British electro-pop star Imogen Heap is currently nearing the end of the 13-week European leg of her Mycelia world tour. In between gigs, she’s been doing talks and workshops, spreading the word about her various tech projects. Key among them is her upcoming Creative Passport, a blockchain-based digital identity standard for musicians, which will be a one-stop shop for verified artist info, lyrics, acknowledgements, and—perhaps most importantly—payment mechanisms. Meanwhile, the Grammy-winning artist recently released an adapted soundtrack version of her score from the Broadway musical Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Over the course of one week earlier this month, BREAKER checked in daily with Heap from the road, where she’s traveling with her partner, filmmaker Michael Lebor, and their four-year-old daughter Scout.
Monday, November 12, 7:48 p.m. local time
Fresh off a flight from Lisbon, Portugal, Heap gives us a call from the airport in Milan.
Here we are! Our journey begins at the baggage claim. I think there’s 13 of us, at last headcount. We just flew in from Lisbon. And before that, we came from Malta, which likes to call itself a blockchain island.
Last night, we performed in an old cinema, and it was like two-thirds full, which is roughly what we’ve been seeing the whole tour. I feel like everything is very fast-paced in this world, and there’s a lot of music for listening to, it’s always on the menu. There’s this feeling of permanence, that something will always be there, but the reality is that if people don’t turn up for the shows, then musicians won’t tour again.
But what we’re hoping to do on this tour is bring to life—very organically, very slowly—a music-making database. Something that the music industry can always use to make a payment, to make an acknowledgement, to have something verified, to get the latest information—
[She’s interrupted by her daughter.] Scout, I’ve got to do this call, sorry. She’s racing around—whenever she goes on the plane, she ends up eating some sugary thing. She had her fourth birthday in Lisbon this week. It was great fun.
So yeah, this music-maker database. It’s this idea that if we can empower and engage individual music makers to become part of this ecosystem, so many things will start to become good. There’s going to be all these avenues of revenue, other than what everybody seems to focus on, which is streaming and incremental tiny bits of money. So that’s why we’re on this crazy, silly journey. That’s where my heart is right now.
Oh crikey, I’m about to lose my luggage! Ah, fuck. Sorry. I’ve only got one hand because I’m trying to talk to you on the phone, and the luggage basically just went over because I couldn’t hold the trolley. Okay, everybody just came to the rescue. Thank you, everyone!
Tuesday, November 13, 11:21 p.m. local time
Heap rings us shortly after stepping offstage in Milan.
This morning I met with an amazing local [clothing] designer [Narjes Ghorbani]. She’s deaf, and she came with an interpreter. Her piece [that Heap wore onstage] is red, and it’s got these red cubes on it and a mirror on the back. It represents the past and the future of her as a deaf person, trying to navigate the hearing world. It’s really lovely.
After that, we had a long team meeting. We decided that we’re going to make an animated short to describe what the Creative Passport is. At 2 o’clock, I met five “enablers,” the people who paid a higher price for the ticket to support the tour early on. I set up a grand piano, and I played whatever songs they wanted me to play. Then we went straight into rehearsals with Chris [Vatalaro, a percussionist who just joined the tour].
I went on stage at 9 o’clock to a full house, which is pretty awesome. The show went really, really well. I was just so happy that Chris was here. It’s not like he’s playing loads—he plays just the little bit that you need that you didn’t know that you needed before he played it. The tech highlight of the show? My MI.MU gloves, of course. The idea is to make music on the fly—to be able to roam around the stage and add effects to my voice, and loop my voice, and bring in sounds and samples. I play air drums, I play air guitar. For the crowd, it’s just a winner. It’s a bit like Guitar Hero.
Backstage it doesn’t get rowdy at all. My daughter’s asleep, so everyone has to talk quietly. I like vodka and Coke when I come offstage because I’m an Essex girl. That’s like the drink of Essex—well, it was when I was a kid. And then we all just have a chat. Don’t really talk about the gig. We just talk about rubbish or music or whatever.
Wednesday, November 14, 10:04 p.m. local time
Heap’s publicist, back in London, emails us: “It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen today. She’s been on the go since super early and is now asleep. Is this going to cause a problem? I’m very sorry!”
Thursday, November 15, 9:20 p.m. local time
An apologetic Heap calls from the corridor of her hotel in Milan.
Last night, Mike was reading Scout a story. I want her to feel like I’m there at the end of the day, so I was just lying there. And then I fell asleep. I didn’t wake up until like four in the morning. And then I had dreams about how I’d let you down.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with Billboard Italy, and I spoke about the Harry Potter album and the Mycelia tour. To be honest, I’m disappointed that the Harry Potter album didn’t get into the Top 200—they’re the lowest-selling first-week album sales of my life. It’s very frustrating, because the whole reason I’m doing everything I am [as an independent artist] is to try to avoid this, but for whatever reason I found myself releasing it on a major label and then just being disappointed.
