Emma Louise Niblett (born 29 September 1973), better known by the stage name Scout Niblett, is an English singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Niblett debuted in 2001 with her first full-length studio album Sweet Heart Fever, and has gone on to release five more studio albums.
Niblett’s unorthodox musical arrangements have been noted by critics, particularly her sparse instrumentation and dramatic shifts in tempos. In her earlier work, specifically I Am and Kidnapped by Neptune, many of Niblett’s songs consisted of vocals accompanied only by drums; “[I wanted to] make drumming and singing be as accessible as me playing guitar and singing,” she said in a 2004 interview. Her later albums featured Niblett mainly on guitar, and with a backing drummer.
Niblett cites among her influences a number of grunge period bands, including Mudhoney, Sonic Youth and Nirvana, and in particular the guitar of Kurt Cobain. She also stated that she was largely influenced by Hole’s first record, Pretty on the Inside (1991): “I was seventeen when I first heard it. For me, the thing that I loved about them and her (Courtney Love) was the anger, and aggressiveness, along with the tender side,” said Niblett. “That was something I hadn’t seen before in a woman playing music. That was hugely influential and really inspiring. Women up ’til then were kind of one-dimensional, twee, sweet, [and] ethereal.”
Her drumming technique, however, is inspired, she says, by a man who played at an open-mic night in Nottingham and would accompany himself on the drums while playing Beatles covers. This drumming technique has been a particularly distinctive feature of Niblett’s records with Steve Albini, whose method is to place the drums centrally in the mix. An example of Niblett’s minimalist approach to songwriting is “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death”, included on I Am and as the B-side to “I’ll Be a Prince.” It consists solely of a drumbeat with a cheerfully delivered repeating lyric, “We’re all gonna die!”, eventually concluding, “We don’t know when, We don’t know how.” According to Niblett, she had originally composed the song on guitar after nearly getting in a car accident while on tour during a winter storm. Also of note is her downbeat cover of Althea & Donna’s 1978 reggae hit “Uptown Top Ranking”, which Niblett released as a single after it became popular at live performances.
Niblett has also cited Daniel Johnston as a lyrical influence, and her music has often been likened by critics to PJ Harvey, Cat Power, and Courtney Love. During the recording of her sixth album, It’s Up to Emma, Niblett stated that she listened to Black Flag and the Rollins Band for inspiration.