"Kiss" opens with a lone guitar sketching an austere, bluesy sweep. Will Oldham joins Scout Niblett along with the drums and bass, and they harmonize over the power of the kiss: "It coulda killed me/ if it were not for the rain." His voice cracking, he professes he's been waiting so patiently.
"The winds howl around us as we begin," they sing as the guitar cuts a jagged figure. "What a way to start a fire." When they return to the subject of the rain, they also reprise the power of the kiss. What was once so powerful is now nothing but a reminder of passion and hope's intoxication. What seemed like redemption awaiting has morphed into foreboding sense of darkness encroaching. Oldham's craggy tenor is a fine counterpart to Niblett's siren cries. Niblett, who calls Portland home now, spoke about the song on the road in Michigan, preparing to head across the Canadian border.
INDEPENDENT: How did you start working with Will Oldham?
SCOUT NIBLETT: I started writing the song about a year ago. We got introduced from a mutual friend and became friends. I asked him if he'd like to sing some songs with me, and he thought that'd be a good idea. I started writing some songs, and then I realized that it might be nice if I turned the songs into dialogue between two people instead of us both singing the same thing.
How did you guys go about recording them?
I sent him MP3s of a demo version, so he listened to the song as a kind of demo before he came to the studio. He came for about three days, and we basically didn't even rehearse it—just ran through it a couple times and then recorded it.
The line between love and obsession seems like a theme on the album. Can a relationship burn too hot?
Maybe, but I think that's quite a good thing.
The song uses the metaphor of the flame and its fragility against the winds outside. Do things become less fragile, or is it always a fight?
In terms of relationships, I think they're always fragile, and they can overtake you quite easily. Feelings can totally take you someplace else and transform you, but I still think the whole thing is a fragile balance, especially in terms of things being balanced. It often isn't balanced.
The character sings, "Don't break my dream." It seems we're always in some state of denial or self-delusion, but perhaps that's part of what makes it possible to make that leap of faith in a relationship.
Totally. For me, I think the situation I was in, I was really aware of it probably being delusional and wishful thinking more than anything. That this was something that was not going to become a normal part of my life. But it was so dream-like that I was quite scared because I was like, This can't really be real.' It was so ... It kind of felt like a fantasy almost. Yeah, [laughs] I was delusional.
So was it real?
It was real in the sense that it was something I was going through. And the other person was really going through it, but then ... I think I tend to do this a lot with relationships. I idealize them quite early on. Then the reality of how people feel sets in a little bit later, and it doesn't always match up. Not that it's always me that's into it, and the other person isn't. It's just that I get so excited as soon as I kind of fall in love with someone. And then, as people do, you have to work out if it's going to become part of your everyday life or if it's just something that's inspirational.
In the song you sing, "I had it coming" and "I could feel it coming on," which is foreboding.
I think I wrote that line in the midst of the delusion. I could call it delusion, but I really felt it, so maybe it wasn't delusion. But for me, I did feel that feeling coming for a long time, and it's really scary when you can kind of call yourself out on things that are going to happen. Even if you can't quite tell how they're going to manifest. It's kind of like you can almost sense fate sometimes.
Yet there's still this urge to throw your cares to the wind and dive in.
Yeah, I'm very good at that. I'm too good at it.
Where did the music come from?
I was just at home by myself, and I was just playing those chords. I started harmonizing with the guitar with my voice, and the melody just came out from playing over the chords a lot. The lyrics kind of emerged out of that. I'd been listening to a lot of Otis Redding, and I think that was a quite a big influence.
Scott Niblett plays Local 506 Monday, Oct. 29, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12, and Picastro and Middle Distance Runner open.