Interview: Scout Niblett

Interview: Amanda Young
Illustrations: Chris Summerlin
Sunday 01 July 2007
reading time: min, words

Scout Niblett (aka Emma Louise Niblett) grew up in Nottingham, but moved away to America and became an international success...


Taking her name in honour of the protagonist in Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, singer-songwriter Scout Niblett (aka Emma Louise Niblett) grew up in Nottingham, but moved away to America and became an international success.

A contemporary art alumna from Nottingham Trent University, Scout is a hard-edged passionate character who has gone on to support Iggy Pop and be produced by Pixies and Nirvana legend Steve Albini. In the vein of Patti Smith, Daniel Johnston and Sonic Youth, she has developed her signature sulky alt-rock sound, employing intimate words with stand-offish vocal bites. Her most famously used drum track Kidnapped by Neptune was the soundtrack to Stella McCartney’s perfume advert. Shoop shoop shoop, shoop ba doop shoop shoop, you crazy girl...

Where have you come from to be in Nottingham?
I Came from Glasgow yesterday to play the Dot To Dot festival. I’m based in Portland, Oregon in the States now and came over for this tour. We’ve been to London, Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow… this is the last UK gig until we support Iggy and the Stooges at the Meltdown festival in London.

You lived in Nottingham several years does this feel like a homecoming gig?
Whenever I play Nottingham it’s always a homecoming. Although I live in Portland I still have lots of friends in Nottingham and plan to hangout and get drunk later on with them.

You attended the Contemporary Art course at Nottingham Trent University in the 90’s. How did you find it?
I absolutely loved it! That was where I started really performing. In the first two years I did mainly performance. I loved doing that course it really opened me up creatively.

Has your academic education influenced where you are at now?
Totally! I mostly did performances doing music or stand-up comedy, even though I knew I wasn’t funny. I’d show videos and interact like a massive cabaret experience. I’d always been doing music… you had to compose stuff and perform it, which was amazing. That was where I started performing.

Do you still tap into the performance persona?
Not really a persona. I don’t really know what goes on anymore. I know I have to deliver the songs and get into them and be as passionate about them as possible.

What have you been listening to?
I haven’t listened to any English bands since I was sixteen, except from listening to the charts on the radio. What I love musically seems to come out of America. I’m attracted to that culture and music. I feel that I fit in there.

What is it that draws you to American culture?
It seems a lot freer and not so contrived. There feels a much bigger underground culture out there. I just think there isn’t much here… it’s only very narrow. I had such a hard time, even in Nottingham when I played out I would get criticised. I knew someone somewhere would appreciate what I do. That’s why I went further a field.

Why did you choose to live in America?
I feel that what I do fits in well in America. In a way I’m a lot more like an American artist that was why I moved there. If something is coming from the US English people romanticise it where as if something is coming from the UK a lot of Americans romanticise it. What I think I do fits in more with an American audience, I was on a label in American before anyone paid any attention to me in England.

How was it moving from the UK to America?
It was a huge thing to move continents and I loved it all the time. It was a great adventure. I’ve always known that was what I was supposed to do.

You’ve been released on two American music labels Secretly Canadian and Too Pure Records. Was it a conscious decision to release on non-UK labels?
I was always struggling in the UK. I couldn’t get a record deal before I got my deal in America. The music industry in England is completely different and totally NME-based, they like to hype bands up and get huge record sales immediately. Luckily, I’m on a label that is respectful of my kind of thing. Most of the English Music industry is based on bands getting very big very quickly. On the American side it’s the opposite, they build things up very gradually.

Do you think then in terms of being recognised you need to be on certain labels?
Not necessarily... but maybe it is that idiotic. I can only go by what I’ve done. I had a much more immediate appreciation since I started in America. I think the music speaks for itself; the music is what people are paying attention to.

You’ve worked with engineer Steve Albini who is legendary for his pure analogue recording. Why did you choose his approach?
The music you make determines the producer you chose to work with. I think Steve Albini is the best producer for what I do. I don’t think I could do any better.

Do you feel your music fits the pop music genre or is it something further from that commercial realm, more outsider music?
I’m writing songs that are pop songs I think… I’m obviously completely demented as it doesn’t fit into the loop. I don’t really see myself as outsider - I feel that I am totally part of normal song structure. I draw the line at commercial music.

How do you start out making your music?
I really go with what I think and I like how it sounds. The impact is always positive when people like what I do, but I hope it will not determine what I write.

Have you got any musical collaborations coming up?
I’ve just recorded and album of songs recorded with Bonnie Prince Billy coming out in the fall, in the autumn. I’m very excited about it!

I noticed you started your Dot To Dot set with Dinosaur Egg, a track from your latest EP on Too Pure Records. How has that been received?
Everyone falls in love with Dinosaur Egg so I guess that is doing alright. The cover image of the EP is one I found on a friend of a friends MySpace page. The girl that posted it asked: ‘What are you doing with Jonathan? I know him he used to come to my house in the 80’s after school and my mum used to take care of him.’ I asked if I could use it for my EP cover and she said yes. I think it is the funniest photo I’ve ever seen!

Scout Niblett website

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