Lizzy McAlpine on finding power as a rhythm guitarist and learning to fall in love with live performance

Lizzy McAlpine on finding power as a rhythm guitarist and learning to fall in love with live performance

It’s a rare day off from a packed tour schedule for Lizzy McAlpine. Just days before, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter played a sold-out show at Colorado’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater, but here she seems rather serene and calm – neither on an emotional come-down or bouncing off the walls after what is for many a career milestone.

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In truth, ticking off milestones has become something of a full-time job for the Philidelphian since her song Ceilings became a TikTok sensation, catapulting McAlpine to the Billboard 100 – the song is currently has over 500 million Spotify plays.
It’s opened up understandably huge doors for the artist, from appearing on NPR’s legendary TinyDesk to collaborating with fellow modern guitar standard bearers Jacob Collier and Noah Kahan, but despite her meteoric rise, she remains the honest songwriter she has been since her SoundCloud days.
McAlpine transforms intimate emotions into tear-jerking ballads and delicate releases detailing the relationships of family and friends, grief, breakups and so much more – all with a guitar in hand.
Bringing the studio to the stage
An increased profile has given McAlpine a bigger sandbox to play in on her third album, Older. Her major label debut, Older’s complex guitar rhythms and multi-layered tracks, McAlpine quickly realised that her usual plan to recreate this using her guitar and a loop pedal in a live environment would be pretty much impossible. Instead, she brought the studio to the stage.
Image: Press
“It kind of just came naturally,” the singer admits. “I knew that I wanted it to feel intimate and like we were just making the record again, because I’m bringing my band that I recorded the album with on tour. So I wanted to create a type of atmosphere that would feel like you were there in the room with us.”
“We modelled it after the studio that we recorded, which was just a room in our pedal steel players house, just his home studio. We’re using the same chairs we had there, and the sun lamps, the control room. Obviously, it’s not the exact same layout, but we tried to take the elements of it and put it into the stage set.”
McAlpine went down a different path when it came to putting together this record. Instead of taking tracks to a producer to work through and build like in the past, she instead chose to take all of her demos to the band and re-record it together. And just her luck, the band she had been waiting for fell into her lap, as she watched them back up fellow social media sensation Ryan Beatty on tour back in 2023.
The band in question included Mason Stoops – the LA session guitarist who many readers will be familiar with. When Stoops isn’t being a tastemaker for online guitar culture, his unique guitar skills have been in demand by everyone from Katy Perry to Jackson Browne. For McAlpine, inviting Stoops and his friends into her creative process helped her to create an album that she admits sounds like her for the first time.
Image: Press
“It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “The album was basically finished, but still I felt like something was missing, and I couldn’t really pinpoint it. I just knew I had to make a shift, so I pivoted, and I found the band.
“We re-recorded most of what I had before and it was really hard, but very rewarding,” she continues. “Especially when you’re recording it with a group of humans and that’s how you’re doing every song, and it’s not piecing things together as you go, it was really rewarding. It was really cool to be in a room full of passionate, talented people, and I think you can feel that in the music. And that’s exactly what I was looking for, and so it’s so special to me.”
For Stoops, who co-produced the record as well as playing much of the electric guitar parts, the process was communal in all the right ways.
“It invites people into a different experience,” Stoops explains. “People are so curious about what goes on in the studio or what it is like to make a record. And I think it’s a really cool way to invite people into what’s otherwise a very closed off experience. I think there’s something visually about seeing a group of people sitting in very intimately with headphones on, playing these songs. We even thought about putting like the record light on the stage, just any hints to kind of get the audience to hopefully go along with it.
“I hope people continue to like it and click into it that, you know? We’re really trying to replicate something that was really special for us.”
All hail the rhythm guitarist
Before she had a first-call session ace like Stoops to add his own kind of magic to her recordings, however, McAlpine put in the acoustic guitar work herself – always with the song at the focus of everything.
“I taught myself how to play using tabs online and would just figure it out,” she explains. “I don’t think I watched a single YouTube video, I just wanted to learn by myself. I was really bad at first. I listened to some of my older voice memos from when I was learning and it’s pretty painful, but you gotta start somewhere!
Image: Press
“I would also take guitar chords from people that I was listening to at the time such as Tori Kelly. And I would just take her chords, and for a while those were the only chords I knew how to play because I was just writing with those chords. I just kind of kept doing it and got better.
“I would just sit every day and figure out a new song or write new songs and come up with weird chords and figure out different tunings,” McAlpine continues. “That in turn made me better as the years went on.”
Strictly Rhythm