Back at the venue, we had an exhibition, where we show the VR stuff we’re developing, the Life of a Song, the MI.MU gloves, the MINI.MU [kids’] gloves, the Creative Passport. At 2 o’clock we had a forum for 50, maybe even 70 people, all there to hear about the Creative Passport. It was amazing. Loads of questions.
Today, we had a family day. We’re not a religious bunch, but Scout really loves going to see cathedrals because they look a bit like palaces, and she’s into her princesses. So we went to the Duomo in Milan. We listened to the organ, and we went down to the crypt. She’s like, “So is that person alive?” And it’s a body laid down that’s been dead for 500 years. “Well, no.” She’s been very curious about death for a good year and a half.
We went right up onto the roof. You could actually walk on top of the roof, which was amazing, and look through the old stained glass into the bottom of the cathedral. And then Scout needed a wee, and we had to rush down.
Friday, November 16, 5:26 p.m. local time
Heap checks in from a coworking space in Milan.
We started off the day writing the invitation to the Creative Passport party, which is going to be on my birthday when we get back to London, on the ninth of December. We’re inviting collaborators I’ve worked with over the years. I’ll give a welcome and share about the tour and what we’ve been doing, and then we’re going to talk about the reasons behind the Creative Passport. And then the guests are going to be able to download the app, where we’ll be verifying each other and then start to see each other pop up on the [in-app] globe.
We had a load of meetings today with the team. We were discussing some promo for the U.S. tour and trying to get some New York flights together because I need to go meet some potential tour sponsors in the tech industry.
Then the last thing I did just now was the Berklee Open Music Initiative conference in Boston. I was doing a [remote] keynote, by way of [associate professor] George Howard basically interviewing me. George was the first person who interviewed me on blockchain and the vision about three and a half years ago, so it’s nice to talk to him about where we are now. We started with this grand vision, and it’s still there, but what we’re actually going to do is getting thinner and thinner and thinner over the years, to keep it low-cost and sustainable.
Somewhere in there I did some washing! Because I haven’t done any washing for a whole week. And that is my day, so far. Now I’m going to have dinner with Scout.
Saturday, November 17, 10:20 p.m. local time
After a long day of travel, Heap rings us from her hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We’ve just been traveling all day. We’re here in Copenhagen for a conference and a gig. On the plane, Scout watched loads of her favorite TV shows, like Stinky & Dirty and Little Princess. And Mike and I ended up catching up, which is kind of a rarity for us. We were just discussing what’s going to happen next year and what to do in the week when we’re going to be back at home, after Finland.
There were tons of emails today. We’re trying to put together a bid for a community art center, where we live in the outskirts of London. It’s kind of a VR performance space that we’re hoping to build. We’re hoping to get 60 grand to develop a business plan for the space, and to do that we need to set up a community interest company. I made a decision about that today—basically to move forward.
The big news is that Scout has a new cousin, my brother’s new daughter. She was born today around 11 o’clock. Meanwhile, tomorrow is Michael’s birthday. We’re going to do family things and have a look at Copenhagen and see what happens. I’ve got a few potential ideas for Michael’s birthday as well, but I can’t tell you because otherwise it would ruin the surprise—he’s next to me right now. I’ll tell him in the morning.
Sunday, November 18, 9:19 p.m. local time
After enjoying a hot shower in her hotel room, Heap calls us for the last time.
Last night was a pretty terrible night. I forgot to mention yesterday that I came down with a really intense cold. But I didn’t want to not go out for Mike’s birthday, and we ended up having a lovely day. We went to the Tivoli Gardens, which is this really old-fashioned, beautiful, and very Christmas-y amusement park right in the center of Copenhagen. Scout had never been on a rollercoaster before, and she loved it. Mike said it was his best birthday for 10 years because he basically just got to be a kid again and re-experience these exciting feelings through the eyes of Scout.
Overall, it was a really nice week because we had a sold-out show in Milan. And it was also a good week because we had our percussionist out. So I felt like we stepped it up. When I spoke to you on Thursday, I was bit disappointed about the first-week Harry Potter sales. But then I was looking at the breakdown of what sold and where it sold, and I was looking at the streams, and it had a million full-album streams. I was like, “Bloody hell, that’s amazing!” That means a million people—or maybe 200,000 people or however many—have listened to it. So I feel much better now.
But in the end, what makes everything feel good is when you’re good with your family. You could be having the best success elsewhere, but if you feel like you and your family are not touching base quite enough, everything else just feels not really worth it. So the fact that we’ve had a great day today, everything becomes a lot brighter. It’s hard to wear all these sort of hats—the musician hat, the technology hat, and then the family hat. But when the family hat is working, nothing else really matters at the end of the day. Get that bit right, and then everything else seems to branch out healthily from there.
Interviews have been edited and condensed. Photos courtesy Imogen Heap.