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12 July 2010 @ 09:56 am
Interview: Today's Zaman  

Imogen Heap: Music seeking to innovate

A Grammy award winner in 2010 for her latest album “Elipse,” British singer-songwriter Imogen Heap was a guest of the 17th İstanbul International Jazz Festival Saturday night with an appearance at the İstanbul Modern.

Combining folk and electronic music, Heap is best known for her songs “Headlock,” “Hide and Seek” and “Come Here Boy” and her band Frou Frou. The band’s “Let’s Go” was featured in Zach Braff’s film “Garden State,” bringing immediate attention to the song and the group.

The influence of Heap’s love and inclination for music is an undeniable reality for Heap. “I don’t exactly know when I started,” says Heap in an interview with Today’s Zaman, pointing out that she started to write songs and play instruments at a very young age. “I was younger than I can remember, but I have pictures of me playing the piano on my granddad’s knee and my mom and dad playing the piano. It was a kind of very open family, my parents encouraging us just to do what we want.” On the other hand, Heap had another interesting reason for starting music. “I was the middle child,” she says. “I probably wanted a lot of attention, the loudest thing in the house was the grand piano so I figured if I played that I’d get attention. So I probably started a little bit because of that.”

For Heap, music is a process of creation. “When I was a kid, I loved making anything -- making cards, making pictures -- and it’s the same with music, I just wanted to make things from nothing,” explains Heap. “And it’s the same now. I love going to the studio and then having nothing to start with, just my head, and then over the course of the year seeing something come to life and all of the instruments getting into it and all of the people that are involved, building the studio, writing the songs, going all through the course of lyrics, and it’s just a big thing. It only looks little, it looks like a tiny little thing on the CD but it takes so much time to make it. It’s a fantastic feeling that you’ve done it.”

For this reason, Heap avoids repeating what she or someone else has done before. “I just try not to ever go back to the old sounds or go back to the old visions,” says Heap, “so when I start a record, it’s really is a clean slate. And actually on this record, I haven’t written anything previous to the day when I started my writing trip in March 2007. I looked at Google Earth a few times and looked where I wanted to go and it was Hawaii. I plotted a route around the Pacific and I went on a writing trip for three months on my own. I just wrote and drank coffee and wrote and drank coffee ... and saw some beautiful places and wrote the album while I was travelling. So, it’s really like a capsule in my life, capsule lyrically and musically. I like being up to the back on my albums like sections in your wardrobe, like things that I possibly can’t wear anymore but you still have an affection towards it because it’s how you used to look or how you once believed you were.”

This kind of working has been a brand-new experience for Heap. “I never thought to go somewhere else, I could never afford it,” she says, “so I thought this time I can afford it and I need a holiday so I just went to go to some places on my own and discover who I am because I spent from the age of 17 to 30 working ... I love what I did. But I never took any break.”

Having more fun

Classically trained in several instruments including piano, cello and clarinet, Heap taught herself to play the guitar and drums in addition to two unusual instruments: the array mbira and the Hang. “A lot of the instruments that I choose to play on stage are actually things which inherently have a beautiful sound and are actually easy to play, but they’re not common. I used to play the piano when I was a kid. I can’t really play the drums, but I love playing drums so I have a small cocktail kit, very small kit that I play on the stage.”

The effort of Heap trying to make something new in each work leads her to use new instruments or even new objects in her music. “When I’m making a record or when I’m trying to make a live show, I think of how I’m going to recreate or do the show differently than I’ve done my other tours,” says Heap. “It’s quite taxing on the brain.” But as she figures out the sounds that she’s going to use, it’s a total matter of fun. “It’s really very random and not really very thought through,” explains Heap. “It’s just where I am at that moment when I need to write a song and what’s around me, what haven’t I used yet. It’s never premeditated. It’s really the situation and the playfulness I got back when I was a kid. For a long time, I forgot to have fun, I made music but it wasn’t fun. ... I didn’t really have that much fun doing it, it’s strange.”

The similar approach proves itself on how she writes the lyrics. Unprecedented yet natural and directly taken from personal life. “Sometimes they’re very direct, like maybe I’m reading a piece in the New Scientist and feeling very sorry for the planet and all we’re doing to it and I write a song about it,” says Heap. “And then another might be inspired by a script, a film. And at other times, one specific thing that happened in a moment. ... It’s whatever situation I find myself in, and what kind of emotional space I want to be in for the next two weeks while I write the song.”

Enjoying the great success of her latest album, which earned Heap two Grammy nominations and won Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Heap is standing at a point where she can observe her own progress. “I just have a general progression of becoming an adult. In the beginning I was very afraid of everything, I was afraid of people not allowing me to be what I wanted to be, not understanding the business, not really knowing who I was in this place and what was I expected to be doing other than just making pretty songs. Now I feel more confident, understanding ... how people come together and I’ve been very excited about this fantastic communicative, collaborative and creative world that we’re now living in.”

“I didn’t think in advance about how I was going to make it different,” Heap explains of the immediate period before “Ellipse.” “It’s really just trying to find out who I am. At the moment, I’m very optimistic about the future and quite confident. I’ve been reflective. I’ve been travelling, I’ve taken my family’s house, I feel like an adult a little bit but at the same time I feel very playful. So all these things, I think you can hear in the record.”

Her energy is reflected in her interaction with the audience, supporting all kinds of technologies for communication. “It’s really, at the end of the day, a very human need to get connected,” sa ys Heap. “And I don’t feel any different when I want to connect out of me to you or out of me to a million of people. I Tweet sometimes, I don’t talk about what I eat and silly things, what I think that people don’t really need to know, but I like to talk about like coming to İstanbul and how the city looks and how it felt and connecting to people maybe in İstanbul. I believe when people get connected they feel more comfortable and I think that can solve all the ills.”

For Heap, there’s a treasure in the variety of individual worlds. “People making their own videos, uploading pictures of their own, dancing in their bedrooms... I think it’s so healthy that everyone is able to be creative and express themselves even in very small micro-ways,” says Heap. “And it’s a great time to be in music for that reason too -- there’s so much variety out there. The difficulty is to hear it because there is so much variety. But as technology gets better, we’ll find better ways of finding the music we need to find and that we don’t know where to find.”