"I used that as the cover because, when I saw that photo, the thing that jumped out at me was that the guy's eyes are open and mine are closed. It became like a metaphor in a way for me, for how I felt in the situation I've been in where.... it was like I was in it, but I was in it alone."

I'm chatting to Emma, better known by her stage name of Scout Niblett, about her mightily impressive new album It's Up To Emma, and we can't really get too far into the discussion without talking about the cover, on which she is pictured kissing a guy on the mouth. All of her releases have had strikingly memorable artwork that leads you to wonder about the story behind the picture - she is wielding a blowtorch on The Calcination of Scout Niblett and firing a laser beam from her eyes whilst standing beside a lake on the cover of This Fool Can Die Now. This one seems more intimate, more personal, it turns out that it fits the title perfectly.

"The title, It's Up To Emma, refers to different things and works on different levels," she explains. "One thing is that the songs are obviously about a break-up - I should point out not with the guy in that picture though - and I think the songs show all the different range of emotions I went through around that. One of the things I felt weird about was that, because some of them are kind of angry and... when you're in a situation and you are going through all these different emotions it's almost like you are dealing with grief - there is anger, guilt, forgiveness, acceptance, all of that and I felt like, in a way, once you've gone through those things it's all up to you where you consciously sit within that. Your reality is really up to you, like... how you choose to be after what has happened, you know what I mean?"

I do, and that range of emotions has meant that she has made an album that may actually be her finest yet. The powerful, brooding opening track 'Gun' is a revenge fantasy in the tradition of 'Frankie and Johnny' or 'Hey Joe', whereas other songs like 'My Man' imagine what could have been and the lovely closing track 'What Can I Do?' deals with resolution and the imagined future. She even includes a dark, brooding cover of TLC's 'No Scrubs', which has featured in her live shows, and seems to fit the overall theme here. I notice when listening back to our conversation, that she had been hesitant and thoughtful when telling about the genesis of the album, but her delivery sped up and she became more relaxed when we start to talk about the more technical issues around it.

"The title fitted in technically with what happened, we were in the studio five or six times, different places, we basically ran out of time and money so in the end I had to do the mixing at home," she says. So it was up to Emma to mix it as well!

"Yeah" she laughs, "well I produced it, it was recorded by two different people in different Portland studios (Jason Powers at Type Foundry, and Brandon Eggleston at Cloud City Sound), but really I didn't stop recording until I got everything that I needed, it definitely wasn't done in the normal way I do things and because I ended up mixing it, I had to get all the tracks exactly how I was happy with them and then I could mix it, it took a long time."

Some might think that the title suggests that the album is a solo creation, but although she wrote and produced it she says, "It's not a solo record, actually there were more people involved in this one than any other one I've done. 'No Scrubs' and 'All Night Long' have harmonies with my friend Emil from Holy Sons, but to be honest the way I work is that everything I do I have to start by myself. I've never been able to collaborate in the way where everyone comes up with ideas. I guess that's why people see me as a singer-songwriter rather than a band person. In a sense every drummer that works on an album with me, I'm working with, there are actually three different drummers on this album, one of them had been touring with me, on and off, for a couple of years. They were just friends that live in Portland."

Her guitar sound has the warm sparseness that is familiar from her other records, but this time around it sounds like a bigger cast of players, and there are string parts on 'What Can I Do?' for instance.

"I did the initial arrangement of strings, I wrote them in Garageband," she explains. "I got someone to notate them, but in the end I went through a lot of different string players, for whatever reason we couldn't get the recording right in Portland, I don't know what it was, but in the end my friend did the recording of the strings in New York and they did such a great job I was so pleased with what they did."

Portland, Oregon is where she has settled nowadays, she moved here ten years ago, having grown up in Staffordshire and attended university in Nottingham, where she studied music, visual arts and performance. So, why settle there and is there any urge to return to England?

"I don't know honestly, I'm not really sure," she says. "I travelled to the States when I was a student, like a six-month semester abroad thing, so I came here to do that, and I was just really attracted to it, I think the atmosphere for doing things seems a bit more optimistic here. I felt in England that it was more difficult for me to do things there."

