Emma Louise Niblett is simply known to her fans as Scout. She may have been born in England, but she possesses a talent that is universal. With raw guitar, voice, drums and piano based noise pop she has released five full length albums and countless singles and EPs since 2001.
Now a native of Portland, Oregon her visits to the UK are now regarded as something of a treat. Pennyblackmusic caught up with her just after a sound check before an intimate show at Glasgow’s King Tut’s venue.
PB: How’s the tour been so far and do you approach touring differently these days? You‘ve been doing it for nearly ten years now.
SN: We’re about three and a half weeks in right now. But it’s no different this time to another. It’s the same. It’s amazing. I still feel so lucky to be able to do it that I keep on doing it.
I really enjoy it. In the States I drive myself, but in Europe I usually get a driver and it does make things a lot easier to do, but I like driving too.
PB: It’s quite the romantic vision of touring, driving yourself city to city.
SN: I think it is. I would not want to be doing anything else. I think the best show so far has been the Prima Vera festival in Barcelona. That was really amazing. I got to watch a lot of the other bands. We were there for two days. That was really, really great.
PB: And how about the ATP festival which you will be playing at the end of the year. Are you looking forward to that?
SN: Oh God, I am. Yeah, I am really looking forward to it. I’ve wanted to go just as an audience member, but have never had the chance because I pretty much moved away to the States shortly after the whole thing started so I’ve never had the opportunity to go, I am excited about it though. I think (as an artist) you get to stay in a chalet.
PB: Just like the punters.
SN: Yeah, it’s brilliant, in with the commoners (Laughs).
PB: One thing I find quite odd from past interviews is that you have an ultra keen interest in astrology. Is it something you still partake in?
SNN: Yeah, it’s only gotten stronger as I have gotten older actually. I am really pretty obsessed with it. I don’t have as much time when I am on tour to look into it so much though, but definitely when I am at home I always look up what’s going on.
PB: A layman would think that to calculate decisions you make day to day via astrology is a kooky or foolhardy approach to life, but I noticed just a quick type into Google reveals thousands of results from people that live their whole lives based on the stars and the planets.
SN: Have you had your chart done?
PB: No, I must admit to never dabbling myself.
SN: You should. It is really fascinating what this can tell you about yourself and I understand that some people don’t really need that, but I find it completely amazing, the way it can predict certain things. It’s been a huge help for me.
The way it works is that you can predict what type of issues will be coming up for you. For example I could tell that this year I would probably get depressed if I didn’t work hard. Saturn is really strong in my chart right now and Saturn is all to do with responsibility and hard work, but it’s also related to depression and feeling weighted down so the way to deal with that energy is to work hard and then you won't feel the negative aspects of it. You should get yourself read, lad.
PB: You have this love of 90’s grunge. Even on your new record, 'The Calcination of Scout Niblett', to me you are still expanding on the original grunge template. Do you still take inspiration from that scene?
SN: Yeah, that is really why I started playing guitar in the first place. It was because of Nirvana. It’s definitely always in me and it’s coming out somewhere. You know what I mean?
I was definitely listening to Sonic Youth before Nirvana though, but Nirvana were the one band that had this magical thing, a spell over me. And Courtney Love too, she was a huge influence on me. I was really into Hole in a big way. The first album was phenomenal. I think 'Pretty on the Inside' is amazing.
PB: That record never gets any kudos.
SN: Yeah, I just don’t know why. It is phenomenal. It’s just so cool.
PB: Moving on a few years from that initial outburst of grunge, a few years back you collaborated with another favourite of mine, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The 'Kiss' video and song opened you up to a whole new audience. What are your recollections of it?
SN: I think it was a magical thing, I was really inspired to write some songs for him to sing on. It was the first time that had happened actually, where I had someone in mind that I wanted to write for. It was a really amazing thing to do and I’d like to try to do that again, maybe with him again.
