We talk with the ambient composer Sarah Lipstate of Noveller about pedals, tour food, recording and Glacial Glow, her most pronounced release yet.

What is one of the first pedals you bought?

The first pedal that I purchased was the Ibanez TS7 Tubescreamer and I still use it. It’s probably one of the most essential pedals in my set up even though its role is pretty subtle texturally, it’s absolutely essential to my sound and I discovered this recently because it stopped working. I went into a panic because I tried playing without it and I even bought a different model of an Ibanez Tubescreamer. I guess it was an upgraded one but it didn’t have the same features as mine and I was just kind of devastated. Luckily my friend was able to fix the problem which was actually just a power supply problem, so it was kind of like crisis averted but I realized how the Tubescreamer has really become the foundation upon which I build all the other more elaborate effects.

I know that there are different kinds of arrangements for putting pedals in front of another in the effects chain. Can you talk about your pedal board more and specifically the set up?

Yes, there is a fine art to you know, sort of figuring out where the effects should go in the chain. My set up has definitely changed a lot over the years and the way that I have it now, it works perfectly for the pieces I’m playing in my live set. The first pedal in the chain is this crazy Death by Audio pedal called the Total Sonic Annihilation. It goes first because you want to run all of the distortion through it and then return it through the signal and have it process back out. So then after that I have the Tubescreamer and two other distortion pedals. Basically all my distortion comes first. There’s the Boss Bass Overdrive Pedal and there’s the Electro Harmonix Metal Muff. Then I have my tuner right before the volume pedal.

Putting the tuning pedal before the volume pedal seems interchangeable. How come you specifically place the volume pedal after?

SL: Well, I always keep my volume pedal on bypass so I usually keep it on and so that means the sound is still passing through it. So the way that I have it set up I can see if I’m in tune before you hear a note. With the volume pedal you know, I do a lot of swells and stuff like that. Then I have my Boss Digital Delay. It’s the DD-6. Then I have the Boss Super Shifter the PS5 and then I have the Electro Harmonix Freeze pedal, which is one of the newer pedals that I have. I think it came out last year in 2010 and it’s really cool kind of for just making instant drone to kind of capture whatever sound you’re making at the time when you press the trigger on the pedal it just kind of takes a… it just kinds of grabs a sound and loops it infinitely so it makes this drone. It has different functions but that’s the one that I mainly use to capture whatever note or chord I’m playing and then I can manipulate it.

Then I have my reverb which is the Holy Grail Nano. And then I have the Moogerfooger Murf pedal which has these different banks of different step sequences so you can turn it on and make these kind of filtered, electronic-almost like beat with it. So I usually have something going through the Freeze pedal and then I’ll manipulate it with the Murf and make these weird little patterns. And I have my Head Rush pedal which is a really awesome delay that also has like 11-second looper built into it with over-dub capabilities. Sometimes I use it as an additional delay, sometimes I use it as a looper. Then I have my two DL4 Line 6 pedals which I use exclusively for looping. So yeah. Loopers come at the very end of the chain, distortion first, then you have effects with the delay, pitch shift, reverb and the Murf and the Freeze. So that’s how it goes.

I want to know about looping live and what you do during your live set to create the Noveller effects.

Every piece that I play live that I can think of right now, I have to create at least one loop. Some of them I have as many as the three different loopers going and then I’m playing, you know, live stuff over them, over the loops. It is something that I’ve gotten a lot better at. Obviously some of the pieces I just created very ambient loops so precision isn’t really a factor but there are some pieces where I’m playing like an arpeggiated rhythmic figure and the timing is essential or else it’s going to sound awful. There are at least two pieces that I currently play live where I’m looping melodic passages and if I don’t hit the trigger with my foot on the Line 6 pedal at the right time it’s going to sound bad.

Which songs?

“Entering,” which I start out playing the first melodic figure and I loop it and then I go in and I add the bass line on top of it. Then I start doing both guitars. And so I just have to practice first and get the feel for it down and I usually pull it off live. I have that one pretty much mastered. The other one is a piece called “Starve” which is off the Bleached Valentine split LP and basically the whole song I’m kind of playing these arpeggios with my DD-6 Digital Delay going so the arpeggios are kind of folding back on themselves and interacting with the other chords that I’m playing. Then I just keep over-dubbing on top of that. So if I don’t nail that it’ll sound really funny. Looping is just something that you get better at the more you get accustomed to it but yeah, I did find that being able to loop elements of the songs just let me really broaden the sound. I have an expression pedal hooked up to one of my Line 6 pedals so that I’m able to fade in and fade out that loop and change it. So even if I have three loops going on I’m able to make it to where the sound is changing and progressing and you’re not just hearing these repetitive elements over and over and over again. That’s not my intention. I don’t really consider myself a drone artist. You know, I use drone sometimes and I use these tools to be able to expand and diversify my sound rather than just build vertically on top of looping elements.

I want to talk about Glacial Glow and some of the ideas about it that aren’t necessarily readily available since there aren’t any lyrics. I’m inferring that there’s some loose narrative here but maybe there isn’t. Could you start by talking about some of the words on the track listing?

