Tue 8 Oct 2019

Interview with… Imogen Heap


Globally renowned tech innovator and award-winning recording artist Imogen Heap, recognised for creative works including ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Tiny Human’, will be visiting Manchester for the first time in eight years! We caught up with her to find out exactly what her upcoming show will entail, and what new gadgets she’s been working on…

  1. It’s been eight years since you embarked on a world tour, how do you feel getting back into it?

I’ve missed it and am loving it! I’ve done a ton of music and tech conferences surrounding a digital ID solution for music makers called The Creative Passport, where I’d speak and perform but this is a whole different story being out there with the fans. Also, in those 8 years I wrote and produced my 4th solo record, co-developed the MI.MU gloves, had a child, set up the non-profit music and tech company Mycelia and did the Harry Potter play score. So, not really had time to squeeze in a tour before now!

We started our first leg of the tour last September and spent nine months on the road before taking a break. Our UK leg kicks off in November and we could not be more excited about it. It has been so lovely to be on stage with Guy Sigsworth again and finally getting back in front of my fans now as a mum too and having Scout on the road with us.

I feel very fortunate to be able to take my family on tour with me and to host workshops with music makers as part of my work on The Creative Passport – both of which have been wonderful. Ending the tour in my home country the UK and at The Roundhouse, one of my favourite venues, is going to be the icing on the cake on what will end up being a whirlwind 14 months.

  1. What’s one part of touring and travelling you’ve missed?

Being on stage, in the flow of the banter and songs on stage, it’s a feeling of now, not of what’s tomorrow or what you haven’t done but, right now in the moment, connecting, creatively, collectively, communicating with the fans in the real world.

Performing on stage and looking out and seeing the people who continue to support me throughout my career and getting to meet and thank some of them personally. Also getting to try new things on stage in front of fans – that’s something that you can’t do over social media or in the same way as when people are just listening to your music. Whilst I have loved seeing the world and visiting countries and cities I perhaps haven’t been to before, what I won’t miss is the constant travel, endless security checks, the different hotel rooms and having to fit my life in a suitcase, especially when it’s been left in another airport!

  1. Can you tell us more about your app, The Creative Passport? 

We have used this tour to, through workshops, meet music makers and music services around the world to research and develop The Creative Passport, toward a flourishing music business, that reflects the beauty music delivers every second of every day to billions around the world. This is something that I hold very close to my heart as I believe that, at the moment, the music industry is not set up in a way that is fair and transparent for those at the core – the first to take the risk, the music makers. There’s always been a feeling of an uphill battle to just do things that otherwise, in other businesses, are simple. The Creative Passport is being designed and developed to help alleviate some of the problems that music makes face, such as not being able to manage their data properly that can lead to missed payments or not being acknowledged for their work etc. Whilst we have a much longer-term vision, in the short term we are going to be rolling out an app which enables creators to manage, verify and control their data online in one place, which will ultimately create a whole new raft of business opportunities for them, and the music business at large. The workshops give us face time with artists so that we can, in real time, show them how this will work, as well as using those sessions to generate ideas about what else we could all be doing to transform the music industry for the better.

  1. What are your future plans for The Creative Passport?

Over the last 12 months we have been testing The Creative Passport both with music makers and services and are almost in a position where we are ready to launch the beta version of it. This is obviously a very exciting time for the whole team as their ongoing hard work will finally come to fruition – we will be able to get it into the hands of the very people we are trying to help with it. So the next 12 months will be spent rolling it out across the music community, working with music services and brands to build out the B2B offering – where they can use it to find verified information on artists – developing the technology so that it really does become that one-stop peace of mind data hub for music makers that becomes fully integrated. It’s incredibly exciting.

