Tab Interview: Imogen Heap

TABATHA LEGGETT talks to the queen of social media IMOGEN HEAP about, amongst other things, wireless routers in knickers.

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Imogen Heap has grown on me. At first, her heavily produced, folksy pop music was an irritant I could have done without in my day-to-day existence. But then she cemented her status as a teen-pleaser with ‘Hide and Seek’, the song that played when Marissa shot Trey on The OC, which made me cry (did you know that you can hear a genuine frying pan in that song?). And then I loved her again. She writes, produces and mixes her own stuff, and was nominated for two Grammys this year. She won ‘Best Engineered album – Non-Classical’.

‘I love Twitter!’ Imogen Heap exclaims, within thirty seconds of picking up the phone. And the tone for the interview was set. Hardly surprising, if we remember that famous ‘twitdress‘ that she wore to the Grammys. ‘The first time I went to the Grammys, I didn’t realise how glamorous the event was,’ she explained. ‘I thought it would be more of a fun event; like the Brits. But, it wasn’t – it was very spectacular. I wore a strange outfit; I had grass coming out of my hair, and a kind of parasol thing… this time, I just wanted to top that.

And top it she did, with a dress that led to her being dubbed ‘the queen of social media’. ‘I wanted my outfit to represent my favourite parts of my studio: the LED lights and the screens. I also wanted to bring my fans with me to the event, since they are so integral to the records that I make. When I have a break, I don’t drink tea, I get a Twitter-boost and see what my fans are up to online.

‘My outfit involved an LED necklace that displayed messages and pictures that my fans were uploading via Twitter. The wireless router was in my knickers. It felt so lovely to have a part of all of my fans up there, with me.’ Seriously? Having a wireless router in her knickers was lovely? Because it meant her fans were with her? Right.

The twitdress

Isn’t it all a bit…geeky? Perhaps. Though, as someone who was too scared to write an essay on a computer throughout her A levels, I am slightly in awe of Imogen and her grasp of technology. ‘I just think that we’re living in a great time, where the Internet allows us to do really spontaneous things,’ Imogen explains.

‘I love that the physical is finally connecting with the virtual. Even as little as two years ago, people lived separate physical and online lives. I think that people were scared that their online lives would take over, and everyone would stop going out and meeting people. But that hasn’t happened at all!

‘I think people find it more enjoyable now. And using Twitter makes it really easy for me to connect with my fans too. In the past, it’s always been quite awkward to meet fans, because they’re so excited to see me that they can’t speak, and I don’t know anything about them so I can’t speak. But nowadays, we can all follow each other on Twitter and everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and so the awkwardness just disappears!’ How lovely.


One of Imogen’s vlogs

So, Imogen loves Twitter. We’ve established this. But she loves other forms of social media too. Like vlogging. AKA video blogging. Currently, Imogen and sustainability entrepreneur-cum-creative director Thomas Ermacora are involved with a concept film called ‘Love the Earth’.  The idea: Imogen is doing a gig at the Royal Albert Hall on 5th November. She will be conducting an orchestral piece of music, and the music will be accompanied by a nature film that will be projected onto a screen. Naturally, the whole event will be broadcast live onto the Internet.

‘I asked my fans to send in footage of nature that shows why they love the earth. I’ve been watching all of the footage that got sent in and have started composing the scores, and my team of 11 editors are turning the footage into a montage.

‘The footage I’ve seen so far is amazing. I’ve been watching it all in my dingy basement studio at home in Essex, and I’ve just been so inspired by the hundreds of people who’ve sent in their camera work. It’s so exciting to finally be able to create a nature film – this is something I’ve always wanted to do! And, it feels like everyone is being connected through technology, which is amazing!

The music industry is changing,’ Imogen told me, ‘and the Internet is a vital part of it. For example, in the past it was really easy to know where your fans are, because you just looked at record sales. But, nowadays, people don’t buy records. So you just don’t know. But now,  I’ve found out that I have lots of fans in places like Indonesia, Russia and Brazil. I’d love to go to these places!’

Despite her over-keenness to connect with her bloody fans, I suppose Imogen is right; in order to appeal to a modern audience, you have to embrace social media websites. For example, Imogen recently tweeted about the expense of touring. Although this proved to be somewhat controversial, and she did face criticism, the wife of a CSI writer contacted her, and asked her to play at her 40th birthday party on Necker Island, in return for covering all of Imogen’s touring expenses. ‘In a way, I regretted that tweet. It was a spur of the moment thing. But, equally, I do believe that things always work out for the best, and I might not have got to play at one of the most exclusive private islands if I hadn’t tweeted that day.’

Imogen may put it down to ‘things working out for the best’, but it soon became clear to me that her success is dependent on the hard work that she puts into what she does. And her incessant tweeting, obviously. Recently, she posted a video of her singing Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the Internet, and was invited to Rod Temperton’s house to listen to the song’s original demo. ‘ I tried to make my version really sexy and sultry, and he invited me round because he thought that I really understood the song in a way which has perhaps been forgotten somewhere amongst all of the zombies.’

The point is: Imogen puts herself out there. She has almost 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and I don’t doubt that she could probably name them all individually. Yes, she’s very talented. Yes, she’s very smart. But, the reason she is so successful is that she utilises the resources that are available to her. And even though I’m not convinced that Twitter is cool, I reckon Imogen just might be. She does follow The Tab, after all.