SL: When I’m recording new pieces I’m at home recording on my computer. I open a session and I have to name that session right away before I can start recording. Sometimes I change things but most of the time the title is created right there, before any sound is recorded at all. So a lot of times I just kind of pull from my immediate world you know, just the mindset that I’m in at the moment or whatever’s going on. I tend to record when I have long stretches of time where I’m going to be alone and isolated in my room without any outside obligations. Sometimes I get pretty um, I get pretty deep, um, within myself and, um, yeah. I’m always just kind of having, um, experiencing some heavy feelings whenever I’m doing these recording sessions. Usually it’s about two weeks where I’m recording every single day. Sometimes I get kind of down and I kind of have to work through the feeling with the recordings and one reason I love making music and recording is that I just usually feel ecstatic by the time I finish laying down all the tracks or whenever a piece comes together. I kind of use that as an antidote to whatever awful things I’m feeling at the time.


Some of the titles are literal. But not all of them. For “Alone Stars” I was kind of feeling like, I was kind of pining for someone who was away in Texas and it felt like I was going to record this kind of desert-y solo, kind of distorted guitar piece for that person and “Alone Stars” seemed like an appropriate title. A lot of the songs are written with particular people in mind. The title of the album is the last thing that I determine and with that I’ll usually let myself make more of an aesthetic decision but it’s whatever feels right. Sometimes there might be a particular imagery that keeps suggesting itself when I listen to the pieces.

With Glacial Glow that’s kind of what happened. I felt that when I listened to the recordings I felt a lot of sadness and isolation but also a lot of beauty but kind of this glacial, this glacial beauty you know, kind of this very slow moving wave of emotion. The artwork for Glacial Glow is based off of some photos that I had taken of some icy snow bank in my neighborhood. I just took it on my iPhone and it was just this crappy resolution and then my friend Chris Habib just kind of worked his magic and made this very beautiful duo-tone metallic artwork based on that. That’s kind of how Glacial Glow evolved into the finished product and it was very much a similar process with Desert Fires, my previous full length.

That’s so sort of romantic you know, what you said about having people on your mind and kind of dealing with it alone in your room. You don’t have any words for it but “Entering” is such a bummer and sometimes I’ll skip listening to it because it’s too much and I’ll just want to get to “Resolutions” or “Waxwing” because “Entering” is daunting. So to hear that for Noveller, songs are written with specific people in mind, it’s abstract because it’s like so much of Noveller then is just recorded feeling. It’s hardly explicit. What about “Tuesday Before Poland?” That title is opaque too.

Well I actually recorded that song before I was to travel to Poland and it was a song that I recorded specifically for a person. I was flying to Krakow and playing a festival and then continuing on and traveling Europe. I was going to be away for a month and I kind of wanted to capture the anticipation and the excitement but also the sadness of being away. I wanted to channel that into a recording. I ended up recording most of the pieces for that track… this is several months before I started recording the bulk of the songs for Glacial Glow so yeah I wasn’t recording that, “Tuesday Before Poland,” with the intention of putting it on an album. It was just something that I wanted to express and be able to send to this person and say like, “Hey, you know, I made this for you because I’ve been thinking about you a lot right now and I’m going to be away I’m excited about that but I’m also sad.” So when I was recording pieces with the intention of recording a new album I kind revisited it and made some changes to it. I added some tracks and took away other elements and it became the piece that you hear on the record.

It sounds like you’re having to make a lot of personal sacrifice to do what you’re doing. But it’s a paradox because what you’re doing with your music relates to people you’re close to and then you travel to showcase the very thing that creates distance.

That is very true. It’s exciting and definitely necessary for me to travel a lot and tour a lot and you know it’s a huge part of what I do. I love it but also takes me away from people I love spending time with and you know my home, my animals, the foundation of my life in Brooklyn. I use these feelings a lot to create these pieces and this definitely feeds into the creative process and takes me other places. It’s interesting how it all works.

Yeah and now, since being in Parts and Labor and Cold Cave and having put out Desert Fires there’s Glacial Glow — which feels very focused as Noveller — there’s this momentum and Noveller doesn’t feel like a side project as much anymore. Would you say you have made the transition? Glacial Glow seems to have solidified this.

Yeah there’s been a lot of creative evolution over the past year and a half but also, just in terms of my focus, it’s definitely shifted. Noveller is my main creative outlet and it’s my main priority. I think that Glacial Glow reflects my acceptance of myself as being and being able to focus on Noveller. I think that when I was playing with Parts and Labor and with Cold Cave you know I was still doing Noveller and playing shows and making recordings but it certainly was on the side lines and now there’s been a major shift. I’ve allowed myself to accept that it’s what I’m doing right now.

Do you eat a lot of junk food on tour?

Sometimes. This past June I did a tour with U.S. Girls and we found ourselves having to pull up through the McDonald’s at 3:00 AM a few nights and luckily I’ve been able to get – they have this oatmeal thing so I get that and I’ve definitely eaten at Subway a few times. Sometimes you have to get food at a chain because you don’t have that many options but I think it’s a lot easier now if you have an iPhone, you can do searches and plan ahead and try to find where there are grocery stores where you can buy supplies and make your own stuff or try to find a local restaurant and GPS your way there. If you have the time while you’re on the road you know, for like your standard meals you can make it where you have options on the healthier side. But yeah, certainly for the late night drive through middle America, you’re going to find yourself at some McDonald’s but you know you, just try to make it work. When I played in Cold Cave there was one morning when we were, I don’t know where we were in California, but they pulled the van into the parking lot at In-N-Out Burger and it was like, “Okay guys we’re having breakfast at In-N-Out Burger,” and I was like, “Whaaaat, really? Burgers for breakfast?”

noveller – glacial glow (album preview) by experimedia

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