Maybe it’s because Emma Niblett had been listening to a LOT of Rollins Band before she recorded it. Or maybe it’s because she was channeling the angst from a particularly nasty recent breakup, but the UK songwriter’s latest record, It’s Up to Emma, is a stunner.
Niblett, who swaps her given name for To Kill a Mockingbird’s narrator when she performs, has spent the last 12 years perfecting the minimalist recipe of guitar, drums and vocals used on all six of her full-length releases. And by never deviating too far from that plan, the focus remains fixed on the 39-year-old singer and the heartbreaking stories she tells.
While It’s Up to Emma follows suit (despite the addition of string arrangements and lack of input from longtime collaborator Steve Albini), it's something else entirely that sets it apart from its predecessors.
“This album had 10 times more work in the recording process,” Niblett said recently during some downtime in Norway. “It was quite difficult because I’m used to recording really quickly. For me, it’s really frustrating to have it lag on. But I’m so pleased with what we got from reworking the songs every time I went in -- I’m open to allowing a process like that again. I’m letting go of the strictness where I used to say, ‘This is going to take five days and that’s it.’ In retrospect, I feel like that it's limited: what can happen with a song.”
Stretching things out in the studio may not have been the initial game plan, but the results are undeniable. The emotional bar has been raised this time around, something Niblett thinks will also translate into her live performances.
“The only way to get real emotions in a performance is if it’s really felt,” Niblett said. “So it’s important that the music is direct and about things that I really experienced and still feel. As a listener, I appreciate that in other people’s music as well.”
Things might get emotional when Niblett and her band perform at the Tin Can Alehouse on Saturday night, but only because things are going so well. As the singer and multi-instrumentalist prepares for a milestone birthday later this month, things are only getting better.
“I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought that life got easier when you turn 40,” Niblett said. “I’ve thought that since I was a kid. And it has been getting easier. The process with this record has opened the door a little bit for what I’m going to do next. I just don’t what that will be yet [laughs]. But I feel like you grow into yourself more as you get older. You become more of who you are. And that’s something that I look forward to.”