Oregon-by-Nottingham's singer/songwriter/guitarist plays with fire in her sound aesthetic
Emma Louise Niblett, who goes by the stage name Scout Niblett, is gentle and fierce, and as beautiful as Paris, Texas. With her first two albums, 'Sweet Heart Fever' and 'I Am' released on Secretly Canadian, Niblett demonstrated a resolute bent towards pared-down, raw sound – her clear, strident voice weaving between bare-boned solo drumming, searing electric guitar and silence. After a further two albums on Too Pure, which saw her pair up with Will Oldham and experiment with a wider range of instrumentation, 'The Calcination of…' was released on Drag City in January 2010 – a masterful album of restraint and ire, which confirmed her as an artist undiluted and undeterred.
Dazed Digital: You’re in the middle of your fourth tour this year; how do you feel about 'The Calcination of …' now?
Scout Niblett: I don’t really know – we’ve never actually played the whole album live. On every album there are songs that will never make it to a set list but when recording I never know which songs these are going to be. A set list is determined by which songs feel good together and what kind of momentum we want to go with. The people I play on tour with bring out different elements of my personality.
DD: Can you talk about your song-writing process?
Scout Niblett: It is very solitary. I can’t really write unless I feel like no-one can hear me. It’s generally about telling a story, either inspired by real life or indirectly by astrological events taking place. Once the songs are done I take them to a drummer so they can work with them.
DD: People often talk about your work in terms of minimalism but, in art at least, minimalism is cold and distant whereas your work is much closer, much more visceral. Where does your imagery come from?
Scout Niblett: The astrology that I do is full of stories and archetypal figures. Pluto and Saturn are the most important figures for me – my sun sits right next to Pluto and it’s squaring Saturn so my whole identity is tied up with those two planets. They’re definitely living things – I see them as parts of myself.
DD: The last time I saw you was on the Hi, How Are You? tour with Daniel Johnston in 2008. Has Daniel been influential in your work?
Scout Niblett: Lyrically and melody-wise, he’s been one of the most important figures for me. Being on that tour felt like the peak of my musical career. It’s the simplicity of his music … Other people would never think to say the things he does – there’s something so honest and immediate about his songs. Most song-writers think about how to get some emotion across instead of just emoting it the way he does. I kind of put him on a pedestal. I’m sure I over-think things and I know I don’t have the capacity to be that immediate in my own head but it’s definitely something I aspire to.
DD: With your background in art, are there figures outside of the music world who have been similarly important?
Scout Niblett: My tutor at college Shelley Sacks, who now lectures at Oxford Brookes, was hugely important. She worked with Joseph Beuys for a long time so she had a unique attitude towards art – anything you did was art. And that gave me a lot of confidence about what I was doing from a really early age.
DD: It’s interesting to think about your work in terms of Beuys – the rawness and heaviness of his materials …
Scout Niblett: Yeah, the fat! And the felt ...
Scout Niblett will be playing at Cafe OTO, London on 30/11, before performing at ATP (Nightmare Before Christmas) on December 4th.
Photo by Dylan Long