Even in a year that has seen several artists make mainstream breakthroughs
via unusual channels, the path that 29-year-old singer-songwriter and
electronic musician Imogen Heap took to burgeoning stardom and a recent
Grammy nomination for Best New Artist stands out as circuitous and unduly
Raised in Essex, England, Heap fell in love with music at an early age,
progressing from classical training on piano, cello and clarinet in her
pre-teen years to sequencing and sampling on an early Atari computer when
she was in boarding school. She released her acclaimed debut, "i Megaphone,"
an anagram of her name, on Almo Sounds in 1998, but the label kept her in
limbo for months before rejecting her second album for a "lack of commercial
hits." The company was then swallowed by Universal, which dropped the artist
from its roster.
Heap managed to stay on the pop-culture radar by collaborating with Guy
Sigsworth in the duo Frou Frou, which released an album called "Details" in
2002. But she was determined to get her solo career back on track, and she
took a second mortgage on her London flat in order to do it, funding and
recording her extraordinary 2005 release, "Speak for Yourself," entirely on
"This is the first record that I have done completely on my own, and my
goal was basically to try and finish it by myself and see if I could
actually make a record on my own in a studio of my own," Heap says. "Before
going into it, I guess I didn't give it a whole lot of thought about what
would happen if I couldn't do it. I just kind of thought, 'Well, I pretty
much know what I'm doing; I'm just going to see what happens.' I'm massively
thankful that I took that leap, because it gave me freedom to do whatever I
wanted to do."
The musician chronicled her progress on the album on her blog (www.imogenheap.co.uk/iblog/iblog.htm),
and she gave away tracks via the Internet as she completed them. This paid
off when several of her songs were featured on the teen soap opera "The
O.C.," which led to other soundtrack slots on "C.S.I.," "Six Feet Under" and
movies such as "Garden State." Suddenly, Heap's career was taking off.
"I released my first record in the U.K. when I was 19, and I have always
felt that they got it a bit more over here, while the States sort of lagged
behind," Heap says. "In the U.K., it's pretty much you get on [BBC] Radio I,
and then people listen. In the States, there are so many different formats
of radio, and it's so corporate, it's hard to get your music heard. That's
why the soundtracks and the Internet have been magnificent for me, because I
haven't had much going on the radio.
"I'm very grateful to anyone who will have my music in TV, because it's
the way I get people to listen. It builds by word of mouth, and certainly a
lot of the gigs I've been doing this last year have helped that. My first
tour of the U.S. for this album was with the Hotel CafĂ© Tour, which
involved a little club in L.A. that put a few of its artists on the road.
From there, I did my own tour, and those were bigger venues. Now, I'm coming
back and playing to double the amount of people. Some people have been like,
'Oh, my God! This has happened so quickly for you!' But there are others who
have been with me for 10 years, and they're like, 'It's about time!'"
With its hypnotic rhythms; sensual, breathy vocals and lush, ambient
soundscapes, Heap's music brings to mind a collaboration between Kate Bush,
Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno, though onstage, as in the studio, she creates
all of the sounds herself.
"On the last two tours, it was just me and my banks of various trigger
keyboards and laptops and things," she says. "I still have all of that, but
I have designed this fantastic case to put it all in. It's in the style of a
baby grand piano, but it's made of clear Perspex [Plexiglass], with a lid
and a silver rod to keep the lid up, and carved legs with golden casters on
"These guys in London who built a part of the set for 'Star Wars: Attack
of the Clones' made this thing for me. It's still girly, because it's not
all about wires and boxes, but even though it's not a piano, I love the idea
that it's blatantly obvious that the heart of it is this organic shape that
we all recognize. The music may be mangled and gone a completely different
way, but the heart of it is still very organic and real."
That, I note, is also a perfect metaphor for Heap's music.
"Ah, yes," she says. "There you have it!"
REASONS FOR LIVING
As it has so often throughout their 23-year career, mainstream success
failed to greet the fabulous Flaming Lips with the release of their 11th
album, "At War with the Mystics," a transitional effort that found the group
inching toward more organic sounds while still trying to retain a measure of
the electronic density of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." But the group
did hit a milestone of another sort this year: Earlier this month, the
Oklahoma City Council designated an alley in the Bricktown area of the
band's hometown in its honor.
In the same session, country singer Vince Gill and jazz great Charlie
Christian also got actual streets named in their honor, but Lips bandleader
Wayne Coyne said it's appropriate that the cult heroes got an alley.
"It's not just a typical, 'Give them a street, give them a statue, give
them a handshake,'" he told AP. "It's like some little secret special thing.
I could see people sneaking in during the middle of the night doing graffiti
art. I can see all kinds of strange things going on there!"
Meanwhile, in time for the holidays, the Lips have released an expanded
CD and DVD of "At War with the Mystics" that includes several studio
outtakes, some superior to tracks that made the album ("Your Face Can Tell
the Future," "The Gold in the Mountain of Our Madness" and "Why Does It
End?"), plus their cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," assorted radio
sessions, several videos and the 2006 commencement address that Coyne
delivered at his Oklahoma City high school -- though he never actually
IMOGEN HEAP; KID BEYOND; LEVI WEAVER
• 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
• Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
• Tickets, $22
• (312) 559-1212