The brain and beauty behind the solo music project Noveller.
By Jonathan Rienstra
Sarah Lipstate is nervous about the snow. The Lafayette, La.-born musician who plays under the name Noveller has just released her latest album, Fantastic Planet, a nine-song journey through layered soundscapes of distorted guitars and synthesizers, and is busy with press. She spoke with the New York Times earlier in the day, but her biggest concern is the amount of snow piling up outside her Brooklyn apartment a week after the atmospheric fake-out that prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to warn New Yorkers to “prepare for something worse than we have ever seen before.”
“I don’t think it’s supposed to be as bad, but it’s snowing pretty hard,” she says. “It’s making me nervous. They make all these predictions: Maybe it won’t be as bad, or maybe we’ll get snowed in.”
Her nervousness stems from her knowledge that she has a show in two days that is being put on by Pitchfork Editor Brandon Stosuy that she describes as “pretty big.”
That could also describe Noveller’s sound. But the real problem with pinning down Noveller’s sound is that it refuses to stay still long enough. Her vocal-free compositions shift from expansive, world-building moments of mountainous riffs to plucky, hopeful joyrides in and out and in again until whole emotions and ideas are born. There’s a tangible quality to Fantastic Planet’s tracks, as flickers of visible landscapes sprout out of each note on top of each other.
Lipstate, who moved to Brooklyn after graduating from the University of Texas in 2006, recorded Fantastic Planet in Austin and is playing South By Southwest for the first time as Noveller, after previously performing with now-defunct noise-rock band Parts & Labor.
“The last time I was at the festival was 2009,” she says. “It’s been awhile. I always follow the coverage, and so I kind of know what to expect with the corporate presence, but it’ll be interesting to see it for myself and compare it.”
When Lipstate isn’t performing and recording as Noveller, she’s spending time scoring films. She got into it when her friend, Nathan Larson, asked her if she would be interested working on some film projects.
“There was definitely a learning curve,” she says. “But luckily, I had him as a guide to learn how it works, and it was really amazing to have that experience.”
On Working as a Solo Act
“My anxiety usually strikes when my mind has the freedom to start wandering. ‘What if something goes horribly wrong during this show?’ or ‘What if something breaks?’ When I’m onstage by myself for Noveller, I have to be so focused on what I’m doing, between what pedal to turn on or settings or all the different parts that my brain doesn’t have the chance to spiral into anxiety and ‘What if ?’ ”
On Film Composing Versus Song Composing
“When you’re writing music for a film, you’re creating for the director and getting notes from the director, and scores getting flat-out rejected. It’s not about you. It’s just learning to deal with rejection. When I’m making it for Noveller, it’s all about me, and if I don’t like it, it doesn’t hurt. It’s about getting over that pride.”
On Recording Fantastic Planet in Austin
“I felt like I had more time and I was more comfortable with working. It just felt like a luxury compared to in my apartment in New York. I felt really happy and inspired while I was working on it. That change in location added a little bit and a mood to the album. I was just feeling connected to my surroundings.”
On Austin’s Rapid Growth During the Last Decade
“It’s very obvious the ways it’s grown, but the creative pulse of the city is still there, and if anything, it means that there’s a bigger audience involved in those events for the creative community. Geographically, things have changed quite a bit, but at the heart, people are still plugging away.”
Fantastic Planet (Fire Records) is currently available on iTunes. Check out Noveller at SXSW this March.
Check out these up-and-coming local sirens during SXSW Music. Times and location TBD.
Digital Wild: This Austin band packs a punch with their debut album, Into, fusing hip- hop, indie rock and electronica for a funky sound that’ll have you moving with the infectious beats on tracks like Riskin’ and Around. Lead singer Chantell Moody’s seductive and sultry voice hooks you in.
Jess Williamson: Jess Williamson’s stripped-down sound burns slow with haunting and poetic songs off her latest album, Native State. Her emotionally charged voice and banjo picking channel Appalachian folk for deeply personal and introspective storytelling.
Emily Wolfe: Don’t pigeonhole Emily Wolfe into one style of music. From low-key songwriter tunes to swirling guitars and heavy riffs, Wolfe’s music shows her proficiency in a variety of genres, which all comes together for an auditory melting pot.
GALPALS: Lauren Marie Mikus and Jillian Talley are a guitar-and-drum duo that creates frenetic pop rock made for dancing. Think The White Stripes’ Fell In Love With A Girl, without Jack White’s contempt for everything.
Ume: Front woman Lauren Larson rocks hard with Ume, blending everything together for a soaring sound that’s a little bit shoegaze, a little bit metal, a little bit garage rock, a little bit indie pop and a whole lot of fun.￼
￼￼Photo by Alexis Fleisig. Digital Wild photo by Jason Greigo. Jess Williamson photo by Katy Shayne. Emily Wolfe photo by Steven Alcala. GalPals photo by Beth Borwell. Ume photo by Jody Domingue