The Pedalboard Sorcery of Sarah Lipstate of Noveller

Photo courtesy of Artist.

If you consider yourself a gear nerd but aren’t following Sarah Lipstate on Instagram (@lipstate), stop what you’re doing and look her up. Her feed is jam packed with gear photos galore and dazzling demos of pedals you didn’t even know existed, along withs snaps from her life on the road with her solo project, Noveller.

Formerly of Brooklyn and currently based in Los Angeles, Lipstate started performing as Noveller in 2007. Since then, she has toured with rock heavyweights like Iggy Pop, Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex, Wild Flag), Wire, and St. Vincent.

Listening to Noveller, you’d never guess it’s just Lipstate, her guitar, and an expertly curated pedalboard. Noveller is ethereal and heavy, and seeing Lipstate live is like watching a sorceress conjure layers of sound that dominate the physical space in the room.

We had a chance to sit down with Sarah Lipstate to talk about pawning gear in Austin, DIY pedal-making, and the current state of her guitar rig.

Noveller - "Gathering the Elements" (Live at Royal Albert Hall)

When did you first start playing music, and what instrument did you start on?

So, I first started when I was in second grade, and my parents started me with piano lessons. I did that for 8 years.

When I was in 6th grade, I switched from a private school to a public school, so my parents told me that I needed to join the school band. So then I started playing trombone, which I did all through high school, and I did marching band and all of that. It was interesting.

The guitar was the first instrument that was really my decision to start playing, that I really wanted to play. So I got a summer job when I was 17 and saved up money to buy my first electric guitar and that’s when I started playing.

What was your first guitar?

At this summer job, I was making $5.15 an hour, so I only made enough money to buy the cheapest guitar from this local shop. It was a Danelectro electric guitar that was this periwinkle color. They actually discontinued it because no one wanted the color. And that was my first guitar.

Do you still have it?

No. I grew up in Louisiana, and I went to college at the University of Texas in Austin. At the time, Austin had these amazing pawn shops with all of this really cool gear. I got into this habit of going into the pawn shops all the time and pawning, trading in my gear for different stuff. The Danelectro fell a victim to that habit of mine.

Sarah Lipstate performing with her double-neck Epiphone

Do you remember what you traded it for?

Not specifically, but I did buy my first double-neck guitar at this pawn shop. I had to put it on layaway, but it was a red, SG–style Epiphone for like 500 bucks, so I know I traded in stuff to put toward that.

I was mainly pawning for guitars. Maybe a few pedals and amps and stuff like that, but it probably went toward that Epiphone double-neck.

Of all of your guitars — both the ones you’ve traded and still have now — which is your favorite and why?

Since I was in college and got into the habit of going to the pawn shops all the time, I have never really held onto any one piece of gear for terribly long. I wasn’t even getting anything valuable, you know. I didn’t have any money and was just a college kid, so I would just get stuff that I thought was really cool, like the Epiphone double-neck.

But as I’ve gotten older and have made more money, I have had some pretty great vintage guitars. I bought this really cool ‘61 Jazzmaster right before I did the Iggy Pop tour, and I played it for the whole tour. After the tour, I decided I wanted to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Sarah Lipstate

So with guitar being the most valuable thing that I owned, I decided to sell it to help facilitate the move. That was kind of sad, but I did end up getting this ‘65 Jaguar that I do still have. I love it, it’s like my number one vintage guitar that I own now. It just feels so great, and it plays really well. I think it’s just a really special guitar.

So you wrapped up a tour with Mary Timony playing Helium, and Mary Timony is actually one of my heroes. Who inspired you growing up?

Sonic Youth was definitely the band that really inspired me to start playing guitar. The first time I saw Sonic Youth live, I had just turned 18, and they were on the Murray Street tour and played at Tipitina’s in New Orleans.

So I went to that show, and Mary Timony was opening, so kind of bringing that around full circle, that was my introduction to Mary Timony. And, of course, I thought she was great and then getting to see my favorite band, Sonic Youth, right after that was just incredible. So, yeah, that was a special, special night.

Who would you say inspires your playing now?

I don’t buy a lot of new music, I buy a lot of older records. I listen to a lot of Eno and Fripp albums now. I mean, I think Robert Fripp is someone that I admire playing greatly, whether it’s like with Bowie or, you know, with Eno and these amazing collaborations. I listen to a lot of Fripp and Eno and to a lot of soundtracks.

What is your current touring setup? Are there any notable pedals that you have added to your pedalboard that you want to talk about?

Totally. So for the Helium tour, I started experimenting with a stereo setup. Since my music is all instrumental guitar, I’m trying to think of ways to kind of expand my sound or just take it into new territories. The whole stereo thing seems like the most logical next level.

