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LAist Band Interview: Imogen Heap
Though most people recognize Imogen Heap from her contribution (via Frou Frou) to the watershed "Garden State" soundtrack, her latest release, "Speak for Yourself" is actually her second solo album, and her third studio album, counting her work with Frou Frou. Her experience and newfound studio savvy shines through on her new CD, which was self-produced and released.
In our Q&A, Immi addresses the challenges of writing and producing her own album. She also reveals that she'll be contributing tracks to the upcoming Disney film, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
LAist: After your success with Frou Frou, both the album title and song selection on "Speak for Yourself" feel like statements of independence. Did you feel that you needed to break free from Frou Frou, or was returning to solo work a natural progression as an artist?
Imogen: Guy and I had never spoken of another album while
making Details. it never came up. I think we both just knew it was something
special and organic that was happening and not to push it anymore. Guy and
I had written and worked on things together on and off since I was 17 and I'm
sure we'll continue to. It was a huge learning curve for me and I was so ready
to dive back into another solo album with this new and improved studio savvy
confidence. I've always wanted to find out what I can do. Test my limits to
the extreme and take on every aspect of making an album entirely on my own
and I felt I was ready to give it a go.
Imogen: One of the first and biggest challenges was how to get back the instinct in the studio I'd counted on previous to Frou Frou as a solo artist. If something was not clicking with a song there were two heads to get in going. It took me about 3 months to stop asking myself..."what would Guy say right now?" I got "stuck" and had forgotten how to get out of those situations as I'd been so used and comfortable in knowledge "we" would find a way. Once I had that again I was away and enjoying the whole process from then on a lot more. It is awesome to have the time to just play for hours with sounds, no pressure. The most liberating would be just quite obviously making an album that is just how you want it. Being a solo artist and no record label also makes this doubly possible. I feel like I have a huge something off my chest!
LAist: Your music is rich and layered. Can you elaborate on the creative process? What comes first for you... a song title, lyrics or the melody?
Imogen: There is no method that I have found to work consistently. If only! Sometimes lyrics just pour out of me with melody in tow over a progression or beat i've been toying with for a couple of hours on the computer. These are the rare few that gems who give themselves up easily to me. In these cases. I get the vocals down as quickly as possible, harmonies, tracking and texture just right. Then once the song and the vocals are in place it's just great fun piecing all the music around it. Other times... I get carried away with the music. Go into deep recluse and spend weeks tweaking a backing track. Forever on the string arrangement and getting that bass line just right because I'm procrastinating. Having fun while I'm doing it with the music....then the inevitable happens. No lyric. It just won't come! Which can lead to pages and pages of word documents! Melody is never (touch virtual wood) an issue. That's usually why I end up with 3 separate middle 8s in a song and bridges and intros as I want to fit them all in!
LAist: "Daylight Robbery" packs quite a sonic punch - did you have fun pushing the envelope with this song?
Imogen: This was one of those songs where I wrote pretty much all the music before I had a lyrical theme or melody. Bad idea... generally. Crow-barring in a lyric to a fully fleshed out backing track is not the easiest way to do it. I had too much "fun" with that song. I get a lot of these emails from people wanting something specific for an advert or whatever. Usually I just read them, see if anything I have already may fit and then email back. On this occasion a request coincided with all my new gear arriving at my studio and I wanted to get stuck into it. The brief was "rocky, energetic and danceable". They had a clip of the advert to see and it was a man running around a beach throwing a boomerang. The riff came first with me on a mates borrowed Gibson Les Paul and my new Pod XT pro. Then programmed in a ton of beats and some circuit bent Speak and Spell (I had one of these toys as a kid) for fun! Those who had heard the track loved it and were excited to hear the vocals on top which made it all the more difficult! I sang about 7 different melodies and lyrics for the track but nothing was good enough. In the end I couldn't decide what to do and had hit a brick wall. I reached out to the guys who read my blog to vote for
their favourite out of three lyrical directions. The one they chose was "A bicycle journey home after an amazing day at the studio." Then I finished it in no time. Thanks you guys!!
LAist: "The Garden State" soundtrack gave you much-deserved exposure. What sort of impact did this have on you? Was it an impetus to create more music, or a bit overwhelming?
Imogen: I felt kinda bad about the fact there were all these new Frou Frou fans asking about dates we were going to play only to find out that we were both doing our separate things again already! It was wonderful though that the "Details" record got a new lease of life. I found myself incorporating more and more orchestral elements into the album and I wonder if that was a subconscious response to the song's success in the movie. I have secretly always wanted to be a crazy composer, conducting his works at the Royal Albert Hall to the orchestra in coat tails and a baton or something!
LAist: What song are you most proud of on the new CD and why?
Imogen: That's a tricky one as all of them had their problems. Some more than others. I could say "Loose Ends" because sonically I like that one the most. From a song point of view the one that fell onto my lap almost out of nowhere and was finished in no time was "Hide and Seek." I'd always wanted to do an a cappella and even though some when they heard it said they heard a beat or some other element come into the song I'm glad I stuck to the plan because it's a song like no other now as a result. Possibly I'm most proud of "The Moment I said It." It really seems to get under people's skin and that at the end of the day is what it's all about.
LAist: What prompted the decision to release the album in the UK months ahead of the domestic US release?
Imogen: Purely because I'm in the UK and I released it on my own label. I couldn't wait any longer to get it out there. I had always wanted to sign a licensing deal for North America as there's no way I was going to attempt that one on my own! By the time I found the record company and the deal I was really happy with the earliest they could release was the 2nd November. See how long it's taken me to do this Q and A! even the questions are out of date! You'll have to excuse me. I've been working on the end titles for this new Disney film - "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" and it's taken up all my time!
LAist: You recently played in Los Angeles. How was the music received by fans here? How does the LA music scene compare to London?
It was wonderful! I think I may have to think about a larger venue next time around! it was wonderful to see the queue round the block but also made me feel really bad as there was no way they were all going to fit. Even the head of radio promotions at RCA victor couldn't get in and he's from the US record company! I had such fun. I'm very out of touch with anything sceney going on in both so I can't really comment. I've done few gigs in both places but it always makes for an audience absolutely gagging for it which is a great start to a gig!
LAist: When you're not performing, what do you do to relax and recharge?
hmmmm....Well I went on a crazy week long bicycle ride from the source of the river Thames to the Thames Barrier in London (I took a very bendy route of 400K). Through fields and hamlets and finally into the city I love and live in. That certainly helped me when I needed a little breather from the studio. I even made a little movie from all the clips I took on my mobile phone. You can see it if you go to www.imogenheap.com - then go to icandy - then to videos - then to immi's iblog videos - then to "all the way home." The music is something I recorded for "Six Feet Under."
LAist: What's playing in your iPod right now?
Milosh - You Make Me Feel
Coppe - 8
Avril - Members Only
Carpark North - All Things to All People