Sarah Lipstate, performing as Noveller, employs effects and live looping to create the multi-faceted, emotionally evocative compositions at live shows and on her self-produced records, including her latest, Glacial Glow [Weird Forest Records]. Here she guides you through the evolutionary twists and turns of her gear. This is an addendum to my original interview that appeared in Guitar Player.
What is your guitar of choice?
I was using a double-neck SG-style Epiphone guitar. Initially, I used the Epiphone played flat on a keyboard stand. I was able to do lots of dual eBow stuff and process that. When I used the double-neck there was a 14-minute piece that I really loved called “St. Powers” that is on two of my LPs. On that tune I am plucking the strings and chording as well as bowing.
I was asked to do a show in the south of France and I flew there with the double-neck guitar and the hard case got completely destroyed. I realized if I ever want to do a tour of Europe it would cost a fortune to fly with it—and it weighed a ton. As a solo performer that is stuff that you have to be aware of—you don’t want to kill yourself getting to a gig.
My first European tour I brought the Jaguar but I still laid it flat. Then I decided I hated bringing the keyboard stand, and it was hard to appreciate the instrument playing it that way. I realized I could still bow the guitar wearing it traditionally with a strap.
Why the Fender Jaguar?
When I played with the Brooklyn indie-rock band Parts and Labor my guitar was a 1972 Fender Custom Reissue Telecaster. They didn’t like the way it sounded. It was piercing and not full enough, it was fine for live shows but they were going to be recording and they encouraged me to buy a new guitar for that. I had always been interested in the Jazzmaster and Jaguar models but never had the money to buy one. Since it was being demanded of me, I found this one at South Side Guitars in Brooklyn. It was a 1995 Japanese model so I could afford it. I fell in love with it and started using it for Noveller stuff. There is still one song that doesn’t sound right called “Bleach Beach”—it needs the piercing sound of the Telecaster.
I noticed you bowing behind the bridge, which is something Jaguars and Jazzmasters are good for.
That’s true; I used to do that on the Epiphone and was glad I could still do it on the Jaguar. The only thing I don’t like is that it is longer than a standard guitar and doesn’t fit in the one flight case I have. Whenever I fly I have to put it in a gig bag and carry on the plane.
Which amp are you using?
I am using a Sunn Concert Bass head and a Musicman cabinet with one 15″ speaker in it. My bass player boyfriend and I were touring in the US and I had this Ampeg Super Jet guitar amp. One night he mentioned that with the frequency ranges I was using I might like a bass amp. Some other people had also floated that idea; so one night I asked him if I could plug into his bass amp. I loved it and played through it for the rest of the tour: a Gallien-Kruger 800RB through two 12″ PA speakers.
You both played through the same amp?
We were each playing solo: he played a solo set, and then I played a set. I used his rig for a while, and then went back to using the Ampeg because it is really portable and it sounded okay. But the week that I had a gig collaborating with Lee Ranaldo [Sonic Youth] I was rehearsing with the Super Jet and something caught on fire in the back. The repair shop couldn’t look at it for two weeks. My gig was in a couple of days so I bought the Sunn Concert Bass head and Music Man cabinet that day. People are always coming up and commenting on that combination. It is what I play through for all my US shows. When I travel I request the Gallien-Kruger head with some sort of Ampeg cabinet—something they will have.
I was a Fender girl forever. I had a Twin and two Hot Rod Deluxes. But they just won’t handle the low end. If I am using an eBow with the Pitch Shifter an octave down, the Fenders cannot handle it, whereas the bass amps handle the lows and also the highs perfectly.
Tell us about the Death By Audio Total Sonic Annihilation pedal
It has a send, return, output and input. I have it as the first pedal in my chain; the guitar goes directly into it. Then I have the Tube Screamer and Boss Bass overdrive pedal. Normally I also have an Electro-Harmonix Metal muff in the mix, but it is glitching out on me right now. I run all of the distortion pedals in the loop. The send goes to the Tube Screamer, then into the Bass Overdrive, then into my Tuner and back into the return. The output goes out into my volume pedal, then into the rest of my chain. The Annihilation has a switch and one knob on it. I keep the knob in a general region that will produce a feedback tone I need for one song. If I had different distortions in the loop, or different settings on the distortions, it would change the frequency of the feedback tone. Basically it just makes a feedback loop—some nasty sounds with whatever you are sending.
Do you sometimes use just the overdrive or just the tube screamer?
I use them both together. This Ibanez Tube Screamer [TS-7] is the first pedal that I ever bought. They don’t make it anymore. It is the budget model but I really love it. It has a mode toggle switch that goes between normal and hot settings. I use the hot setting anytime I bow the guitar; it helps make it more audible without adding a lot of noise. I like that I can switch the toggle with my foot. Being a solo performer with a lot of pedals, I find that the less time I spend on the ground fiddling with pedals the better. The power port on this one was acting up so I had to buy another Tube Screamer that has a lot more settings [Turbo Tube Screamer]. I noticed the different Tube Screamer with the Sonic Annihilation pedal produced drastically different pitches. The guitar just through the new Screamer sounded pretty much the same but when you threw the Sonic Annihilation pedal into the mix the song sounded completely different. So I had to make some adjustments. Fortunately my friend was able to fix my old pedal.
Why a Bass Overdrive?
Parts and Labor used power chord based progressions; I needed a good distorted sound for their songs. The bass player had a collection of pedals and the keyboard player also had a small arsenal of effects. I started messing around with their pedals to see if something they had would be better than the Tube Screamer and Metal Muff combination I was using at the time. We put the Bass overdrive in my chain and thought the distortion was well suited for the sound they were going for. I just kind of incorporated it into my sound after I left the band. I love it; I think it is very versatile. It doesn’t give you quite as much control as the Metal Muff: that one has individual knobs for treble, mid and bass and the treble boost built in so if you are doing some really gnarly, distorted, noise drone thing you can really shape the trajectory of the sound. The Bass Overdrive is a much warmer sounding distortion; the Metal Muff is a more piercing, and trebly sounding.
