Trance / Lyric - Portland, USA
Scout Niblett records with Steve Albini, has toured with Cat Power, and reduces audiences around the world to jibbering wrecks with the sheer force of her performances. A pretty girl in a wig, playing the drums and singing so loudly and gleefully it sounds like her lungs might burst: 'It's all for you!' she yelps onstage, like a kid offering a present of slugs and petals and drawings. It's all for you!
It's not so surprising that she plumped for Scout as her alter-ego, after watching the film of Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird': 'I fell in love with Scout and I fell in love with Gregory Peck' she says with a grin. Peck reminded her of her dad, and Scout obviously reminded Emma of herself. Growing up in Staffordshire in the '70s, Niblett saw in Scout a smart, brave kid taking risks and having adventures. 'I've always been quite determined. And I've had to be independent cos I left home quite early. And I'm an only child, so that makes me self-reliant I think?'
Scout gave up piano lessons when she was nine, because she says, 'I didn't want to learn other people's songs', and when she was nineteen she took herself to an arts college in Nottingham ('like the kids from Fame but without the legwarmers'). In 1999 she hooked up with drummer Kristian Goddard, and released her rare-as-hen's-teeth debut album 'Sweet Heart Fever' on Secretly Canadian in 2001. A split-release EP with Songs:Ohia followed, along with tours with Swearing At Motorists and The Microphones.
'I'm just making the music I wanna hear', says Scout, and you believe her, because you know she'd be doing this whether you listened or not. And why should you listen to 'I Am'? 'It's just an affirmation of life. It's about loving your life, really loving being alive. And with that, the celebration of death. Basically.'
So this is Scout Niblett's second album. It took just four days to make, at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, where Scout and her musicians (Chris Saligo and Pete Schreiner) recorded by day and slept at night ('they've got bunk beds, like a dorm!'). 'I Am' is recorded by Steve Albini because, as Scout says, 'I knew it was going to be heavily drum orientated and he's king of drum sounds'.
He's also the man who's made records with Nirvana and the Pixies, and 'I Am' has that same 'Where Is My Mind'-style, full-throttle power. Scout kicks and squeals and coos her was through all thirteen tracks on the album. You'd never have guessed that she lost her voice midway through recording: 'I was shit-scared, because it kept being postponed, and then we were finally there, and I realised I was with Steve Albini, and I thought, oh my God! That was my dream! If anyone had told me five years ago I'd be doing something with him, I'd have laughed. It was just too much!'
The album is, of course, a delicious melt of Scout's voice and songs, and Albini's raw, crunchy production. Given that most of the songs are just voice and drums or voice and guitar, it's unlikely you'll have heard anything like it before. 'It's quite a bold thing to do for me. And it's so basic and simple, but I feel so empowered by doing it. I feel like I can sing anything.'