The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.
The Calcination of Scout Niblett
By Jessica Lewis
Here’s a girl and her electric guitar. Simple, yet full of doom, the acceptance of said doom and reverb. The album is a careful and personal self-described document, with so much space left in between that it’s almost uncomfortable. But you feel safe in her anguish, her “self-made sweat box” (as described in the title song). There are drums, but they are sparse. Her voice is clearer and calmer than in past recordings. She still has her trademark wail, but she sings more, elongating notes however long and low she feels like. Most notable is in “Bargin,” where she sings softly while abruptly strumming the guitar, “so let me play in the morning.” It’s a sombre, pristine moment. By the next song though, she doesn’t let you forget where this angst is coming from. “Cherry Cheek Bomb” is full of hard-pressed strums and cries of “hallelujah,” like a wolf moaning at the moon. Astrology and alchemy come into play as platforms for her to reach out and at the same time, let listeners in. This album is not for the faint of heart and requires patience. Give it time and space and the beauty will shine through.
What are some of the emotions you delved into on this album?
I think the main bulk of it was realizing I was going through a transformation of sorts, where I’m basically looking at myself in a critical way to try and work out what parts of myself are kind of dysfunctional so that I can sort those out. I’ve been reading a lot about psychological alchemy and the way that you have to really look at yourself for a change to happen and you have to deal with your shadow and the dark parts of yourself that you don’t really want to look at.
Do you feel that since it’s done, you conquered those things?
No! [Laughs] I often think albums that I write are really just messages to myself that I need to take note of because they’re not really kind of conscious things; I don’t sit down and think I’m going to write an album about this. It just happens that that’s how I made sense of what was coming out. So, mostly I kind of find that the songs I write are really just advice to myself a lot of the time.
What’s the importance of “calcination” in your title?
It’s the first stage in alchemy. It’s to do with literally burning a substance until… to kind of purify it. In a kind of psychological alchemy, it’s about that sensation of being in a pressure cooker where the heat is on. You kind of, in a subconscious way, put yourself in that position with your behaviour. It’s basically the way in which you really look at yourself. You are literally putting a fire under you; you’re bringing a light to your personality to really kind of dissect it and look at it.
Do you deal with alchemy outside of music?
I read a lot about it and I’m fascinated by it. To me, the other thing that I really deal with in music is astrology. It totally fits into the idea of how I look at astrology, which is looking at the birth chart and trying to use the energy on the birth chart in the best way, which is kind of a form of transformation.
It’s really cool to see when people who have all these interests outside music bring them in.
Yeah. I used a lot of astrological music in my lyrics before. I have to be careful that I just describe the imagery of it instead of the astrological world because often you create a boundary by doing that because people who aren’t into it wouldn’t understand it. The archetypes are kind of these visual things that you can describe, so I think that’s how I try and talk about them.
What do you do outside of music in Portland?
I do astrology a lot, I’m just starting to set up a thing I do when I’m not on tour where I do charts for people.
So, you’ve changed labels for this album. What happened?
I got dropped from my old label and it was kind of a blessing in disguise, because I always felt like Drag City was the best label. So when I got dropped, I just felt, “okay I’m just going to ask them and see what they say.” So I asked them if they’d consider putting my record out and luckily they said yes. I was very pleased.
Why were you dropped?
I guess [the label was] just trying to save money and stuff, so they just basically got rid of people that weren’t selling above a certain amount of records.
Were you upset at first or ready to make a move?
It’s better for me, because I’m in a better position now. It was kind of in a sense good timing because I really respect Drag City, so I’d rather work with a label like that. It was fine; it wasn’t really an issue. Straightaway I was like I’m not going to stop what I’m doing just because I’m not on a label. I’m really happy with it; I’ve never felt this comfortable working with a label as I do with them, so it’s been really great.
How involved was Drag City with the making of the album?
I sent them a lot of the demos of the songs before we went to record, so they kind of knew what it was going to sound like. Because we recorded it in Chicago, Dan and Ryan came into the studio a couple of times when we were recording, so they saw what we were doing. It was nice to be recording where they actually are.
When did you record the album?
We did it in six days. We actually recorded a few more songs that weren’t included on the album because it would have been way too long if I had kept them on, so we’ll probably put those out at a later date, I think.
As an EP?
When would you release that?
I’m not sure; I’d kind of like to record some other songs as well to either make it an EP or another album, basically, but I’m not sure. I’ve got a lot of touring ahead of me this year, so I think it would probably be in the summer when I’ve finalized the next recording kind of thing. What I’ve tended to do usually, I’ve noticed, is have two years between albums and the year that it comes out, I tend to go on tour a lot and then I take the second year to stay home and write as much as I can and record within that year. It’s kind of a cycle.
Do you like this cycle?
Yeah, it’s not intentional, it just happens that it naturally seems right. I think after this time I feel like I’d like to record again probably this year even while I’m touring, so it might be a bit different this time.
What’s the importance of how a person can express themselves with one instrument?
I think however you express yourself is important. I think it’s interesting how when you use different instruments it can kind of change your type of expressions. When I play drums, a very different part of myself comes out than in the style of what happens when I play the guitar and sing. I think for example, with the drums, it’s more assertive because you’re literally pounding something. That to me is interesting. I don’t feel like you should stick to one thing.
But you and the guitar are such a great fit.
I still get excited by playing the guitar; I just feel like you could do anything with a guitar. It’s so versatile an instrument. I really just play electric guitar so to me, the dynamics that you can get with that are huge and I think that’s what I’m attracted to. Being able to express any type of thing on something, not just one kind of sound or one level of volume, but to be able to do a kind of whole range of things, to me, that’s amazing about electric guitar. (Drag City)