Photo by Alexis Fleisig
There are guitarists whose work is defined by the crafting of a singular voice. Think Carlos Santana, Leo Kottke or BB King. Then there are artists who just happen to use a guitar to channel their sonic landscape – players like Fennesz and Merzbow. A third category might be those who both embrace and extend instrument. Consider Jimi Hendrix, Robert Fripp, Robin Guthrie, Bill Walker, Ed O’Brien and Nels Cline to name a few. Sarah Lipstate, who records and performs as Noveller, certainly inhabits that technicolour world.
Using loopers and guitar pedals to create her soundscapes Noveller has performed countless solo live shows and released 15 albums over the last decade or so. She has opened for St Vincent – her video diaries of that tour are worth trawling YouTube for – and is about to tour as the support for Iggy Pop’s ‘Post Pop Depression’ Tour.
When Fire Records reissued two Noveller albums in January we caught up with Lipstate to look back on her evolving career.
Matt Wakeling: 2015 marked ten years since your Noveller debut, Vasovagal, and Fire Records have now reissued Glacial Glow (2011) and No Dreams (2013). Did either of these happenings prompt you to look back over your career thus far?
Sarah Lipstate: When I look back on 10 years of Noveller the evolution of my sound and approach to creating music is completely fascinating to me. Those earliest recordings have no guitar on them whatsoever. I have some nostalgia for my double-necked guitar phase which was really fun but completely impractical. I used the double neck to record my first LP ‘Paint on the Shadows’ in 2008. Touring was almost impossible with the double neck guitar so I started making the transition to playing a standard 6 string electric guitar and that very much influenced my sound trajectory starting with my album ‘Desert Fires’. It’s been a fantastic journey and I’m so happy that I’m still finding things that excite me about the guitar and inspire me to keep recording.
MW: Glacial Glow has been described as a breakthrough album for you. Would you agree with that?
SL: Absolutely. I feel that Glacial Glow was my most successful attempt at crafting an “all guitar” album. When I listen back it to, I’m really proud at the diversity of sounds that I was able to create using only my guitar and effects pedals. I really pushed myself to be innovative and I think it paid off.
MW: Your albums have a strong sense of narrative. Do you start each project with some definite ideas that you want to explore? For example, you were chasing new tones on No Dreams and Fantastic Planet (2015) saw you incorporate more chord progressions.
SL: I feel that narrative is important when you’re creating instrumental music. I try to focus on a theme, either conceptual or tonal, and build around that.
MW: You have developed an enthusiastic fanbase. Is it true that when your pedalboard was stolen a few years ago, other musicians and fans started sending you replacement guitar pedals?
SL: My community is very supportive and incredibly generous. When my pedalboard was stolen I was able to completely rebuild a new board through donations from people I’d never even met before! It was very inspiring and helped me get through that rough patch.
MW: You regularly collaborate with other artists. What do you enjoy about that process?
SL: I love challenging myself to listen to collaborators and try to engage in a musical dialogue. I don’t get to experience that as a solo artist and I think it’s a valuable skill. I also get to try different sounds techniques that I wouldn’t necessarily employ for my own songs. I’m currently working on a collaborative album with my duo project with JG Thirlwell. He plays synth and electronics in the duo and I’ve tailored my guitar sound to work within that electronic environment. I’m using Ebow and crafting some interested arpeggiated sequences using my guitar pedals so it’s almost as if I’m playing synth using a guitar. It’s very fun and interesting for me.
MW: Was it a big deal working with Lee Ranaldo, given that you’re a Sonic Youth fan?
SL: Yes, working with Lee was an incredible experience for me. There’s so much to learn from working with other musicians and his approach to experimentation is so inspiring. I owe a lot to Sonic Youth, so it’s a honor to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Lee.
MW: What are your plans for the rest of 2016?
SL: This year has much in store for Noveller. I’m wrapping up my new album and about to leave for a very exciting tour. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about that soon!
For more Noveller happenings, check out www.sarahlipstate.com