by Bret Miller
Frou Frou are a new duo of Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth. Imogen has spent the last five or so years as a solo artist and in several bands and Guy has written for Madonna and arranged strings for Bjork among others. In person they are both really nice but they make an interesting pair: she is tall and dresses in thrift-store eclectic: he is short, hyper and dresses in black. But what connects them is their love of music and an obvious respect for each other's talents. Their debut CD Details will knock you for a loop with songs of love, happiness and despair, all built with an ear for drama, dynamics and catharsis. After a false start while the band were driving through Mulholland and with a bad cell phone connection, an hour later I spoke with Imogen on the eve of their first live date in Los Angeles, playing for a sold out audience at Spaceland. Some waited for two hours to get in to see this fabulous new band. What is it about Frou Frou that would make people want to stand outside for two hours? One listen to Details and you'll know why.
Are you excited about your show tonight?
We've done one other show in New York. But this will be our first big gig in L.A. We're quite looking forward to it.
How has the response been for Details so far?
Excellent, we're really overwhelmed by how much people are into the record and by how many people we've met along different paths. KCRW is an example of how much of a difference just one radio station can make.
I was sure that KCRW would be the station to play your music.
A lot of people listen to it in the U.K. I didn't realize people, wherever they were working, could tune in on the internet. A friend of mine just rang me and said "Oh my God, they're going to play you on KCRW," so it's not just an L.A. thing. People really recognize it as exciting with Nic Harcourt and Chris Douridas, these two guys are great. We just did a session with them today and which is out on the internet and there's people watching and listening in the U.K. It was quite nerve-wracking because it was the first live radio that we've done with the gear that we're travelling with.
How are you presenting your music live?
We don't tour with a typical band setup. The way that you hear the music on the album couldn't be replicated live without it sounding really standard. We tried the live band thing and it wasn't working for us. So we've gone back to the basics and its just us two triggering samples and keyboards and me playing a strap-on keyboard. It took us a while to figure out how to orchestrate it because we have quite an unusual sound and we didn't want to turn up and just play it on the piano.
It should be enough for the audience to hear you singing live.
It's really cool the way we've done it. I sing through this piece of gear called the Electric Repeater. They've actually stopped making them unfortunately so it's quite difficult to get parts for them now. I have foot pedal I can set up with MIDI and record and overdub while I'm singing. While I'm singing I can harmonize with myself and sing double tracks in the choruses and creating these vocal soundscapes. People seem to be liking that sort of thing.
What is some of your lyrical subject matter? Your lyrics are somewhat abstract. I know that It's Good to be in Love is about bumping into an old friend.
The lyrics are a collaboration with Guy. Some of them he's written more than I, some I've written more than him but it's really interesting working with somebody else. I've never done it before and I don't think Guy's done it before. I think lyrically its the first time he's attempted to write songs. He's found that he's quite brilliant at it, which is a really good thing. We take inspiration from snippets of conversation and ideas from movies. The whole idea of It's Good to be in Love was that he sees this woman looking very vibrant and very beautiful. He wonders if she's on a new diet or a new health thing and she's like "Oh no, I'm just in love." That song kind of sparked off that idea. We steal ideas and lyrics from our friends without them knowing it.
Your music is very cathartic, so the message comes out, whatever the lyrics say.
The thing with working with a partner is that you both have to agree on what you're saying and you both have to justify the meaning of what you're trying to say. It's much more challenging because you have to know what you're saying. We discuss the lyrics over coffee and finally creating this lyric that you're both really proud of because you've taken your time over it. You have a high level of quality control.
So the music is twice as good because you've both put your heads together?
I definitely think that. I just love the sound that we've created because it's neither something that guy could do on his own or something that I could do on my own. It's this great feeling of partnership.
What are your and Guys's strengths?
I'm pretty good at singing and very good with melody. Guy says that whenever there is a problem area in a song, that little something missing, we need something to bring everything together, he says I'm quite good at finding it. I think that Guy brings so much to the party. He has a great talent for listening. Because he doesn't have to sing the lyrics, he takes the point of view of the the person buying the CD. As if I was telling the story to him. That's what he brings to Frou Frou which is brilliant and not something I could do on my own. It's not an intricate record, it's about much bolder subjects.
Your music is mysterious, it definitely brings you in. Otherwise, who would like it? I'm not banging my head to it. I'm listening to your music, to your voice. IHear the show tonight at Spaceland is sold out.
Tonight will be a high point in our lives. I think something like 75% of all our records are bought in L.A. and it's all thanks to KCRW.
After their show at Spaceland, Imogen and Guy were very gracious as they signed CDs and posters and chatted with their fans outside. Be sure to see them as they return to headline a show at Spaceland on November 15th. They will also play the Temple Bar in Santa Monica on Sunday, 11/17 and the Viper Room Tuesday 11/19. If you are looking for perfectly crafted pop songs you can't go wrong with Frou Frou's debut Details. To read more about Frou Frou go the official site at www.froufrou.net. To hear the band on KCRW go to www.kcrw.org and look in their archives in late September.