Imogen Heap is a Grammy Award-winning British vocalist and songwriter (as well as multi-instrumentalist and producer). To contemporary a cappella singers and fans, Imogen hardly needs an introduction: between her three solo records and her work as half of the duo Frou Frou, Imogen’s songs like “Let Go” and “Hide and Seek” are ubiquitous in high school, college and professional a cappella. Imogen chatted with CASA writer Marisa Debowsky about singing, songwriting, and her recent project, surrounding the song “Earth”, which has generated a wave of energy as well as exposure to new fans for many a cappella groups in the past year.
Marisa Debowsky (CASA): Tell me about your vocal background. How did you start singing? How do you think about the voice?
Imogen Heap: I started singing naturally: I like talking, and talking became melodies; I accompanied myself on piano when I was younger, and started putting words to melodies at 12 or 13 — puberty, mood swings, bullied at school, so I had subject matter to write about. I sang in school choirs when I was younger and did some writing every year for the choir (a carol or hymn as end-of-year project). Singing was just fun, really; I never planned on doing it professionally, just a natural thing that I liked doing. I knew that I wanted to do music, so studied classical music, arrangement, composition, and anything to get to grips with how to write for orchestra (cello, clarinet, piano); the older I got, the more songs I started to write; I played around with a keyboard, making up beats, writing with computers. At 15, I started recording, and I could hear the things I’d play, how they sounded back. Then I started to layer them up.
I always treated my voice like an instrument, because that’s how I was taught. My singing style comes from a cross between classical and learning instruments and how to accompany. Rather than thinking of vocals as the lead, I might think of a vocal line as accompanying something on piano. A vocal line is also a way to record an idea quickly: rather than getting up to get other instruments, it’s quick to record a vocal track. I like making sounds with the voice, as well as making lyrical lines.
The only pop music I listened to as a kid who had influence was Michael Jackson: he uses lots of vocalism that’s not lyrical, which I subconsciously incorporated. I breathe rhythmically, often filling in space with vocal sounds.
Read the rest of the interview on CASA.org.