  1. As the show will be very technology-based, does this mean you’ll be debuting any new musical inventions too?

I enjoy sharing what I’m doing up on stage with the tech I use with my fans. I will have the MI.MU gloves which we’ve been developing for 8 years now yet this is the first world tour I have used them on! Feels so incredible to be performing, fluidly with the tech now with all the bugs well and truly squashed out of the system.  We did for a few shows have Miss Metric – our mechanical drummer and kit that played itself for a few shows, but she wasn’t quite cutting the mustard, so we brought in Chris Vatalaro and Tim Keiper. In terms of other new tech, I am always working or thinking on a number of new developments but, at this stage, they won’t feature in my performance. More to follow on this at a later date!

  1. What’s your favourite thing to do in Manchester, and what else are you looking forward to seeing?

I love Manchester – it is a great city and I have spent quite a few fun times there! Most recently I’ve been there for a few brief visits to the BBC around the Creative Passport, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Soundtrack and for The Happy Song (a song I wrote for babies to make them happier!). The last time I spent a longer amount of time was for a collaboration with Brighter Sounds, where for a week I worked with 10 music artists to create a song and release it in a week! We discussed the industry, creativity, workflow and also wrote a song! We called ourselves Frink Frink for the release and the song is called Marble.

I won’t actually have that much time in the city itself this time, but I hope that I get a few hours to have a nice dinner with the band – Manchester has some great restaurants after all.

  1. Tell us about the process of writing the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child soundtrack. How did the films and John Williams’ original scores inspire your composition?

It was very important for the play to sit in its own world. There’s nothing about the play that takes lead from the films and the creative team worked over a few years with JK to bring this next story in the cannon of Harry Potter to life in a unique experimental format. So I had essentially free reign as Imogen Heap to conjure the musical language, alongside primarily four members of the creative team Steven Hoggett, John Tiffany, Martin Lowe and Gareth Fry. It was very different to my usual ‘spend a month or two on a song’ with 100 cues of music scoring half of a 5-hour play in a few months! It was fascinating, and creatively both challenging and freeing to work at such a pace. Having all the other inputs such as sound and lighting and dialogue to help me match to and contribute to, is a whole different ballpark to creating a piece of music to sit and listen to in its own right. I was drawing from work from over 15 years and working and reworking them, to form the basis of the music layer. I would be pulling some music together sometimes in the space of 30 mins for a scene I may never have seen yet and my success was determined by whether John or Stephen came up the aisle or not to my music desk. All the music was created in the workshop space or in the theatre. I was liaising and collaborating with Alexis my assistant who was back at ‘The Round House’, my home studio in Havering, preparing sessions for me and uploading them to dropbox. Also I have a virtual instrument I co-developed with SonicCouture called The Box Of Tricks that is essentially all my favourite elements that usually go into record making, my Mbira, Cocktail Kit, layers of vocals, Waterphone, cello harmonics that I could play on the keyboard connected to my computer in the theatre without having to record it all for real! Pretty handy!

  1. Are you looking to do any more soundtracks in the future? If so, what film/musical would you love to put your own spin on?

I absolutely loved writing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child soundtrack – it was extremely hard work but a wonderfully rewarding experience. So of course I would love to write more soundtracks should the opportunity arise. In terms of which films or theatrical work I would love to put my own spin on, there are so many to choose from. I dunno, something genre defining perhaps, but who wouldn’t want to work on the next 2001 or Under The Skin!

  1. How does it feel hearing other artists sampling your work? Does that inspire you further?

It’s perhaps surprising but it’s really special to me when someone does.  It is perhaps the biggest compliment that I think an artist can receive and it definitely inspires me to do more and try new things. Whether it’s Ariane Grande, Deadmau5, Clams Casino or A$AP Rocky playing around with bits of my songs, hearing them in a new light and seeing a piece of myself too in a new light is sometimes mind-blowing, not to mention these derivatives introducing me to a wider and more diverse audience, which is key to the continued success of anyone!

  1. Are you working on any more new music?

At the moment I am very busy on a project with a big tech company, that I will be able to talk about very soon, part of which involves writing new music. Come next year, with our daughter now in school, the tour behind me, this commission finished, Creative Passport heading towards a launch, MI.MU commercially released, I will definitely be booking in some time at my own residential recording studio soon enough and get back to where it all started. Just enjoying making music

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