I took my friend Sandra with me to watch Scout Niblett play live in Denton last week, fearing that as soon as Scout got on her drum kit, Sandra would give me weird looks at the club, and disown me as a friend the minute we got back to Waco. Instead, Sandra said in earnest after the show, “I think I like Scout better on drums!” I resisted the urge to propose to Sandra that very moment. All of which is just my fancy way of saying that Scout Niblett has arrived, and you’d better pay attention. I impulsively decided to interview Scout after the Denton show, and she was gracious enough to put up with my lack of preparedness and answer my questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Scott Niblett!
Oh, I’m sorry. I initially did pronounce it like “Scout,” but when
you introduced yourself on stage it sounded like “Scott,” so I…
It was probably my accent.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Nottingham, England.
Have you lived there all of your life?
I lived there for about nine years, but before that I lived just north of Birmingham, which isn’t that far away.
Is this your first time in America?
I’ve toured here twice before.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen while I’m in tour?
Well, it wasn’t as strange as it was scary. I was at a truck stop, and when I went to pull out in my car, I saw a man getting into a pickup truck. His truck was parked in front of me, and I was approaching him. He looked like a real Midwestern redneck, with a baseball cap on, a plaid shirt, and ripped jeans. When I drove past him, he was looking really weird at me, kind of sneaky. I looked behind in my mirrors, and he had his trucker outfit on, but on his feet he was wearing really high painted stiletto shoes. It really freaked me out. I got really scared and drove off fast. It was on the road in between Chicago and Indianapolis.
On a couple of songs on “I Am,” such as “In Love” and “Texas,” you sing fondly about America. Have you always had a fascination with this country, or did it just recently develop?
I’ve always had an obsession with America. I’m kind of in love with it.
Would you ever live here permanently?
Scout: Yes, definitely. In fact, I’m going to, probably.
As long you keep your accent, that’s fine with me.
How long have you played your instruments? Can you play anything other than guitar and drums?
I can play the recorder, the violin, and the ukulele.
I completely forgot about the ukulele! I remember that you play the
instrument on “I Am.” Do you have a specific tuning for it?
Yeah. I can’t remember what it is, but it’s written on my ukulele. It’s a weird tuning.
How long have you been playing drums?
About a year and a half.
When was the “I Conjure Series” EP recorded?
Around May of 2002.
I ask these questions because my friend Sandra wants to learn how to play the drums. I brought her to your show because of it. She hadn’t heard your music before, so I hyped it up for her --- “Look, Scout Niblett plays drums and sings! You should go see it!”
Yeah, it’s fun! (She looks at Sandra) You should just do it! Play the drums.
Is that your favorite instrument to play?
Who are the other musicians on “I Am”?
The drummer on some of the songs is Pete Shriner, who used to be in a band called Panoply Academy. They were also on Secretly Canadian, the American label I’m on. Now Pete drums for Songs:Ohia, who are now known as the Magnolia Electric Company, and are also on that label. The other guitarist on the album is a guy named Chris Salago, who plays in ANOTHER Secretly Canadian band called Racebannon, as well as an amazing band called Rapider than Horse Power.
Rapider than Horse Power? The name is amazing in itself! What ideas inspire your songwriting the most, and how do you manage to turn these inspirations into songs?
The initial ideas come out of the blue, but then I spend time working around those ideas that come out of nowhere. It feels kind of random, as if I’m not really aware of what’s going on when these ideas come, but once they’re here I consciously work on them.
Do you ever occasionally feel as if the songs have always been there, just waiting for you to pull them out?
Yeah, the energy in the songs is there, and I’m the person who’s allowing the energy to come out.
How long did “I Am” take to record?
It only took four days.
Were the solo songs on the record recorded live?
The reason why I ask is that I notice the strangest differences between the versions on the record and how they sound live. On record, the tempos are comparatively strict and orderly whereas live you speed up and slow down almost randomly.
Well, there are a couple of songs on the record that I made up that day in the studio, so they were really fresh in my mind. I think “Miss in Love with Her Own Fate” and “It’s All for You” were made up on the spot. I’ve been playing those songs for a year now. I’ve gotten more used to playing them, so I can just adapt the songs to whatever’s going on that night. When I recorded them, I was more worried about getting them down right. It was quite nerve-wracking, and it made me play faster. The songs seem really tight on the record, but I play them looser now because I know them now.
What’s next for you after this tour?
I finish touring around Christmas, and then I’ll probably just rest and write songs for about three months. I’ll start recording again probably in the middle of next year.
Are you able to make a living solely off of your music?
When I’m touring, yes. When I’m not touring…well, I’m kind of permanently on tour at the moment ‘cause there isn’t anything else I can do to survive at the moment.
Did you do the drawings on your T-shirts?
Was that a one-time thing, or do you draw on a regular basis?
I just draw when I need to do something for, like, a record cover or a T-shirt. I don’t make a habit out of it. When I do draw, it’s just instantaneous, not thought out. I just see what happens and it’s like automatic drawing. The best things seem to come out that way. They don’t make sense a lot of the time. Again, it’s a lot like my songs. I don’t know where they come from. For the T-shirts with the signs, I do the drawing first and leave the sign blank and wait until I figure out what they’re supposed to be saying to fill it in. It’s good fun.
Do you get a similarly favorable response to your music in England?
Yes, but it’s taken a lot longer because it’s harder in England. There isn’t really a music scene in England. There are amazing bands there, but there’s so few of them. The problem with England is that the press there is really based on weekly papers, which generates a lot of hype. Things blow up fast and get trashed easily. That doesn’t really help people who are constantly making stuff, or want to make music their career. It’s just a really trashy way of presenting music. There are a few exceptions to this; for instance, this amazing magazine called ---
Sean and Scout (in unison): CARELESS TALK COSTS LIVES! I love that magazine! I know Stevie Chick (one of CTCL’s writers) because he and I are on the same mailing list together. I’ve met him in person once a couple of years ago.
Yeah, he’s lovely. They’re my champions right now! That, to me, is the best thing that’s happened in Britain for music in a while.
What music are you digging the most right now?
I’m actually listening to a band called Centro-Matic. They’re from Denton, actually, and I’ve been listening to their new album the most while on tour. I used to be really into heavy rock, like the Rollins Band. There’s an English band called Todd who is amazing. The band is two couples and another guy who are just really LOUD and intense. It’s almost like heavy metal, but some of their stuff is even crazier.
At first, you mentioning the Rollins Band was shocking, but after watching you play live, I can understand it. It’s not the same sound, but the same kind of energy, as if you’re saying “This has to come out now, and you MUST listen!”
I really do listen to stuff that’s heavier than my own stuff, which surprises some people.
“Drummer Boy” is a good song for jumping around the room, especially the parts where you scream.
Thanks! That’s flattering. It’s all about energy and excitement, and I’m glad that it translates to the people who hear it.
Yes, it does. Thanks very much, Scout. I hope that the rest of your tour is safe and productive, and that many more people come see you and feel the rock!
(thank you, Sandra, for filming the interview)