I don’t know, just the idea of writing for someone else, it’s a different way of writing that I really enjoyed. It wasn’t a forced thing though, but it wasn’t so self centred. I was very conscious that this other person was going to be singing these lyrics. It was a really interesting thing to do.
PB: How do you go about hooking up a collaboration like that in the first place?
SN: It was as simple as just asking him and he said yes (Laughs). Lucky there really.
PB: For anybody that has ever listened to one of your recordings, it is obvious that you are truly into your drums and again with 'The Calcination Of Scout Niblett' you have utilised the skills of engineer Steve Albini, the perfect person to hire if you want to record amazing drums. Can you ever see a time when you will try another producer?
SN: Not really if I’m being honest, I love the way Steve works. It’s that thing where I can’t imagine finding anyone else that I would be more comfortable with. He’s so good at what he does and I love the way he does it. The live set up is ideal. He’s done every album since the first one.
PB: This new album has been universally praised by critics, but I think previously a major aspect that is continuously overlooked with your work is that when you boil the songs down they are huge pop songs. I hate it when you release a record that contains a song as good as say 'Relax' and the press just fixate on the female drummer and grunge angles of your work. Does that frustrate you?
SN: Yeah, but at the end of the day I do understand that it’s subjective, isn’t it? I mean I feel like I do pop songs, but that is just my opinion of it. I definitely don’t expect everybody to be of the same opinion as me. If I let things like that get to me I would have given up years ago.
I don’t really care how it’s viewed or rather it’s not really relevant to me. I honestly think that people most probably can't hear what to you is a pop song because of how raw the production is. The age we are living in if something hasn’t gone through a computer and been tweaked people find it difficult to hear something so raw.
PB: Another favourite of mine, going way back now is 'Wet Road'. This song in particular has always intrigued me. What are your memories of that one?
SN: It was recorded really close to where I am today, just outside of Glasgow. It’s a love song. I’m just remembering the boy I wrote it about and I remember walking to his house when I was still living in Nottingham and it being rainy. And then I mix it up with advice from myself, “Don’t you know just to play with what you’re given.” Just to enjoy what you’ve got and that you don’t always have to want more than what you have.
PB: So this album is done and the tour is underway. What’s your next step after the tour?
SN: I am actually writing a symphony and I don’t know when that will be finished, but I will be recording that with Steve at some point.
PB: Did you say symphony?
SN: (Laughs) Yeah, honestly. Ever since I was a kid I have just had this melody in my head. I used to play the piano twice a week and I never did anything with it, but I always wanted to just get a full orchestra in and get a version of this melody I have had in my head since I was nine down on tape.
That will be happening in the next year or two I guess, but this summer I am hoping to write more songs, I have a few months off until I go on tour again, but I don’t know if that will come together as an album yet. If that does, it’ll be in the next year.
PB: So that’s your immediate future. How about as a final question we dabble in a little piece of your past? 1980’s music is renowned for being tacky, wet pop and full of weak albums but I strongly disagree. If you had to choose a favourite from the decade what would you go for?
SN: (Long pause)….Uh, okay yeah. I would probably have to say the first A-ha album.
PB: 'Hunting High and Low'?
PB: That is a great album. Fantastic choice.
SN: As well as being full of great songs, Morten Harket was my first crush. I was 12 when it came out. (Emma then begins to sing the chorus of 'And You Tell Me' from that record), That song is great and 'The Sun Always Shines On TV' is brilliant. There’s that part where it all kicks in. It’s almost like metal, you know what I mean? But yeah, I loved them very much.
PB: I don’t think that they are ever taken seriously as a band.
SN: Yeah, I agree. They are totally underrated. Their music was so much more than pop. People just couldn’t see it.
PB: There was a lot more to them than Bros for instance.
SN: Or Rick Astley (Laughs again).
PB: Thank you.
With that we said our goodbyes and she went on to play for a Glasgow audience that unfortunately was not witness to a second dose of Emma singing A-ha covers. They’ll never know what they missed.