Imogen Heap’s new album Ellipse debuted in the US album charts at No.5 last month. We caught up with the woman who some call the Queen of the Digital Age to chat about why America loves her more than her native UK, how she’s now mates with Mika, how she’s managed to get over a million followers on Twitter and why she invites these friends to comment on her music as she makes it and buys them drinks into the bargain at Heap Tweet-Ups…
Your new single First Train Home is a beautiful song about wanting to leave a party you’re not having fun at. Tell me a bit about it…
“My friend was trying to get me out for the night but I was really stressed and wasn’t in the mood – there were loads of builders in my house doing my new studio. But I went thinking it would be good for me, tried to socialise but I just couldn’t get into it – the more fun everyone else was having, the less I was. I hid in a room for a while, then I phoned to see what time the first train home was, went home and wrote the song – so something good came out of it.”
And what does your friend think of you telling this story?
“She’s fine with it – she’s more upset that I didn’t tell her I was feeling like that at the time!”
Your new album Ellipse has had great reviews and debuted top five in the US charts – how do you explain your greater success over there?
“I think it’s because the internet is far more advanced in the States – they’re about three years ahead in terms of blogging and online communities. Also, I got a lot of support from college radio in the US so that helped – I never get played on the radio here. I’ve been building a career steadily in the US for 13 years now and the top five chart position is a direct result of my constant blogging and connection with the fans throughout the making of the record.”
You keep in touch with fans via your website, video blogs and Twitter, where you have over a million followers. Do you enjoy that side of things?
“I really do. When I first started I was always curious about who was listening to my music – the only way I found out was when I saw them at my gigs. But now, every day I get messages from my listeners and really connect with them. I don’t make my music for me – I make it to be listened to and I love making a connection with people. If Twitter and YouTube were taken away now I’d be devastated.”
Have you met any of your fans via Twitter?
“Absolutely. I arrange Heap Tweet-Ups and fans come down. I buy all the drinks and we chat about the music – I really enjoy it. For this album, I loved the first time I played it to a bunch of fans – being there when that happened completed the circle – the album doesn’t feel finish to me until it’s heard by the listener.”
You’ve said before that you like to incorporate unusual sounds in your songs like food frying. Any included on the new album?
“The frying food was me cooking spaghetti bolognese in the background of Hide And Seek. I’ve included loads of stuff in this record – mostly house noises – I even recorded the dripping in the kitchen sink in the second verse of Wait It Out.”
Your music has also found fame on shows like The OC and Heroes. Are you looking to get placed in other shows/films?
“Absolutely! I can’t rely on record sales anymore for my income and I don’t get on the radio, so other forms of money are a lifeline – I also write and produce for other people too. But getting on shows like The OC also opens my music up to a whole new audience who would otherwise never have heard of me. I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat because I know that there’s so much music out there that I’d love and that would change my life but I’ll never hear it.”
You re-mortgaged your flat to pay for your last album to be made – would you describe yourself as a risk-taker?
“I considered it more of a risk to stay with Island and watch them bugger it up again – doing it myself put the control in my hands and ever since then my career’s been going brilliantly.”
You love collaborating with others, including Mika on his recent album. How did that come about?
“It was very random – I met him at the Ivor Novello Awards through an old friend of mine. He said that Mika loved my music, and he was tall, charming and a bit zany – just my type. We hit it off and he asked to do something with me so I said yes. I loved it – it was outside my comfort zone and really sparked my creativity. I’m really proud of the song – I recorded the music in one night and that’s what went on the album which was a bit mortifying – I usually fiddle with it for months but Mika loved it.”
Watch Imogen’s video for First Train Home…