NPR

Imogen Heap: Even The Kitchen Sink

When Imogen Heap composes a song, you never know what she might decide is an instrument. She composes in her home in Essex, England, where her 200-year-old elliptical-shaped house gave her the title of her new album, Ellipse.

Heap is constantly building her audience through the Internet. She's closing in on a million followers on Twitter (@imogenheap). Her songs have 44 million plays on MySpace. She used Flickr to get artwork for the album from her fans. And, as she was working on the new CD, she described how it was going in dozens of video blogs — including this one — about completing Ellipse.

Inspired By A Tweet

Fans have been tracking Heap's progress through these media for the past couple of years. In an interview with Heap, Melissa Block asks what it's like to have that direct connection throughout the process.

"It's been so amazing. I've always struggled with this barrier that I felt like I'd had up until blogging came along," Heap says. "Just one comment from somebody really sparks something in me. It doesn't need to be this huge war between me and the listeners anymore. I really thrive on that."

Heap allows these comments to filter into her songs. For example, one fan on Twitter asked if Heap would put a theremin on a song.

"There was this song I was working on called 'Swing,' " Heap says. "It was almost finished, but there was something missing, and I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. And then this little piece of information — this little tweet — came to the forefront of my mind."

So Heap went on the Internet and downloaded a theremin logic patch for her computer, and within seconds, she had her theremin sound.

Thriving On Limitations

In the interview, Heap takes Block through the song "Tidal" piece by piece; the result is enough to make listeners wonder whether Heap is tempted to throw every toy into a song.

"Yeah. And I do," Heap says. "I do start with the computer and make noises with synthesizers and stuff. But I really tried to get every single sound that was in the house, like the kitchen sink [or] a jack-in-the-box someone gave me for Christmas. I wanted to put everything on the record, even if it was just for one nanosecond. But there are endless possibilities — every single sound on the entire planet you can use."

When Heap decides she wants to work with a particular sound — like a jack-in-the-box — it applies limitations, and "that's when the creativity really thrives."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: When Imogen Heap composes a song, you never know what she might decide is an instrument.

Ms. IMOGEN HEAP (Musician): Sampling sounds around the house, like the banisters I used to slide down when I was a little kid, to recording actually the kitchen sink, the sound of the tap dripping into the kitchen sink to actually my bare bottom, which I recorded the sound of my bare bottom, slapping it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: So everything and the kitchen sink.

Ms. HEAP: Yes.

(Soundbite of song "Wait It Out")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) All I want, only one street-level miracle. I'll be an out-and-out born-again from none more cynical. Everybody says that time heals everything.

BLOCK: Imogen Heap composes in her home in Essex, England, a 200-year-old elliptical-shaped house, and that gave her the title of her new CD, "Ellipse." Picture Imogen Heap at the Grammys a couple of years ago in a dress covered with lily pads with spiky plants sprouting from her hair. She doesn't hold much back. And she's constantly building her audience through the Internet.

She's closing in on a million followers on Twitter. Her songs have 44 million plays on MySpace. She used Flickr to get artwork for the album from her fans. And as she was working on the new CD, she described how it was going in dozens of video blogs, including this one.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HEAP: I've finally come up with 13 songs, but one of them is instrumental. And I think you're going to really like it.

BLOCK: Imogen Heap, that's you telling your friends through the Internet that you're done, your CD is done.

Ms. HEAP: I know. I couldn't believe it. I then proceeded to go around the house and shout, I'm finished, in different guises.

BLOCK: In the shower?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEAP: In the shower, yes. Running through...

BLOCK: In bed.

Ms. HEAP: In the garden, in bed, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, you have people who have been probably tracking every blog post you've made, video blog post you've made over the last couple of years. I mean, what's it like to have that direct connection throughout the process with all these people following along?

Ms. HEAP: Oh, I can't - it's so - it's been so amazing. I've always struggled with this kind of barrier that I felt like I'd had up until blogging came along, and written blogging. But just one comment back from somebody and it just really sparks something in me. I'm just, like, this is what it's all about. You know, this is - it doesn't need to be this huge wall between me and the listeners anymore. And it just made so much sense to me, and I really thrive on that.

BLOCK: Well, how does what your followers say back to you filter into the songs? Where do you hear that coming through?

