Page last updated at 07:37 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 08:37 UK

Talking Shop: Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap
Heap was previously in electronic duo Frou Frou with Madonna collaborator Guy Sigsworth

Imogen Heap writes her songs the old-fashioned way, sat behind the piano - but you would be hard pressed to spot the instrument on her records.

Once in the studio, the British singer-songwriter uses any number of esoteric instruments and sounds to build her intricate, captivating soundscapes.

Her signature track, the mournful Hide and Seek, even features a recording of fat popping in a frying pan (it sounds like the patter of rain against a window).

The Grammy-nominated star's third album was recorded in, and contains the sounds of, her 200-year-old home in Essex. The building's elliptical shape even gave her the title - Ellipse.

It hit number five in the US charts when it was released in August. The first single, First Train Home, came out in the UK this week.

Can you tell us the story behind the building you recorded Ellipse in?

I grew up in this fantastic house in the countryside near Romford. About three years ago it was going to be sold, which was a bit sad. So I took it on and moved my studio into the basement, which was where my playroom was as a little girl. And I decided to record the album there.

Did you used to get Hungry Hippos out of the toy cupboard when there was a lull in recording?

Oh, no, no - the toys have all gone, although there are a few bits of my childhood left in there. I have a Speak and Spell, and a GameBoy that have both been adapted to use as instruments.

But I really infused the house into the music - even physically recording the sounds of the house. Anything from tap dripping to the sound of running a drumstick down the banisters.

Did you play percussion on the staircase as a kid?

Actually, I used to slide down those banisters. But I did make noise on the radiators. I'd stand there for hours and just bang them.

One of my favourite tracks on the record is Bad Body Double, about being surprised at how old you look in the mirror. Is that based on experience?

I wrote that song when I was in Japan at an Onsen - a hot water spring - and all the Japanese girls seemed to have amazing complexions, and they didn't have any cellulite and they didn't have bags under their eyes. They looked really fantastic, and I felt so white and pasty. And that's when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought: "What happened?" I don't feel like that inside. I feel like a young 17-year-old and everything's tight and lovely.

Imogen Heap's album, Ellipse
Ellipse went to number five in the US and four in Canada

You are apparently one of the most-followed celebrities on Twitter, and your music has been listened to more than 40 million times on MySpace - but your record only charted at number 39 in the UK. Why do you think that is?

I think a lot of people over here just haven't heard the music. Maybe I need to get a banging house remix to get it on the radio, but I don't really want to play those games.

Is there a reason why radio is not playing it?

I think I've been around for 13 years and people are all a bit like "oh, she's always going to be around".

Obviously I'd like to get radio play, but sometimes you wonder whether people only buy a song because it's been repeated on the radio and they get used to it. Maybe they don't really like it.

On the other hand, the album went straight into the top five in the US. How do you think people discovered it over there?

I think over there a lot of it is down to word of mouth, people spreading the news and talking about what they love. Every time I've gone over and done a show, the audience has doubled. It'll be interesting to see when I put on a tour over here - because you just don't know who's listening to the music.

Well, you sold out the Roundhouse in London three years ago. That's 3,000 people.

That was kind of a shock, because they just don't buy the records - they download them.

The fans did manage to stop the album being leaked. How did that come about?

What happened was I woke up one morning and there was a tweet - a direct message into my tweet box - and it said "there's a promo copy of your album on eBay".

I was absolutely incensed, so I went onto my Twitter and I said "can we go mental and outbid this, so the eBay people realise it's not credible?" Within half-a-minute it had gone up to half a million pounds! Finally, it was up at £9,999,999.99 so I pressed "bid", and it went to £10m… But someone outbid me! It must be the most expensive record ever sold.

The OC
Hide and Seek became popular after being featured on teen drama The OC

One of the great things about the record, now that it's out legally, is that you can listen to it in two ways: Singing along in the car, or listening to all the intricate arrangements on the headphones. Which of those was the priority for you in the studio?

I really love the detail, but I don't want people to be distracted by it. I want the first listen to be to the song, and then the second listen to be "ooh, I didn't realise there was a banister in there!".

Finally, I have to ask you about Jason DeRulo's single Watcha Say - which samples Hide and Seek. It seems to have split fans right down the middle: Some love what he's done and others are literally out for his blood. What do you think of it?

I really believe a song has a life of its own, so when I heard his version, I actually thought it was pretty good.

Even the first time? I found it took a bit of getting used to...

First time I heard it, yes. I understand that for some people, it's their favourite song and it feels like he's butchered it and butchered their memory of it. But, to me, I've heard it in so many contexts - by a choir, by a marching band - I loved that it was completely different.

You just can't keep a good song down!

Ellipse is out now on Sony.

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