Imogen Heap performing live at The Casbah on Oct. 13, as part of the 2005 Hotel Café tour
Arts & Entertainment
Imogen Heap speaks for herself
Eclectic British singer/songwriter invades America with electro-pop soundscapes
Published Thursday, 03-Nov-2005 in issue 932
Those who saw the season finale of Fox’s “The O.C.” last spring may have remembered an ethereal digitized voice that hauntingly echoed during the tumultuous final scene. That unique voice belongs to British songstress Imogen Heap. Her a cappella-style electronica hit “Hide & Seek” catapulted her to fame in America, and fans are now snapping up Speak for Yourself (RCA Victor Records), her second solo album, which was released Nov. 1 in the U.S. Heap’s first solo effort in eight years, the album was released independently via her home-grown label, Megaphonic Records, in the U.K. earlier this summer to rave reviews.
Less than a week after “Hide & Seek” aired last May on “The O.C.”, the single moved from virtually nowhere to number 32 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Downloads chart, garnering 27,000 iTunes downloads. Another song from Speak for Yourself, “Goodnight and Go” is featured on the soundtrack Music From The O.C. Mix 4.
“It was a really cool introduction to the album,” Heap told the Gay & Lesbian Times. “I like that the first thing people really heard was ‘Hide & Seek’ because of it being a cappella. I like the bridge between Frou Frou and a cappella Immi [Imogen] and musical Immi,” she said.
The song features Heap’s breathy, deep and floating voice echoing eerily through a vocoder, a device used to digitally harmonize vocals, which she manipulates into different ranges using her keyboard.
Speak for Yourself incorporates sounds derived from plucking a bicycle wheel, hitting cardboard carpet tubes (which Heap discovered outside her studio) and playing an exotic thumb piano called an mbira. Heap’s multi-layered canvasses of sonic delight push her in and out of the electronic rock/pop genre. Her sound is so varied and multi-dimensional it’s hard to classify into one specific category.
The opening track, “Headlock,” features a rash of beeping outer space-like keyboard noises in an imaginary odyssey through the mind of a confused adventure-seeking woman. In the refrain, she sings “I’m going outside to take it all in/You say too late to start/Got your heart in a headlock.”
Some of the songs on Speak for Yourself resemble Heap’s earlier work, which is rooted in piano and synthesizers, but emanate a more complex and mature sound. “The Walk” is a prime example of this. In the midst of a chaotic and rhythmic journey, she sings over rapid percussion beats, bass-lines, electronic buzzes and piano bars.
A standout track called “Daylight Robbery” demonstrates Heap’s progression toward a more sophisticated and heavier rock sound rooted in electronic mayhem. It has an extremely violent, jolting sound, pulling rhythm in and out while trickling piano sounds soothe behind verses and flush out the edges.
Seeing Heap perform live is impressive to say the least. Programming sounds on her Apple laptop while simultaneously pressing buttons, pulling levers, singing and playing the keyboard, she produces diverse musical landscapes on stage. She records live vocals, manipulates them and reuses them later in the same song.
Imogen Heap’s new solo album, ‘Speak for Yourself,’ was released in the U.S. on Nov. 1.
“Gradually, when I got older, when I was 12 I figured out there were computers on the planet so I did start programming my pieces on computers,” said Heap, who admitted her approach to creating music has changed considerably since her early days. “Eight years ago you really couldn’t make a record like the one I’ve made now on your own because you didn’t have Pro Tools [a digital audio-editing program] as advanced as it is now and as cheap as it is now.”
Heap played most of the instruments on Speak for Yourself, including the clarinet, guitar, cello and harp, which really stands out on “Have You Got It In You?” The song’s intricate melodies somewhat resemble Björk’s 2001 Vespertine album.
After releasing her rock/pop-inspired, piano-heavy debut album I Megaphone in 1998, Heap had no intentions of releasing another solo effort almost eight years later. Several issues with her record label surfaced, which delayed another album. She ended up collaborating with producer Guy Sigsworth again, who produced her first album and has produced music for Madonna and Björk. Heap and Sigsworth wrote a song together called “Flicks” and eventually combined their efforts to create the electronic pop/rock duo Frou Frou, releasing Details (Island Records) in 2002.
Unfortunately, Island said they didn’t think the album was getting enough radio play with the single “Breathe In.” They subsequently dropped Frou Frou, but offered to keep Heap on as a solo artist. She rejected their offer.
“I decided to not do the record company thing because, honestly, I don’t think they have done Frou Frou proud in the U.K.,” she said. “I really think [Details] was a fantastic album. It should have been played much more than it was, and it should have had a lot more attention from the record company.”
In the aftermath, Heap and Sigsworth disbanded and pursued solo projects before Garden State (2004) director/writer/actor Zach Braff, best known from the television show “Scrubs,” personally selected Frou Frou’s track “Let Go” to include on the Grammy award-winning soundtrack. Due to the song’s exposure in the film, it became an instant hit – all of a sudden Frou Frou was back in the spotlight even though the duo had disbanded.
Heap re-mortgaged her London flat in order to write and produce Speak for Yourself on her own. The experience prompted her to launch her own label, Megaphonic Records.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but I think – if I really thought about what I was putting on the line for a split-second – I would have maybe been a bit more pensive to re-mortgaging my flat,” said Heap. “I owe people a lot of money as a result, but also I now have the freedom and I’ve made a record that I absolutely love. I didn’t have anybody come looking over my shoulder making me feel nervous that I wasn’t writing a single or whatever.”
Heap added that her primary concern isn’t how many records she sells, or how much money she makes. “It’s just I want people to hear my music,” she said. “I know there are people on this planet who really like my music, but just don’t know about it yet.”

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