Scout Niblett “I don’t want to use the word “liberated,” but that’s really how I feel.”

Emma Niblett decided at the beginning of her career to perform as Scout Niblett, in honor of the protagonist of To Kill A Mockingbird. I can’t think of a more fitting stage name — both Scouts, Niblett and Finch, are strong, playful, and very unwilling to take bullshit from other people. Niblett communicates just that. Rarely do any instruments outside drums, guitar, and her voice come into play, and everything is stripped down and sparse. There’s nowhere to hide; she’s one of the more self-possessed people I’ve met, and as she makes clear on her latest record, The Calcination of Scout Niblett, she likes to be confrontational about it. And confrontational is something she pulls off very well.


I first heard your music on David Shrigley’s Worried Noodles, and I’ve noticed that the guitar line you used for your contribution to that album pops up on several other releases. Is that something you like doing — playing with the same basic musical idea in different songs?

When I was asked to do Worried Noodles, I took three poems from David’s book and put each poem to the same melody. That’s why “The Bell” [her contribution to Worried Noodles] and “Dinosaur Egg” [off 2007’s This Fool Can Die Now], which is also a Shrigley poem, have the same guitar line. For “Dinosaur Egg” I added three verses of my own. I did three versions of his songs. But the method I use in that song, and in many of my songs, is a particular chord interval that I’m really attracted to. A lot of my songs sound similar because they’re all using the same idea.

Is it a different interval at different times?

It’s been over the last 6 years actually. I’ve used the same interval in the last three albums on several different songs. It’s a medieval-sounding interval — an open fifth. I really love Elizabethan and medieval music, so I like to use things from those styles in my own work.

This Fool Can Die Now was remarkably mellow and sort of comforting in comparison to your other work, and The Calcination of Scout Niblett seems to return to the previous sparseness of your other albums. And yet somehow it feels different. You sound growly, sultry almost.

When I wrote This Fool Can Die Now I was in a romantic mood that was almost like a fantasy. I wrote string arrangements for songs. This one was not at all in that vein. I wanted it to be more stripped-down than ever before, so in that sense it was the opposite. I wanted it to be harsh, stark.

“Recently I’ve realized that I’m a pretty angry person in general, and I think other parts of my personality take over and that anger gets subdued.”

It definitely comes across in the lyrics. They’re confronational and pretty aggressive at times.

I did have a lot of aggression that I put into it. Not so much that I wanted to seem aggressive, I just felt like I had a lot of anger. It needed to be channeled in the songs. Recently I’ve realized that I’m a pretty angry person in general, and I think other parts of my personality take over and that anger gets subdued. But at that point, I felt very open to it. That was one of the main emotions that almost consumed me as I wrote this record.

Do you see the songs as a way to own that anger in yourself?

It felt really good to indulge in it. A lot of people see anger as a negative emotion, to be avoided at all costs, and I suddenly felt really empowered by using it in a musical way rather than trying to suppress it or letting it out in a hurtful way. I really enjoyed getting into it. And a really big part of owning that anger is noticing that society expects women in particular not to display their anger. I don’t want to use the word “liberated,” but that’s really how I feel - empowered, not having to worry about how other people react to me as a person and me as a woman being angry. Owning what’s really going on is the basis of what I do with my music.

Your music in general is so bare that it’s pretty impossible to hide behind.

My music is definitely theraputic a lot of the time. The more open I am about my life in my songs, the more I get out of it in a cathartic way.

Does their very personal nature make it hard to perform them?

No, not really, and I don’t know why. It’s just not. It actually feels good. The only problem I have with playing shows is at the beginning of tours, when I’m not used to the schedule. By the time I’m ready to play I’m usually really tired and I don’t have the energy it takes to sing the songs the way they need to be sung. I feel bad about it sometimes.

It really makes it worthwhile, though, when fans tell me they can connect with my music. Personally I love it when I feel that with someone else’s music. To me, that’s the best feeling. Other people’s music has saved me at many times. I’ll be listening to something and think “Oh, that just makes so much sense. It’s exactly like me right now.” So it’s really lovely when it can happen for other people with my music.

What music by other people has particularly affected you?

As I wrote this album I was listening to a lot of John Lee Hooker. He was really just by himself playing electric guitar. There’s something pretty mysterious about it. There’s this one song called “You Don’t Move Me No More” where he talks about this woman who used to really break his heart but doesn’t anymore. I found that nice to hear. Just the fact that he was by himself is very powerful. It was sort of a nice affinity to get.

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