Raised in an environment where musical creativity and a love for the arts was not encouraged, IMAN’s decision to follow her dreams would come with some tough choices and hard times along the way. However, with a steady flow of single releases over the course of this year and a bunch of tour experience under her belt, she now finds herself on the path to mainstream success.
IMAN is an all-round creative involved in every step of the process from production to roll out, I sat down with the enterprising singer-songwriter and spoke about finding your calling, starting a record label and going for lunch with fans.
You’ve previously spoken on not coming from a musical background, how did you realise this was your calling?
It’s weird, I think with creativity in general, music kind of chooses you, you don’t need to choose it. I’ve found for myself in particular that it was an overwhelming urge I couldn’t fight. As you said I didn’t necessarily grow up in a music background, so I didn’t grow up in a house where Aretha franklin and those sorts of people were being played. I’m literally the only musical person in my family so the whole thing was really confusing for them initially but it was just a burning desire that I couldn’t shake off. When I was growing up music wasn’t really allowed in the house, my dad was really disciplinarian which made me kind of supress that creative childhood stage which turned into depression because of all this supressed energy you know. As soon as I started to embrace music and own it and be like no, I’m just gonna go for this, it felt better which to me shows this is what I was meant to do.
Did defying your parents vision affect any of the decisions you made growing up? how did you adjust?
At sixteen I was in a situation where I just felt like I had to leave because it was very much, ‘You’re going to do what we need you to do in this house’. I knew Hounslow, where I grew up, wasn’t necessarily known as a creative hub, it’s not a place like Camden for example where there’s so much diversity and expression. In Hounslow it felt like everyone dressed the same and did the same things so I knew I had to get out of that area to have more freedom. Every day since then I’ve been teaching myself music because even as a singer I didn’t really know how to sing before, like a diamond in the rough I was polishing myself and starting to discover artists like Tracy Chapman and Sade that I had never been exposed to. I ended up staying near Islington which was so different to anything I had previously known. I discovered loads of music courses and open mic events around this time which were a massive eye opener for me, I was still in college but would always end up missing lessons and spending the whole day in the music department anyway.
Do you play any other instruments?
I taught myself how to play guitar, it’s a funny story. I actually just randomly bought a guitar even though I didn’t really know anything about it and my old managers at the time went to a meeting with a major record label and for whatever reason told the label people that I could play guitar, so they were like, ‘Oh great, bring her in like three weeks and she can play her guitar and sing for us.’ My managers came back and said, ‘they loved you, but do you reckon you can learn how to play guitar in three weeks?’ and I literally did it! Every single day I practised three of my songs until the meeting when I had to perform. It went alright actually she complimented my guitar playing, they didn’t sign me though. After that I left it for like two years or something didn’t want to touch a guitar and then I found myself in a bit of a broken heart situation and I thought to myself that I should channel all this energy into learning how to do something new, so I just threw myself into really learning how to play the guitar. That was around two years ago and I’ve been playing ever since.
Your most recent ‘Wishing’ single has a distinct house/UK dance feel to it, what does the track mean to you and what influenced it?
‘Wishing’ is my only house track, I felt like I had to pay homage to that whole scene because I love dance and I DJ a bit as well, I feel like it also pays homage to British music culture in the way we have embraced house music. I wrote it about a guy that I was really into who had a girlfriend at the time so I stayed well away, if you listen to the lyrics they’re all about me wishing and wondering how things were different. It’s also just been nominated for ‘best unsigned song’ at the Best of British music awards, it’s my first nomination so it’s really cool that the song has helped me achieve that.
What’s your creative process?
I tend to write all of my lyrics and melodies myself, sometimes you just hear the first cord of the instrument and the whole thing just comes out. Other times it can come about randomly like for the song, ‘Sometimes I wish you would’. I was half asleep with the TV on in the background, at one point a woman shouted, ‘sometimes I wish you would!’ I just remember suddenly waking and being like, ‘right, that’s going to be the title of my next song’.