From there you go into the DD6?
Next is the DD6. When I started college I moved to Austin Texas and got into pedals that were more interesting than just overdrive. The Boss DD6 was the next pedal I bought after the Tube Screamer. After that I went a little crazy [laughs] and started buying all kinds of stuff. They make a DD7 now which I am sure is great but you get really used to the particular features of the pedal you have. You get so reliant on them that when they come up with something new it completely changes everything. When pedals I have had for a long time go awry and stop working I have to figure out what would I do without this pedal. It is hard to find a DD6 pedal now; if you go into Guitar Center they have the DD7. So you have to find it used. I remember I was going to borrow a friend’s DD7 and use it for a live show, I was looking at the knobs trying to figure out how to tweak the settings to where it would give me the particular millisecond delay setting I needed for a song so it wouldn’t throw everything off.
Do you just use it for one song?
No there are three settings that I use the most are the 300, the 800 and the 2600ms delays, and I usually have the delay time maxed out. There are a few songs where I will have it on the 800ms setting and have the delay about halfway between the minimum and the maximum. The delay makes huge difference: the way the notes interact with each other influences the way you build the layers of the song. If I accidentally have it in the wrong mode or have the delay knob off by a quarter turn it would ruin the piece.
Do write the piece based on the maximum setting for each mode?
It depends on where in the songwriting process that particular layer comes in. If it is the first thing I write and everything else is based on that, I start with the knob at maximum. But if I start with other rhythmic elements that I the delay needs to line up with, then I consider: what if the delay were at three o’clock or six o’clock? It is more about tweaking the settings to accommodate the other elements.
I have become reliant on my phone camera to take pictures of the positions of the knobs when I am writing new pieces. I know some musicians will use tape or make marks with a pen or a Sharpie. I use tape for the Moog Murph pedal; I have little color coded tape marks for the different songs because it has all those sliders and is more complicated. When I am figuring out something new, I take pictures of the pedals and then commit that to memory; when you are playing an eight song set and each piece requires different pedal settings you have to have them stored up there [points to head] because it would be pretty lame if I had to pull out my phone to sort through my photo library for the particular reference photo.
In your show I heard you do some upper octave things, is that where the Boss Pitch Shifter comes in?
I generally use the pitch shifter in octaves: I will pitch it down one octave and have the balance set halfway between effect and dry signal when I want the guitar to sound more like a bass. When I want to do a bass line with the shifter I will pluck the strings with my thumb rather than using a pick.
You don’t use entirely the wet sound when you do bass?
No, only when I pitch it down two octaves will I turn it so you are only hearing effects sound. I use that when I have the distortions on, as well for low rumbling ocean or thunder sound effects. That’s why the bass amp is really good; the guitar amp doesn’t quite do justice to the really low sonic textures.
When I pitch it one octave up I will back the wet mix off so it more subtle; with the octave up it can get a little harsh you can get a little artifacting. I sometimes use a metal slide to bow my guitar for harmonics, getting a kind of shimmering texture. I just use a little upper octave to fill it out; I don’t want it to be too processed.
There is a violin bowing part on the first track of Glacial Glow, “Entering,” after I play the main guitar line and loop it. There I shifted the part up a step and a half in post-production. It sounded much better that way but there isn’t enough room on the guitar neck to play it that way live, so I turn the wet signal on the Pitch Shifter all the way up, so you are only hearing the effect, and I pitch it up a step and a half.
From the Super shifter it goes to…
The Electro-Harmonix Freeze, which I use to make drones. I use it on latch mode, usually to capture a single note drone. I manipulate that by turning on the Moog Murf pedal and I might create a loop out of it. I tend to use it at the end of a song for an ambient transition between two pieces, like if I have to retune the guitar for the next piece, so people are not just sitting there in silence waiting for me to retune the guitar. It goes from the Freeze to the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail, which I always have on.
So you are processing the reverb through the Murf?
Yup—it goes through the Murf. After the Murf is the Akai Headrush I use that for the delay, but also for an additional looper, so sometimes I will have three loopers going at the same time. I think it a really cool pedal. When you are in the loop setting it has this feature that you can’t do with the Line 6 DL4: No matter how much you overdub over the first pass of the loop you create, you can return to just the first loop to dramatic effect by double clicking on the record/overdub switch. I use that feature pretty often in the new pieces. I also like the delay on it. Sometimes I will use it in conjunction with the DD6. I like the interaction of the two delays. I have two Line 6 DL4s and I do not use any of the delay features on either. They are strictly as loopers in my mind, they might as well not have any of the delay options—they do not interest me at all.
Do you use the half time and reverse functions of the DL4s?
Yes, I could not live without those features. I replace the footswitches; they are made shoddily. I wish I could switch to something else, but I rely so heavily on the half speed and reverse features they have made themselves irreplaceable. I thought I could switch over to the Electro-Harmonix 2880, which is a multichannel stereo looper. But I downloaded the manual and realized you can change the pitch and speed and do reverse, but if you have four tracks on there and you want to apply the reverse or half speed feature to just one track you can’t, you have to apply those effects to all four. I have two DL4s with an expression pedal hooked up to one of them so I can fade out a loop recorded at half speed, change it to double speed and fade it back in. I need to have that control over each track for the pieces to work.
I am trying to see how efficient I can be with the pedals that I bring to Europe. My pedal board with all the pedals weighs 40 lbs.