Drummer Girl

England's Scout Niblett casts a spell.

British musician Scout Niblett (real name: Emma) finds inspiration in the more heady aspects of the world of music: How songs can be expressions of unarticulated desire, or brief three-minute philosophical postulations.

Playing only drums and singing, Scout Niblett has been compared to the usual suspects--you know, those solo female musicians whose voices are not so pretty and whose songs are not so melodic. But Niblett, with her blond wig and drumsticks, is not so much a drumming P.J. Harvey as she is the very embodiment of minimalist punk.

Niblett's musical history began at age 9, when she started playing the piano, and she was a songwriter from the beginning. Her very first song was called "The Magic of May," about "me and my friends dancing around a maypole," explained Niblett. She picked up the guitar in college and began donning a blond wig for performances, which she still wears while performing, more often than not.

"I used to do performance art," said Niblett. "(The wig) helps me step into a role. It's fun to dress up, really."

Niblett's songs, however, lack any kind of ornamentation or costume or affected persona. The lyrics are metaphoric, but directly so: "And Texas is hot. Even when driving at night. And Texas is sci-fi. And Texas is plain. And Texas is alright," are the entire lyrics to "Texas" off of her latest record, I Am, just released on Indiana's Secretly Canadian.

"I am an emergency vehicle," sings Niblett on the title track, "Bam bam here I am." Explained Niblett, "It just describes having this kind of force going through me, which for all intents and purposes is kind of the god force, and I call it the 'Magic I Am Presence.'"

The theme of magic permeates most songs on I Am, but we're not talking about witches and wizards and Floo powder; what Niblett is most interested in is the kind of magic people can create themselves through the sheer power of belief.

"'I'll Be A Prince' kind of fits into the reality of imagination thing, not saying that you want something, but realizing that you are that thing," said Niblett. "I think that's really about embodying something that's already there, but you just don't believe it about yourself for whatever reason."

Niblett said working with Steve Albini on the album was "really amazing. ... I was kind of in shock. He's just a brilliant engineer and he doesn't really interfere very much with what you're doing; he doesn't produce; he just engineers. A lot of the album is purely drums and vocals. In my record collection, the ones that he engineered (have) basically the best drum sound."

Niblett developed the drums and vocal sound over the past few years, straying more and more from her guitar with each recording.

"When I started playing (drums), I just found it instantly really fun, really inspiring, a really different experience than guitar," said Niblett. Having a new instrument to play helped her to write songs from a whole new angle. I Am does have some guitar and ukelele, but even when other instruments are present, the focus is on Niblett's loud, slightly dissonant vocals and drums. When she screams, "I can't wait 'til the morning, I gotta go now," at the end of "Drummer Boy," on the verge of temper tantrum, her voice bends into natural distortion; "12 Miles" seems more melodic and subdued by comparison.

Niblett is currently touring America, playing a few shows with Scottish singer/songwriter Alasdair Roberts, whose acoustic guitar songs with names like "The Whole House Is Singing" and "When a Man's in Love He Feels No Cold" explore magic in a more traditional folk-music way.

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