Do you have to shut other music when you’re creating your own?
No, I don’t shut it out because I want it to influence me. It’s like that feeling you get going back to a great album when it hits you, it hits you, that’s what great music does, it inspires you to write or create.
What was the thinking process behind starting your own record label SHOPFRONTRECORDS?
I’d never been offered a deal before so I took matters into my own hands and started releasing music myself and embracing the fact that the industry has changed and there are now so many different platforms out there. Before this many PR companies wouldn’t want to deal with you unless you were signed whereas now they’re more than happy to deal with you directly, magazines wouldn’t want to shoot you either. I’d still love to have a team develop my label alongside another label one day but I’m also happy to continue as I am.
Was it daunting to just set up independently?
Yeah definitely! But I was so done with dealing with jokers and time wasters. The music industry isn’t regulated so anyone can call themselves a manager, PR or whatever and there was so much of this going on that I was emotionally exhausted from it all. I remember feeling really stuck at this point in my life and I’m usually someone who has a clear step by step path to reach my goals. I spoke to a friend around this time who just said, ‘why don’t you release music yourself?’ I thought to myself, ‘yeah, this is possible, I could do this’. I already had the music there I just needed to pool certain resources and took it all one step at a time. Before I knew it started to grow.
You’ve spent time working in LA, how did the two music industries compare?
When I was there I noticed they are a lot more focused on the ‘American dream’, if you’re looking to take a tea break they’re looking at you like you’re not serious. I’d have two sessions a day for ten days straight, you either get on with it or don’t do it at all. Over here it’s a lot more laid back, we still get stuff done but it’s definitely more relaxed. Also, from what I hear, major labels in the US hear something and if they like it they sign it straight away, in the UK I feel it’s a much slower process.
What’s the work ethic and atmosphere like when it comes to working with artists like Kanye West and Ed Sheeran?
With Kanye it was a song writing camp, he was there himself but it was more just writing to tracks sent by his producers, it was amazing though that whole atmosphere was very focused and inspiring. With Ed it was much more organic, we met just before he was signed at a music seminar and connected instantly after hearing each other’s music, we had a McDonalds afterwards and I remember talking about the industry and how difficult it can be, pretty soon after that we just got in the studio and recorded two songs.
Do you feel that in the digital age the idea of breaking into the American market is an outdated one?
I think it’s important to make it in America but the digital age has opened so many doors you know. I think an artist now can be pretty unknown but still be making a good living from touring all year yet you might’ve never heard of them just because they haven’t broken in America. The beauty of the the digital age is that I could be asleep and someone could be listening to my music on the other side of the world, everything is constantly happening.
Is social media important to you as an artist?
I try not to let it rule me. It can really be intense but I like to engage with my fans, I’ve even gone for lunch with people who have reached out to me in support before, it was great! So I’d say for me that’s the most important part, being able to connect with my supporters.
Do you prefer performing on a festival stage or at an intimate gig?
I toured with rudimental and had never experienced a buzz like that, the energy is insane. But I love small intimate gigs because I feel you connect with people on a different level, really listening, whereas at a festival it’s all about the vibe and everything around you. As an artist I can play with my vocals and vibe a bit more when it comes to acoustic.
With a steady stream of singles released over the past year, what are your plans for next year and looking further beyond that?
I think I’m going to continue releasing singles and grow my fan base, hopefully release an EP by the end of year, continue to do shows, getting people to join my website (imanmusic.co.uk) where my music is available for free download so yeah, right now I’m about continuing to release music that is authentic to me. In the future I’d love to tour the world for as long as possible and be part of some great collaborations, especially Drake as I think he’s such an amazing songwriter. Ultimately my vision is to just sell a load of records, I think my music is for the people not a niche so I want it to be shared as far and wide as possible, not just for it to sit on my desktop.
*Originally Published in HOUSE OF SOLO WINTER ISSUE 6*