Lipstate’s custom offset BilT Relevator includes a fuzz circuit and two modes of Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star reverb built into its design. In a pinch, she could perform a live solo set with the guitar alone. Photo by Rémy Grandroques

How do you look at pedals? Do you see them as new instruments and make an effort to learn their intricacies?
Absolutely. Sometimes I feel the pedals are more the instrument than the guitar is, especially as pedals become more and more sophisticated. I’m a manual reader, and I think it’s necessary for most pedals. I always keep the paper manuals in my desk so I can pull them out or refer back to them. The looper that I use, the Boomerang III Phrase Sampler … I have the manual, and it’s a mini textbook-sized manual. For months, I would have to refer back to it to understand all the functionality of it. But that pedal is so integral to my performance, I have to have total mastery over it to be able to do what I do.

Why that looper?
Before I got the Boomerang, I was using two DL4s in series and an Akai Headrush. I had three loopers, and because everything was in series, I had to keep everything in my head. But I got really used to being able to lay down at least three distinct layers, and then overdubs on top of that. Plus, with the DL4, I got used to being able to do the double-time, to drop things down, to do reverse, and to apply those effects to the loops. When I saw the Boomerang—I’d seen the previous iterations of the Boomerang, which is this gigantic, long, ugly pedal with a roller that you use with your foot, and that didn’t appeal to me—but when I saw this one, it’s basically the same size as one DL4, it has the three dedicated looping banks, and you can even add a fourth one if you assign the bonus to that. I liked that it had three dedicated looping banks and that you could still do all of the effects that the DL4 can do. When I tried some of the Electro-Harmonix loopers, I hated that whatever you link the master loop as, each subsequent loop has to be that exact same length. With the Boomerang, your subsequent loops only have to be multiples of the original loop. I find a lot of freedom in that. If the initial loop is 15 seconds, the slave loop can be 30 seconds, 45 seconds, a minute—it just has to be a multiple of that. And there’s a free mode, too, so if you’re doing ambient stuff, each loop is completely autonomous.

You do a lot of bowing. Do you only use a standard guitar? Do you have any guitars with an arched bridge, like a cello?
I don’t. I haven’t really altered any of my guitars. But it’s one of the reasons I think I love offset guitars so much. I really like the sound of bowing high up on the neck, and with the shape of a Jazzmaster, or Jaguar—my BilT Relevator is a Fender Marauder-style body—when you have that offset body style, you have access to the full range of notes up on the 1st string. I mainly stick to bowing the 1st or 6th string, and having access is important. One of the reasons I put the Gizmotron, which is a mechanical bowing device, on my Ed O’Brien signature Strat is because you cannot bow a Strat. That’s because of the way the horns come up on the guitar, and with the notes that I want to bow, you can’t do it. It’s also important to create the proper friction, and you have to use the rosin.

That must make your strings sticky and gross.
Whenever I post stuff on Instagram of me bowing, people ask, “Doesn’t it drive you crazy having the rosin on the strings?” It really doesn’t bother me. If you look at my main guitars, there’s always this white line up around the 19th fret. There’s perpetually this rosin residue, and it probably drives people crazy, but that’s what enables the hairs on the bow to grab on and sustain the strings. Rosin is really important if you want to use a bow on a guitar and have it sound good. I use a cello bow. I also use the Gizmotron and an EBow. The Ed O'Brien Strat has a sustainer pickup. Anything that creates a sustain tone, I’m totally into.

I get pretty attached to my particular instrument, especially since this one already has seven layers of rosin on the strings.

With all the pedals and processing that you use, how important is the actual guitar?
I think it’s become more essential as my sound has evolved. In the beginning, when I first started doing this project as Noveller, it didn’t matter at all. But it’s become more important, and I've diddled with my preferences. I’ve gotten really used to my American Professional Series Jazzmasters, because those necks have 22 frets. But it doesn’t really matter all that much. Although, if I’m going to fly in for a show, and they don’t want to pay for me to check my bag, and they offer to rent a guitar for me instead, I would not be so excited about that. I get pretty attached to my particular instrument, especially since this one already has seven layers of rosin on the strings.

With your BilT guitars, what’s the advantage of having the effects onboard as opposed to in a pedal?
I think it really changes your approach. I don’t know how many people would naturally say, “I want to have reverb first in the chain [laughs].” Also, having all the dials to adjust the parameters accessible right there, it frees up your feet to do other things, and you can make real-time changes. I’m a solo performer, and I rely on pedals. I’m really conscious about not having to constantly bend down, get on the floor, and tweak knobs. I want to put on a show for people. I’m conscious about that, and being able to stay in the vibe. Being able to make those adjustments on the fly on the guitar is really cool. It’s also a great idea. If I really had to, I could just show up with this guitar and a looper and play a set. If all my pedals broke traveling to a show, I can make it work.

What’s it like working with Iggy Pop? It’s different from what you normally do.
It is very different.

Are you also playing Stooges songs, and power chords, and things like that?
There are power chords. The first half of the set is the new record in its entirety, and the second half is classic Iggy. The one Stooges song is “Death Trip,” off Raw Power. That is literally six minutes of the same guitar riff over and over again. That was very different for me. Just building up the stamina to hit all downstrokes for six minutes at a punk tempo was so different from what I do with my Noveller soundscapes. I had to build up to that. We play a lot of songs off The Idiot, Iggy’s solo classic, and some stuff from Lust for Life. It’s all over the place. It’s weird because the first half of the set includes two of the songs that I wrote for the album (Free). Iggy came to me and said, “Build a guitar soundscape around this vocal track that I’m sending you.” I literally got to do what I’m good at, and to collaborate with him, to really be in my element, and to have those become Iggy songs. For the first half of the set, I’m in my element, and then for the second half, I have to try and switch into rock mode and hope that I’m doing justice to these songs that I’ve listened to since I was a teenager.

It must be very different locking in with a rhythm section.
It’s very different for me. When we were first rehearsing, I had to keep reminding myself to listen to the drums. I thought, “That is backbeat. Everything I do needs to be synced up to that.” It’s something I have to actively tell myself, because I’m not used to that. But it’s cool and fun. I had to learn all the songs on my own in Los Angeles, because all the other players are in other places. It was crazy to learn parts, have a couple of rehearsals, and then be onstage with Iggy playing on French television or playing a live BBC session. The cool thing is that Iggy, in terms of musical heroes, lives up to everything you want him to be. He’s incredible, but also very amicable. If he’s happy or has suggestions for you, he lets you know that you’re doing a good job and making him proud. He is on top of things and things don’t go unnoticed, but it’s been an incredible experience so far. We all want things to get to a place in the world—and especially in this country—where musicians can start working again. It’s such a great opportunity to get to play with him, and I want the opportunity to get back to doing that.

With an offset guitar and a sizeable pedalboard, Sarah Lipstate, aka Noveller, evokes the mystery in the title of “Gathering the Elements,” from her 2013 album No Dreams, in performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2016, opening for Iggy Pop several years before she joined his band.