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Non-Prog Interviews

Frou Frou

Interviewed by Bruce Stringer
Interview with Imogen Heap from 2003
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

How did you get the gig working with Jeff Beck on his album You Had It Coming?
I met Jeff one beautiful autumn evening just after dinner, in the courtyard of a 12th century castle in Anguleme, France. 30 people or so are invited by Miles Copland to his French gaff every year to drink wine, eat fantastic food, laugh, drive around in his golf cart and oh yeah...write some music! I remember him teaching me a few guitar tricks for beginners! Liked him instantly.
MSJ: What was the process of rehearsing and recording like?
Went in, said hi, had a wee hug and a chat...heard the song for the first time and sang it! It all happened so quickly! I think we spent more time over lunch than the singing part of it.
MSJ: Dirty Mind sounds as though we are hearing snippets of out-takes from Rollin & Tumblin. Was this the case or did you specifically sing the parts to Dirty Mind?
No...I can't really take the credit for the concept of that song. What you hear at the beginning are the words I said when I first heard the music 'oh my god'. I was asked to just go in and warble however I please...the only bit they kept was a breath or two and made me pant! Oh well...he knows what he's doing he won a Grammy for it!!!
MSJ: Did you spend any time in the studio during the production?
Nope. Left that in their capable hands.
MSJ: What sort of experiences did you take away after working with such a legendary musician?
What an incredibly nice bloke and HOW can anyone really play like that!
MSJ: Did you know much about Jeff before you started working with him? If so, what?
I have to admit...no, but everyone else had and they all said 'but he's a legend, how can you not know who he is?'
MSJ: What was it like playing the Royal Festival Hall shows in London this past September?
That was soooooooo much fun! I'd met Jennifer at the castle too and I think she's fantastic. Now I knew who SHE was from my fanatical Michael Jackson pre teen days. That hair. How exactly did she get it that high? It's a great song to sing live and the rhythm section was really raw and tribal pounding through it. Jeff is really exciting to be on stage with. Such a force of energy! I went to town with my outfit and wore a huge white ostrich feather boa wrapped around my head...difficult to visualise I know. I could also walk home after the shows which was a bonus.
MSJ: During the live version of Rollin & Tumblin it sounded as though there was a low-mixed, backward vocal track underneath your own. Were you working to a backing tape or was that a live effect?
For a section of the song a sample was triggered along with me to double up. It's difficult to sing backwards!
MSJ: Are there any plans to work together again in the future?
I hope we'll get together and do something again. I don't know what yet. Maybe I could ask him if he could go finger licking mad on my next record...? I should take him up on that dinner one of these days too. mmmmm
MSJ: What is your musical background?
Born into a classical music loving family. We had a gorgeous grand piano in the living room and as soon I could reach it I was on it non-stop. Dad was great at sight-reading and mum could just tunefully glide over the ivories without a clue what notes she was hitting. I figured out quite early on that the more instruments I took up the more academic classes I could 'skive' (- British term meaning skip or get out of- BS). So I learnt one from each of the four families. Piano (percussion) Clarinet (woodwind) cello (strings) and had a bash at the brass but couldn't get anything more than a raspberry out of the trumpet. I studied music theory, composition and arrangement at school as well as music technology. Been very into programming from an early age. The singing came much later. I'd never paid much attention to my voice. I could never slide from my chest to my head voice smoothly so I adopted the yodel effect!
MSJ: Could you please tell us something about Frou Frou's US promo tour you've just returned from?
We had a great time. All over the shop we were! Started in Seattle then did a big figure of eight through Salt lake, Austin, Virginia, Washington, Boston, LA, Sanfran then NYC. Phew. Working up those air miles. We are really very excited about the reaction we're getting. Our fans are people that we'd hang out with. A real mixed bunch! The gigs are going great. It's just Guy and I, a couple of Apple laptops, a live vocal sampler/ looper I record into on the night and create harmonies and patterns. Cloning myself as we go. A couple of racked synths. I also sport a red strap-on keyboard and a red Gibson 335 pops out every now and then.
MSJ: I understand that you had recently just toured live in the USA and that things were very successful. Where were you playing and what type of audiences were you playing to?
All kinds of venues and though they were mostly our own shows we did do a couple of gigs with Nora Jones and also Coldplay. The Coldplay gig was at one of my favourite venues, Bimbos 335 in San Francisco on my Birthday! That was a great night. As for the audiences...at our last show in LA I met Wes Craven! He's a big Frou Frou fan...and he created Freddie Kruger...It's all about balance!
MSJ: The tracks on Details show a pop sensibility, yet there is an underlying maturity in your words, the arrangement and the production. How did you approach this project- was it to write pop singles or an album? Are you happy with the finished product?
Sometimes when you finish a song there may be a moment where you cough really loudly or mention something to distract the listener at a certain point cause you're not happy with one bit. We don't feel like we need to do that to this album. We were really intent on making this a non-fat album. Meaning...no fillers. No song got less love than another.
MSJ: I notice that the production, although it has modern electronic sounds, doesn't fall into the category of British electronica (which tends to be cheap and disposable). Did you and Guy set out to produce a more original piece of art?
Electronica is only cheap and disposable if the people writing are that way inclined. There is plenty of shallow music in all styles. People with a real passion and a love of music don't write that stuff. We write songs we use computers. EVERYBODY uses computers these days. The difference is we celebrate it not hide it. We love them so much we take them on the road with us!
MSJ: It does tend to sound more like a Cocteau Twins, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Bjork hot-pot than electronic pop music. Were you influenced by any of these artists vocally, compositionally or production-wise?
The girls. Aren't they great? Guy is a huge fan of the Cocteau Twins. I'm only just now getting to know their music myself. These are all ladies who are not shy of being themselves. They all push boundaries. They are all completely different from one another too. Maybe we're are all alike cause we're all individuals.
MSJ: Breathe In, It's Good To Be In Love, Psychobabble, Hear Me Out and (my favourite) Flicks all sound like hit singles: how hard are they to re-produce live. What type of arrangements are you using?
For the shows we use a computer software programme called Live made by Ableton on the Laptops. This is perfect for us as you can manipulate loops and effects on the fly. We don't use it as much as we want to just yet as we only have four hands between us. We trigger samples and play melodic lines on the various keyboards we have and all the vocals are live (including harmonising with myself as I explained before). It is very important for us to be true to our sound and techniques live and we worked long and hard to try and achieve the flexibility you get with playing in a band but using our gear. We did try with a live band a while back but we just ended up sounding and looking like something we weren't.
MSJ: Where were the photographs from the album cover taken?
At the Ukrainian embassy in Manhattan
MSJ: What's next for Frou Frou?
Tour, tour and more tour!
 
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