Ms. HEAP: All kinds of - like, one time I was on Twitter and somebody just kind of randomly said, oh, why don't you throw some theremin on the record? You know, I love theremin. And I was like, okay, theremin could be good. And I kind of stored it in the back of my mind. And then there was this song I was working on called �Swoon.� And it was almost finished. It was, you know, it was really nearly there, but there was something missing and I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. And then, kind of, this little piece of information, this little tweet kind of came to the forefront of my mind.

BLOCK: The theremin tweet.

Ms. HEAP: The theremin tweet, yeah. And I said, oh, maybe I should try a theremin type of sound. So I went on the Internet and I typed in theremin logic patch, and I downloaded this little patch. And within five seconds, I had a theremin sound.

(Soundbite of song, "Swoon")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) Stuck in a cinema or saving me from a car, you'll suddenly realize and fall into my arms.

Ms. HEAP: It kind of goes...

(singing) Da-ah, da-ah.

BLOCK: Oh yeah, that ghostly sound.

Ms. HEAP: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Swoon")

Ms. HEAP: But if it wasn't for that guy saying theremin, I would never have thought of it.

BLOCK: And that came from a tweet.

Ms. HEAP: It did. That came from a tweet. The idea came from a tweet.

BLOCK: You have so much fun layering all kinds of sounds in your songs. I wonder - let's take a listen to one of the songs and if you can deconstruct it a little bit for us. I'm thinking of the song "Tidal."

Ms. HEAP: Okay.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: So here, you're hearing a mixture of real strings and programmed strings.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: In the background - okay, it's that sound that's going doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo. That's actually an Indian flute kind of tuned down and made in and made in chords by this guy called Ashwin, Ashwin Srinivasan. And that sound there you can hear.

(Soundbite of song, "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: Di-di-di-di-di-di-di, that thing. That's Ashwin as well, on his flute.

(Soundbite of song, "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: That's the flute as well.

(Soundbite of song, "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) Watch it closely you see it begin to flicker. While we're here...

Loads of vocals, acoustic guitar played very badly by me and then kind of pieced together, so it sounds kind of half-decent.

(Soundbite of song, "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) While we're...

And some kind of nice synthy sound, dink-dink-dink-dink.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEAP: I don't know how half the time how I made these sounds.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) ...shame to not do.

Okay, that sound, that doo-doo-doo thing, was - oh, I can't remember the name of it. Gameboy. It was a Gameboy. It's a little Gameboy that my friend, PixelHate has kind of hacked into.

BLOCK: Really?

Ms. HEAP: And so, I can use it as a kind of keyboard.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) I sprung up in hearts and arrow superhighways. Watch it closely you see it begin to move. Watch it closely you see it begin to flicker.

Okay, oh, here, you've got Ashwin now, who's the Indian flutist, who's singing. I love his voice so much.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) What we got, got to lose. While we're tidal and flexed on a full moon. It'd be a sure, sure shame to not do. Do what you feel...

Ms. HEAP: He's amazing. When he came into the studio, the song just took a completely new turn. I kind of stripped everything back just to hear his voice.

BLOCK: This is stripped back?

Ms. HEAP: Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEAP: Well, it was kind of stripped back from what it was and then I kind of - but I built it all around his vocals again.

(Soundbite of song "Tidal")

BLOCK: It must be tempting with all these toys to throw them all in, pile it on.

Ms. HEAP: Yeah, and I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEAP: I do start sometimes with the computer and, you know, make noises with synthesizers and stuff. But I really tried to get every single sound that was in the house, like from the kitchen sink to a jack-in-the-box that somebody gave me for Christmas. I wanted to put everything on the record, even if it was just for one nanosecond. But there's endless, endless possibilities. You know, every single sound on the entire planet you can use.

So when you work with, you know, go, I want to make a sound out of that jack-in-the-box, you immediately have big limitations that you put on yourself. And that's when the creativity really thrives is when you have these limitations that you set on yourself.

(Soundbite of song, "First Train Home")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) I want to play don't wait forms in the hideaway. I want to get on with getting on with things.

BLOCK: Imogen Heap, thank you so much.

Ms. HEAP: My pleasure. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it.

(Soundbite of song, "First Train Home")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) I can't do any of that here, can I? First train home, I've got to get on it. First train home...

BLOCK: You can hear more of our conversation and full songs from "Ellipse" at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "First Train Home")

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) So what? You've had one too many. So what? I'm not that much...

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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