- 22 Apr 01
Joe Jackson meets Imogen Heap, a woman determined to triumph over lazy comparisons.
When Tori Amos made her debut most critics said she’d never last because she sounded too much like Kate Bush. They were wrong. Drawing similar and, let’s face it, lazy links, many are now writing off Imogen Heap before her career even, begins, claiming that on her first album, I Megaphone, she sounds too much like Tori Amos and Kate Bush. And as for the other pretty predictable point-of-comparison well, any woman who sounds even remotely vengeful these days is automatically lumped alongside Alanis Morissette.
“If the songs are ‘vengeful’ it’s more that I’m attacking myself, not just attacking men, which is more what Alanis does,” says Imogen, perched on her bed in a Dublin hotel. “But it is true to say that some journalists don’t listen to the music. They just say, ‘oh no, not another angry female.’ Even so, the songs are not all angry. ‘Whatever’ isn’t. Nor ‘Shine’. And all these critics claim I’m a huge fan of Alanis Morissette. I’ve never liked her. I just don’t think she is very real. But what gets me about the comparison is that people who don’t like her will see this ‘Imogen-Alanis’ thing and then stay away from my music, not even give me a chance. That really is the worst thing about those lazy comparisons.”
For those who may have been turned off by the “another angry female” tag, Imogen recommends you “check out ‘Sleep’ which closes the album” and is her own “favourite track.” It also is a song defined by a sense of acceptance that is the antithesis of the self-loathing in evidence on many of the other tracks. That said, despite Imogen’s disclaimers, some songs, such as ‘Getting Scared’ are directed outwards, most notably towards those responsible for betrayal.
“Everything I’ve been through since I was a kid had to be confronted in these songs,” she explains. “ For example, ‘Come Here Boy’ was the first song I wrote, when I was 16, and that was about a relationship I had with a man who was forty! And ‘Sleep’ was written last July so the album spans that time, roughly two, three years of my life. And some songs deal with being bullied, say, in boarding school, where I was mocked about the clothes I wore, the way I looked, whatever. People there really did regard me as some kind of freak from the middle of nowhere. And these things do matter a lot when you are sixteen, seventeen. But ‘Getting Scared’ is specifically about a girl who I thought was my friend, so I trusted her and told her about something that had happened to me as a child – that I’ve only told one other person – and she told everybody. So the song is about betrayal, at that level.”
‘Religion’ deals with the way Imogen “deified” her first lover, ‘Angry Angel’ is about “experimenting too much with drugs, when I was younger” while ‘Rake It In’ is her attack on “the record company.” But if these are her lyrical concerns what about the music itself?
“That’s why I was mad at people in the record company who tend to push you in certain directions, thinking they know what is best for you musically, or otherwise, when in fact you have to stay true to who you are,” Imogen responds. Though she admits that she herself, at first, wasn’t too sure of just who she was, musically speaking. That’s why, having originally recorded the album with Dave Stewart, she ended up re-recording with David Kahne and Guy Sigsworth.
“Well, ‘Sleep’ is important , not just in terms of it being the conclusion of the journey I take on this album but because, musically, it made me realise that I don’t have to go with huge arrangements, that my music can be sparse and still work,” she reflects. “But when I started this record with Dave I wanted distortions and delays and maybe he should have stopped me and said ‘there’s too much going on here, your voice is lost’. At first, I thought that was great then, after six months, I realised it was over-done so we started all over again, re-recorded five of the songs and did two new mixes. But we kept Dave’s work on tracks like ‘Angry Angel’ and ‘Rake It In’, which means you get the best of both worlds! And, at the end of the day, I, myself, am really happy with this album, no matter what critics say!”
• Imogen Heap’s I Megaphone is currently on release.