One of the things about American scenes like Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, is that people can do their own thing and work as a community; people seem to be able to eke out some sort of a living as a musician or artist….

"I think that's pretty much it," she agrees. "I think I could probably be a musician here way more easily than I could in England."

The last time I saw you play live you were on the main stage at All Tomorrow's Parties in Minehead, resplendent in your vis-vest.

"Oh I was? Ok, I wear it a lot," she laughs.

Why do you do that?

"I don't know, I just like to play dress up with clothes a lot just for fun," (as evidenced on the 'Gun' video where she strolls around a fairground in a sort of Snow White costume). "I got it at a gas station in Belgium I think. There was one tour where I found a baby doll in a gas station so I kind of had a pretend baby for the whole tour. I always seem to buy toys, there was another time I got a toy monkey and when you squeezed its hand and stuff it would start crying, but it is fun to have things like that in the van when we are on tour."

Is touring something you enjoy or is it a chore?

"I enjoy it more than being at home really, I feel like I've got a job that I can do," she laughs, "and I love playing the songs live, you know."

Do you decide as you go what old tunes you put in the set, or do you plan it?

"Actually for this tour I had to think of that ahead of it because the drummer and second guitarist actually live in Germany and I have to go and rehearse with them and give them all the potential songs to learn, so it had to be set up beforehand."

Why did you bring in another guitarist for this tour?

"It was my friend's idea, he knew this great guitarist and he suggested I bring him as a second guitar player, and I was like "oh yeah" I hadn't thought of that, because pretty much the records that we do is exactly how we sound live usually, but because I produced this one in a way that it is much more on it than just me and a drummer - there are guitar overdubs and guitar solos that I can't do if I'm playing rhythm guitar, so it makes sense to bring a second person, I'm excited about it, it actually sounds like a proper band!"

Early on in your career you had a split single with Songs: Ohia, Jason Molina, who passed away earlier this year at the early age of 39. In terms of putting you on the map, how important was he and Secretly Canadian?

"It was amazing really for me. I was a huge fan of his and I actually gave him a demo of mine when I saw him play in Europe, I think that was in 2000, he then passed it to the label Secretly Canadian, and that's how I got signed. It was a pretty landmark moment."

Before we wrap up, I return to the subject of her identity. This is the first time that she has used her real name in an album title, but it's not a secret what her name is. Emma Louise Niblett took the stage name Scout after Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch, the narrator and protagonist of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. This flirting with identity has been touched on a lot throughout her records, on songs like 'Baby Emma', and most interestingly 'Lullaby for Scout in 10 Years', with its refrain of "Baby, if you're still around…" What does she think about that song now?

"I think it's pretty funny!" she laughs. "It was written around 2005, so it's coming up to ten years, I think it'll be interesting to play that live at that point. I'm not quite ready to do that yet I think. I actually wrote that song, it was really hilarious, I read a horoscope in the weekly newspaper and mine said, 'Write a lullaby for who you are going to be in ten years' and that's literally what I did! I found that idea really fascinating, to try and talk to yourself in the future."

You mentioned horoscopes, and I know that astrology has been a big interest of yours throughout your career. Does that affect or influence your writing and recording?

"Well, the thing with astrology is that it is happening all the time, it's a study of how the planets affect everything. So I'm aware of what's going on with the planets when I do certain things, for sure."

Do you mean in terms of booking a recording session or playing certain tour dates, for example?

"I have done that before," she says. "I have tried to work around a certain time frame for recording stuff that would be good. With this one I think I tried to get near that, but there was a period in making this record where there was a Mercury retrograde, and Venus retrograde, and so it's funny when your start songs or projects when planets are in retrograde you often have to re-do them or at least adjust them, and that's definitely what happened with this one."

Is that something that has been constant throughout your work? If something isn't going well, do you look up what the planets are doing?

She laughs, "I think that's not really necessary when I'm recording but just on a daily basis... if something feels pretty intense or if something feels nice or whatever, I have a look at what is going on and think 'oh, that makes sense'."


It's Up To Emma is out now on Drag City. For more information head over to scoutniblett.com.