If we believe preconceptions about Imogen Heap’s hometown of Essex then the classically trained pianist should also come complete with white stiletto’s, questionable sexual values and peroxide highlights, which is so far from the truth it’s frankly laughable (who the hell makes this shit up?), in fact since her debut album, '98s I Megaphone, she has been slowly but surely carving out a nice little niche for herself in the alt-singer/songwriter area - often referred to as kooky by the easily confused - populated by the likes of Bjork, Stina Nordenstam, Carina Round and, most regularly cited of all, Kate Bush…
Imogen Heap: She’s one lady I don't mind being compared to. Musically I feel it doesn't always make a lot of sense to but she sings with abandon and has created completely her own style. All artists find it annoying when they get these comparisons, but I guess I'm closer to Kate Bush than Britney Spears. It's a good ballpark to be in. I do it myself when asking what an artist is like I haven't heard before so I can't really complain!
TotalMusic-Online: One thing that’s immediately apparent in your work, especially on the new album Speak For Yourself is that you use your voice almost like another instrument, do you think that comes from being a multi-instrumentalist (Imogen plays more or less everything on the new album) as opposed to being ‘just’ a singer?
Imogen Heap: I think it maybe stems from a love and understanding of harmony and rhythm too and not just melody. Though perhaps it's laziness sometimes. Instead of finding an instrumental part to fill a gap I'll create layers of vocals. The voice is a wonderful instrument. So expressive and as the singer I have all the control over it instantly and it reacts as soon as I think to change it. I like to process my voice and play with it as I would any other noise.
TotalMusic-Online: Given that you play more or less everything on this album yourself how do you intend to work that out live?
Imogen Heap: I have yet to find out! I'm about to go on a US tour with the Hotel Café this tour is stripped down (only me) but I couldn't bear to have spent all that time working on the sound of the record only to play it all on the piano! So I'm thinking of taking along a laptop for live sampling of the voice to try and recreate some of those layered vocal textures. I've got some great strings and harps and percussion sounds that I can play on a keyboard connected to the laptop and also for triggering any loops. I think I'll be using hands, feet, elbows and nose to do all of this! I quite like the idea of fans coming to concerts and not singing along with my lines but doing the harmonies and chanting though ‘coz I won't be able to do all of that live! That'd be cool.
Unlike many a struggling performer Imogen has little desire to jump onto the nearest passing major label – indeed her experiences with a major label on the Frou Frou side project proved to be a very trying enterprise (“There are soooo many bands and artists on the planet signed up and only so much space for us all to fit into the machine.”), in fact so keen was she to retain complete control of her latest project she went so far as to re-mortgage her flat to finance it…
Imogen Heap: There's so much promise [from a major label] in the beginning. You're going to be HUGE, this album is amazing... You're a star... Promises, promises [then the] A&R man gets head hunted, people move on and other bands, who are having more success than you, get all the attention. I understand it from their point of view. They are in it for the money, it's a business. This time I wanted to make the record, design the artwork, get the press shots, everything just the way I wanted it, then find companies to license the album out to, territory by territory who really love it and are willing to fight for you and I have just signed a great licensing deal with RCA Victor after six months of negotiation [and] they will release the album in the states and Canada early November - the US and the rest of the world is just too much for me to take on with my little label (she is handling it on her own in the UK on her own label Megaphonic Records) so I am using major labels but on my terms!
More info is available on Imogen's website at