had to get used to me doing some of the writing.” Though there is nothing in the pipeline, Heap wouldn’t rule out a future project with her “favourite producer on the planet. I plan on making music for another 50 years. We are both so busy right now, but it will happen one day.”
It is hard to believe that four years have passed since Speak For Yourself, given that Heap’s popularity has been growing rapidly in the interim. This could be thanks to the constant use of her material in everything from films to contemporary dance pieces. “Someone told me recently that they went to a restaurant where you eat in bed. I can’t remember its name. But anyway, there they were having this nice romantic meal in bed, when the waiter, who was also a performance artist came over and started to take all his clothes off. The music he was taking his clothes of to was “Hide & Seek”. That’s the most bizarre version of how someone heard my music that I’ve been told.” You are probably more likely to know her from soundtracks including “The Last Kiss” (“Hide And Seek”), “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (“Can’t Take It In”) and “Just Like Heaven” (“Spooky”). It could be argued though, that it was American teen drama that brought Heap to attention of a whole new audience. For the show she recorded a harrowingly a cappella cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which was used as the backdrop to the season two closing scenes. “A cover really isn’t a big thing for me. I got asked to do it and I had some free time and it sounded fun, so I thought why not. One song I really thought which kind of makes Christmas more magical is “More” by Bobby Darin. It’s so unashamedly happy that it makes me smile every time I hear it. I have no idea what I could do with it though.”
“I don’t get up in the morning and think “Oh, I’d love to collaborate with.” But there are just points in life where it has felt right to do it.” Though Heap likes to be in control of her own music, she is not afraid to produce or write for other artists. She is keen to point out though, “Tiesto just sampled “Hide and Seek”. That wasn’t a collaboration. And Matt Willis, well that was just a favour for a friend we have in common. I’d met him a few times and he’s a really nice bloke.” Other musical partnerships of which she is proud include Mika, Nitin Sawhney, Jeff Beck and Josh Groban. “These are things I’d never foreseen. I am a real hotfooter, kind of just going with what feels good. What really sparks my creativity is working with people right the other side of the spectrum.” Though the majority of artists come to her, only last week did she find someone whom she was willing to chase. “There is somebody I like a lot, Beardyman, he’s a beat boxer. I saw him on YouTube last week and was transfixed by his videos. They kept me amused when I should have been doing work. So I tweeted and was like hey everyone he’s amazing. Then that evening he phoned me up, saying he’d got my number off someone who knows both of us. He’s coming over to the house in September and Im very excited to be working with him.”
The house started to speak to me as a musical instrument.
“It is important to try and have fun when recording. I definitely feel relaxed and comfortable in the house.” Heap took a big step when recording her forthcoming third solo album Ellipse, she moved back to her family home. Her hope was to release a record that she could say was “truly me”. Though when she moved she had no idea what the record would be about, she realised during the period to build her home-studio that the move in itself was her start. “The house developed the sound of my record. It has the sound of my family house. I had this fear of building a studio at the same as a fear of endless possibilities of where to start. I had some songs written before I started recording, which is rare for me. But I decided that house should be the starting point as that’s where I am.” It didn’t take long before the house started to come alive for her. She had never noticed as a child that house had it’s own distinct sound. “The house started to speak to me as a musical instrument. Whilst waiting for the studio to be built, I would be sat around and I could hear things I had never noticed before. Things I was too busy as a child to hear. Like the boiler clicking, the freezer turning on during the day, the squeaking of the floorboards and the dripping of the taps in the kitchen. They became my inspiration.” Being back at home sparked childhood innocence in her, which aided musically and lyrically. The newfound playfulness allowed her to rediscover the sounds of dragging a drumstick along the banister or moving the light panels in the studio to create a sound. “As a kid you are unafraid to show the emotion you feel.” Lyrically it enabled freedom, take the track “A-Ha” as an example, previously she “wouldn’t have been confident enough to let that side of me out of the closet. I have written numerous songs like it before, but never felt ready to release one. There were some like it on Speak For Yourself, but this time round I just felt comfortable enough to say I am who I am.”
“I can’t see anything wrong with it. I can’t see any downsides of being called that”. Heap has come a long way since her 1998 debut i-Megaphone, but she is an artist who cannot be accused of changing in the name of success. A talented yet uncompromising musician, Heap is constantly garnering praise and winning over the hearts of new fans. She is proud that she is one of a handful of artists who can honestly say, “In my life, I have achieved this.” For her third solo album, Ellipse, the Queen Of Do-It-Yourself’s returned home and studied herself and her surrounding for her inspiration. The result is a captivatingly honest release. Fans may have had to wait nearly four years for Ellipse to arrive, but as ever Heap delivers. As we say goodbye, Heap returns to the very British subject of weather. Now that her press is done for the day, she is looking for to “an afternoon in the sun.”
Ellipse is released on the 24th August 2009 on Epic Records. For more details visit her official website.