Ever since Frou Frou’s soundtrack appearance on Zach Braff’s 2004 film Garden State, Imogen Heap has been heralded with an indie-level ubiquity. However, in the British musician’s hometown, it’s a different story.
“Often in London you’re taking a ride and you’ve got these cab drivers, and they’re very interested in everything, and they know everything about everyone,” she tells CR. “‘What do you then darling?’ ‘I’m a musician.’ ‘Do you sing, do you?’ That’s their assumption, because I’m a female, that you must sing and you can’t possibly play an instrument… And they’re like, ‘Well maybe one day I’ll hear you on the radio. Maybe one day you’ll make it.’ And I’m sitting in the back of the cab going, ‘I’ve made it!’ I’ve done amazing things! You just haven’t heard of me!’”
Frou Frou might have been much of the public’s introduction to Heap, however, the band’s one album of sugar-spun dream pop, 2002’s Details, is merely a line in the singer-songwriter’s deep list of accomplishments. There’s been Grammy nominations (in 2007 for both Best New Artist, and song “Can’t Take it?”) and even two wins, including a statue for her production work on Taylor Swift’s 1989. But to hear her tell it, Heap saw her career as complete long before she achieved any sort of industry recognition.
“I’ve always felt like I was successful,” she explains. “My definition of success is, ‘Am I able to continue doing what I love?’ ‘Am I able to feed myself?’ If I have to figure out how I’m going to eat my next meal, then I’m probably not doing what I love because I’m struggling to figure out life. You’re in a different state of mind. You’re nervous about paying your rent of whatever that might be. It’s not a good space to be able to relax into creativity. Sometimes a bit of scarcity is good for creativity, but there’s a balance. There could be scarcity of time or scarcity of money, but not too much. There definitely is a point.”
Her most recent run of shows with Frou Frou partner Guy Sigsworth, began a few years ago when two began daydreaming about curating a four-day per city festival, featuring both their joint project and solo works. While that ambitious plan didn’t quite come fruition, the two did manage to launch a tour, playing to both large rooms of fans, or in the case of their show in Prague, a room of two people. (“We kept the café for ourselves and whatever songs they wanted, whatever questions they had, we hung out with each other for a few hours,” she recalls, unfazed by the unexpected intimacy.) The musicians even recorded a new track, “Guitar Song,” a delicate ode that thematically fits in with Frou Frou’s main body of work.
“It’s all about love and lack of love or want of love,” says Heap. “It brings back memories. It makes me feel a bit old, to be honest. But I love the songs. They’re really beautiful. I wasn’t doing them on my own in my studio where I sing impossible melodies and sing them about a thousand times get them right. But then they’re impossible to sing live. With Frou Frou it was, ‘don’t sing anything unless you can sing it easily.’ It’s great be back on the road. I love singing all the songs with Guy. He’s such a brilliant musician.”
Heap has also found a way to incorporate many of her other interests into the tour life. The last few years for the artist have been one of constant innovation, including taking on the role of composer for the ambitious Harry Potter stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and co-developing Mi.Mu gloves, an innovative, worn instrument that allows the user to make music through movement. However, her current passion—and one she’s partnering with music conferences to discuss further—is Creative Passport, a blockchain technology enabled platform she hopes will one day act as a music industry marketplace, allowing emerging artists the platform to find work, demystify the royalties process, and actually get paid for their efforts.
“For the longest time, I suppose I’ve put the music industry in brackets outside of the normal process where everyone gets paid for their work when they do it,” she explains.
“When you look at it, it’s got every similarity to every other [production] chain in the planet. There’s a thing we made, get it out into the world, get people hearing about it, try to get some sales, meet some fans, and hope that it comes back to you in your pocket… But when you open it up, it’s like any other industry. It’s just been dealt with by organizations and kept behind the curtain a bit.”
This might seem like only the beginning of untangling an overwhelming problem. Heap admits that before she began work on Creative Passport, she didn’t have any kind of cryptography background. But for someone who’s career has been about solving problems in many different formats, she refuses to see intimidation as a negative emotion.
“That feeling of intimidation, it’s not a bad feeling,” says Heap. “It’s a feeling of ‘wow, someone knows more than me.’ And that’s a nice feeling. It’s a nice feeling to be working around people who know more than you. You learn off that. I think what I’ve managed to gain over the years, that it’s okay to not know and to be interested in stuff. There’s enough knowledge that I have in other areas that are interesting to others. Together we collaborate and find a balance.”END
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