It’s been a heavy day and splashing through the puddles on the other end of the Vondelpark isn’t the most congenial method of travelling to a destination. Still, Incendiary are on a mission: 6 years after we first interviewed the mighty Scout Niblett, we are to do so again, prior to a late show in the gloaming of Overtoom.
Overtoom itself needs no introduction, suffice to say this most reputable of squat venues has a brooding, almost Dickensian atmosphere about it that borders on the theatrical. Once inside, Incendiary’s mood isn’t helped by two squabbling middle aged Frenchmen, who proceed to harangue each other at full volume whilst winding up a film reel. You really couldn’t make this up.
Luckily, Scout (aka Emma Louise) Niblett appears, replete with her guitar, tiniest of tiny amps and cup of tea, ready to be interviewed.
IN: The last time we saw you was your performance at Crossing Border in Den Haag, when one of our writers was moved to comment that you were like a little sister locked in a museum with a guitar
SN: (Screams with laughter)… That’s funny!
IN: Well, on listening to you again, I thought that the writer was on to something in that there is a sense of confined space & restriction in your music.
SN: I can kind of see that… yeah. (Pause)
IN: Is that deliberate?
SN: No, I don’t really conceptualise or analyse what’s going on really, because I don’t really understand what’s going on, but yeah… that kinda makes a weird sense when you say that.
IN: The other thing that springs to mind when thinking of Scout Niblett is that I think Blithe Spirit. Is that true? Yet your lyrics are so self-examining. Why the dichotomy?
SN: Between being self-examining… and what?
IN: You’re quite upbeat in many respects.
SN: Yeah I think the discipline of song writing creates an ideal vehicle to examine myself. In a way it’s not like a conscious thing. I always feel like I’m channelling some advice from my subconscious that I need to know. In a sense, ‘making’ songs makes me a stronger, healthier person, even though the actual things I’m talking about might seem really introspective or… I dunno…
SN: Yeah. But I think I find the song writing process is like medicine for me, so I do feel that I am exercising some sort of thing… it’s a catharsis, so it’s something that makes me stronger. If I didn’t do it I think I would be really… (pause) not right in the head (laughs).
IN: You have very strong observatory powers which are very literary. Your lyrics aren’t really musical observations, in that they aren’t lyrics that could be classed as streams of consciousness or pop-art collage. They are very defined. So why do you do rock and roll?
SN: I just find music really healing. The act of singing… I’ve always done that. It makes sense, I can’t imagine not singing.
IN: Do you find it hard to link these precise words to these emotional songs?
SN: Usually, if I’m strumming a guitar I’ll be humming along anyway; and the lyrics just pop up. I usually have to go back and fill in the gaps and work out what the message is in the song: and I kind of write from there. The key lyrics are normally already there, in the main initial melody.
IN: The other person I could think of who has a lyrical approach similar to you is the original singer of Can, Michael Mooney and his lyrics are very self-aware and concerned with his own ‘here and now’. And he found rock & roll healing too. But he went back to being a teacher I think. Could you change & do something else?
SN: I didn’t know what else to do except music, anyway. I didn’t expect it to become what is in effect a job; I just knew that what I wanted to do was to make music, so… yeah…. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t see myself doing anything else so I thought well, sod it I may as well do it.
IN: Wouldn’t it be just as cathartic to write a song about gardening or a song about going to Asda?
SN: (Laughs) “Ah went te t’shops…”
IN: “An’ got some bacon…”
SN: I’ve been listening to this country singer he’s called Craig Morgan. I couldn’t believe his songs when they came on the radio, as every song I heard of his included eating baked beans, havin’ a beer, wearing blue jeans, meeting up with his pals, riding his tractor. Every thing was really everyday things. I was fascinated by it.
IN: Another level of catharsis?
SN: You can’t really compare because maybe to him that is cathartic. Personality, innit?
IN: I’d love it if you made an LP about Asda.
SN: Makin’ cups o’ tea and baking cakes.
IN: I really think you should call your next LP “Asda”.
SN: (Laughs)… What was the catch phrase for Asda when they used to slap their bums?
IN: I can’t remember the words, but I remember the image because it was probably the only eroticism that you got in
IN: Tell me about your interest in Astrology.
SN: Yeah! I’m obsessed! It’s really the only other thing I do is do other people’s charts. It’s great seeing it work. It proves that everything in our daily lives affects everything else on some level, and that over the past couple of thousand years we’ve learnt to relate certain types of energies to a particular planet. You can use that to help yourself. You can use that energy in a conscious way instead of letting things just happen to you. That’s the main thing.
Also when you do people’s charts it makes you realise that we are all fundamentally different. And so to compare people to each other is ridiculous. It gives you a realisation that everyone is effectively on their own plane. Obviously we interlink… but it gives you compassion for people who are born with a certain fate or encumbrance. And that is just who they are.
IN: Fate does have bearing on people’s lives. It can be practical?
SN: The thing is with astrology as well is that it can predict certain sorts of events that will arise at a certain time, but then it’s always a conscious thing for you as an individual to react to this phase. It’s not kind of fatalistic. But it shows you what your potential is in that particular time…
IN: On a different tack. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from you. When was the last LP? 2007? Why the tour then?
SN: I just wanted to start playing again, I kind of had a year off actually, because I was writing the new album and I felt I needed to start touring and exercising my muscles again
IN Don’t you write on the road?
SN: I can’t…
IN: So, hermetically sealed
SN: Yeah, pretty much. There’s no time, and the whole thing about writing is that I have to be by myself, when no-one can hear me (laughs).
IN: Does touring inform your music? Can you see your music change?
SN: Yeah definitely you can see songs change…
IN: Do you have regrets with songs that have been recorded and turn out into something else subsequently?
SN: I do! I tried on this album to do a few shows, right before we recorded it because I need to get comfortable with the songs, and maybe find other ways of playing them, so I tried to do that this time.
IN: You quoted all that stuff about Nirvana. What was it about that scene that inspired you?
SN: I can’t really describe it properly. The first time I heard that Bleach LP by Nirvana, I thought ‘what the fuck is this?’ It literally turned my world upside down, it felt so refreshing and it was so like… rough, but so melodic, really beautiful and raw. And I think that’s what I’d say about that whole period. It was an anti-prog thing. It was never about being technically brilliant it was being about emotionally raw, you know? And I admire that in any music.
IN: It was a real start again period wasn’t it? I think in some ways it was the last era of ‘new’ forward thinking in music, outside of consciously regurgitating a style. Probably up to now, where there may be a similar thing happening.
SN: I entirely agree, but I think sometimes ‘shit is that just me? Am I gettin’ old’? There have only been a few new things
IN: Technological advances seem to have meant that recently people don’t invent things in music anymore, rather, they refine things, sounds or styles that weren’t thought of worth refining at the time, purely because the people who created them back then just wanted to move on. Do you feel that?
SN: Yeah. It’s funny how I can’t relate to style. The nearest I feel to anything is old blues. It’s how I feel. John Lee Hooker, people like that. Whether or not anyone sees it like that is fine. I’m pretty purist when I’m recording, in terms of doing everything as live as possible and not using stuff that’s not really needed, strip down everything as much as possible. And to me a song itself is the art form, not the type of guitar tone. I feel like a lot of ideas in the music industry are based on superficial gimmicks that totally work for great songs, but for me I feel they distract me from writing a good song. I think in that way I feel that I’m old fashioned in that I don’t like… stuff… (Laughs)…