Song Summit welcomes one of England's most daring singer-songwriters
The Mistress of electro-dream pop is readying herself to touch down in Sydney to speak and perform at this year’s Song Summit for Vivid Sydney. Halfway through the production of her new postmodern epic, Heapsongs, Imogen Heap spoke with Time Out about her musical beginnings, her latest material and why she’d rather an amateur would interview her.
So Imogen, Song Summit – what are you expectations?
I love doing these conferences actually, each one is very different. I love talking about the songs, the processes and contexts behind them, their construction. There are so many different aspects now to creating a song, especially for me in this last record, so I want to share all the facets of everything that’s gone into each one. There will be a pro journalist interviewing me on stage, but I’ve also asked if either a fan or someone a bit more amateur could interview me as well. This way I’ll be asked new, slightly stranger questions that more seasoned journalists might not ask. The fans know so much about you already, and they assume everyone else does, that they ask you really weird things that you have to think about. That gets me in a muddle – I like that.
And you’re doing a stripped back performance as well.
It will be in a beautiful, panoramic room with a view of the harbour behind me. I’ll be playing the videos of the songs off the new album and then performing along with them, in sync, just on the piano. That’ll be the first time I’ve played them live, which is fun.
Your songwriting process is somewhat different than other ‘singer-songwriters’ in that there is a big electronic influence. When did you first start mixing traditional instruments with electronic?
As a middle child I think I took up the piano because it was the loudest thing in the house – with it, I could get the most attention. I started playing very, very young and as I got older I learnt the clarinet, the cello and music theory, I wanted lots of excuses to get out of academic lessons basically. I wanted to be a composer, I wanted my own orchestra and to fly around the world in a private jet – those were my goals really. Then I went to boarding school. I didn’t get on with my music master and we argued every time I went to class. As punishment, he would put me away in this cupboard-sized room and in that room was an Atari computer. So that was my introduction to music and computers – it was exciting to hear the songs I’d written played back to me, despite the somewhat dodgy computer sounds. After that I went to the BRIT school to study and got a record contract when I was 17. I’ve been in the industry ever since.
Your process has changed in that time. With your new album, Heapsongs, you’ve been releasing a song every three months instead of all at once, from various locales around the world: did this unique structure come to you in a moment of clarity or did you just fall into it?
There was definitely a moment of decision, in fact there where two. After the album before last [the massively successful Speak for Yourself] I told myself I’d never do an album all at once again – it was too hard. But then I came round to writing the next album;I guess it’s like having a baby, after you’ve had your first one you convince yourself you’ll ever have another but you eventually forget all the painful stuff and go for a second time.
But after Elipse, I was sure I’d never record like that again because it puts everything on hold, especially if you’re like me and spend an awful lot of time working alone in a studio – it’s a very lonely process. This time around I wanted to work with people to make music. Not just music, but other things too: videos, iPhone apps, clothes. With this album I can tour, see my friends and produce all at the same time. Recording and performing in all these places (India, China, Australia and, eventually, the Arctic Circle) has also given me a chance to travel properly, which I never got to do seeing as I’ve been working solidly since the age of 17. I didn’t expect to be going all these places or meeting all these people but its has been an amazing journey – if not slightly rushed.