I already had some really great stereo effects, like the Eventide H9, and some really cool delays that are stereo and had the EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run. But right before Helium, a friend told me that I had to check out the Meris Mercury7 Reverb pedal, which is stereo. So I was totally stoked to go check it out.

I went to the Mesa Boogie shop in Hollywood and played around with it and immediately dropped like 300 bucks on it. I brought it home and left for tour two days later. The pedal is pretty deep, and I figured out how to use all of the controls. The knobs have their primary function and then they have secondary functions as well, so I thought that was going to trip me up, but it was actually pretty easy to get the hang of.

It can do so many things. It has this pitch vector parameter, which is basically just all of this modulation that I was pretty much incorporating into my set as the tour was happening. So in real time, I was figuring things out in this live environment, which was really cool. It was great to develop that chemistry with it.

I also started traveling with two amps, which is, as you can imagine, kind of a pain in the ass since I am a solo performer. But yeah, it is just part of the whole stereo thing, and I am really excited about it.

I’m going on tour this month supporting Wire, which I’m excited about, so I’m probably going to put together a completely new pedalboard for that. It will be super fun.

Do you have a favorite pedal pairing?

I am really into the Dr. No Octavia Fuzz. There is a particular setting when you are playing above the 12th fret and you pair it with the Meris Mecury7 Reverb, it’s just this beautiful and soft kind of bell sound. If you dial the tone down, it is just a really, really gorgeous tone so I have been really obsessed with that pairing.

That is a really special one, that is one that whenever I post a good video of me playing on Instagram, people are always asking how I am getting that sound.

Sarah Lipstate's current touring board

You have a lot of really interesting and complex pedals. Have you ever considered a collaboration with a pedal company?

Actually, I was just talking about Dr. No, and I am currently developing a pedal with him. He’s based in the Netherlands, but he came out to Los Angeles in March and brought me the prototype of the effect that we are working on together.

It is a combination of overdrive, delay, and reverb, so it is a beast of a pedal. So he brought that to me, and I got to spend some time with it, and then we were kind of going back and forth about modifications. He is very meticulous with his work, so it’s very much a work in progress. It’s not completed yet or available.

This has been my first foray into collaborating with a pedal manufacturer that I really respect. And I know when it is done, I am going to be super happy with it. It’s a really fun process, and it is great to work with someone who really understands what I do. He was able to capture the sounds that are kind of a signature to my playing style and turn that into a stompbox, basically.

It kind of blows my mind. I feel like all the hard work is being done on his end, but it is just really fun to be a part of the process.

Have you ever tried your hand at DIY pedal building?

For Christmas last year, someone sent me a generic Fuzz Factory-style fuzz DIY kit. I was spending Christmas with my parents in Louisiana, so I was using my dad’s soldering iron and basically took over my mom’s kitchen (which she was not psyched about).

I spent like two days putting this pedal together, and I was so excited to try it out, and it just completely did not work. It was a total failure, but it was really sweet.

I will say that when Dr. No came to town, he brought me my own soldering iron and solder and told me it was everything I needed to get started and that he was sure I could do it.

I had documented my failure on Instagram, so people were aware that I had attempted this, and I thought that was really sweet. I feel like I will attempt to successfully put together a pedal again. I think patience is the key ingredient, and I think I was so excited to do it that I was maybe a little sloppy so I need to slow down a bit.

Noveller - "Glacial Wave" (Official Video)

I think that is a pretty common experience, I feel like I have a similar story — melting a hole into my parents’ kitchen counter.

So the last thing I’d like to ask you is do you have any advice for anyone who is just getting started with effect pedals?

I actually get a lot of people writing me online who are in that situation, and I just ask them what they are interested in exploring. For me, getting my first Line 6 DL4 in college was what inspired me to start doing the type of music that I do. I don’t use it anymore, but that and my first delay pedal kind of just blew my mind.

So I would recommend pedals that have some multifunction, like EarthQuaker’s Avalanche Run, with it’s several different cool delay settings — the reverse, the normal, the swell. And then it combines that with the reverb, so I feel like you are getting a lot of sonic possibilities in one pedal. It’s also stereo, if you ever want to go down that super cool path.

I would recommend looking into Keeley because they make a ton of pedals that just pack in a bunch of different effects into one box. Lately I have been using the Dark Side pedals. So you have a fuzz circuit so if you want, you have some dirt to your sound, it has a fuzz circuit, and then it also has delay, and phaser, and that is it.

If you wanted a really cool experimental pedal, I would definitely recommend the Red Panda Particle. It’s really good for doing weird sounds. But if you are not really sure what direction you want to go in, then the Dark Side and Avalanche Run are what I would recommend. Really solid pedals to kind of start out your journey.

And then if you have a ton of money, I would just say just dive in and get the Eventide H9 and just spend a year going through all the presets, and you will never be bored with that pedal for sure, but you have to drop some cash on that one.

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