For some guitar players, rhythm can be almost a dirty word, but McAlpine is proud of her place as the driving force behind the songs she writes.
Armed with a 1964 Epiphone FT-45 Cortez, which according to Stoops is “like a Gibson B-25 but with three headstock repairs and thousand-year-old steel strings”, and a “junky” nylon string guitar from the 30s named “Louis”, the guitars she decides to play on the record and tour “became her second voices”, accompanying her throughout.
“I really enjoy playing my rhythm guitar parts,” McAlpine admits. “When I have to record guitar, everyone is like, ‘Wow, your timing is so good’. So I think I found what I excel at…. But maybe one day I’ll learn how to solo.”
Therefore it is the role of Stoops to navigate playing lead guitar, without overshadowing McAlpine, and still letting her acoustic shine through. As befits a player who has played a big part in making weird old-school rubber bridge guitars cool again, the guitars used on the record are suitably eccentric.
Image: Press
He shows us his impressive collection used on the record, featuring a 1980s Casio DG-1, a heavily modified early 1960s Teisco baritone, and his 1956 Danelectro UB-2 bass-6, which all went through an Austen Hooks ‘Space Heater’ projector amp and a “very old” five-inch Jensen speaker.
“The biggest thing was that Lizzy was in charge, or at least making sure that she always felt like she could share her ideas or share her thoughts,” he says. “Every single member of this band is such a musically sensitive person. So it’s a room of great listeners, who are all really tuned into what Lizzie wants and are trying to help Lizzie find what she wants.
“We just recorded each song as a band with as few members as we thought was necessary,” he continues. “Any chance we could to simplify or to hone it down to just Lizzie’s guitar or just two guitars or just one, we’re always looking for those opportunities. No one in this band needs like a solo moment. No one needs like a spotlight.”
The freedom of live performance
For many musicians, performing live is the great release and the best part of the job – for McAlpine however, that wasn’t always the case. She’s not always had the best ride when it comes to live shows, whether that be suffering from various ailments, exhaustion and just a growing apathy towards taking to the stage.
“Touring was super hard before this, because the music wasn’t aligning with what I wanted,” she reflects. “Something felt wrong in my soul, and I really couldn’t place it when it was happening. So I just thought ‘Okay, I guess I just like don’t like this part of my job and I guess I just will never like it’. But this time around, the music feels authentic.
“Now, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a stage,” she continues. “I didn’t know that I could have this much fun playing music! The first show we got off stage and I said, ‘I want to keep going like can we keep playing?’ I’ve never said those words in my life. I think that this music has just allowed me to truly be myself and it feels really good.”
Not only is this change of heart accredited to creating music that truly sounds like music that McAlpine wants to create and feels her “soul” in – as she explains, it’s also a large part to do with how it was created.
Image: Press
“This music was actually made to be performed live, that’s really what I was looking forward to the whole time. I think it’s harder to capture that feeling on a recorded piece of music than it is to capture it live, because we were just doing every take almost live, all of us together in one room.
While the record seemed easy to replicate for the whole band while performing live, considering that they have literally put their whole studio on stage, there were some elements that were slightly tricker to replicate: the flutes and the strings heard through songs All Falls Down, Drunk Running, and Broken Glass.
As Stoops explains, he and fellow guitarist Ryan Richter brought in a pedal-steel and custom lap steel guitar to add the extra tones and timbre heard on the album brought in by the other instruments.
“I’m always shocked by how unique and interesting that combo is,” Stoops explains. “Because of the fretless situation, and because of the availability of notes and chords, especially with the pedals and the knee levers, we can really emulate and replicate so many parts of other instruments with just a steel guitar. It’s always shocking how cool it sounds.”

As for Lizzy, she almost seems relieved to have found a way of performing that comes naturally to her, something that comes from having more chances to creatively go with the flow, and simply let her music imagination run wild.
“We’re not hearing anything other than what we’re playing in our headphones. And that has been really freeing. We extend outros, we extend intros, we cut things, we add things and we can do whatever we want. The set is not set in stone, which is just very cool to me.
“Also, the band are so talented and good at their jobs that they can just do whatever they want and make it sound amazing. And they’ve been playing together for a while now, so they know each other really well and can just read each other in the moment. It’s just very freeing.”
Considering how different McAlpine’s experience is from her previous tours to this, you can tell how cathartic this entire process has been for her, both musically and personally. Whether that be finding a group of musicians that match the vision she feels within, being able to match her playing style, to being able to truly change what she does in the moment and feel confident no matter the outcome, it’s evidently rewarding to see a musician find their groove.
After having a first real positive experience when it comes to building, recording and performing an album, will she be jumping back into the studio any time soon? “I have absolutely zero plans for my next album,” she admits, “and I don’t want to have any plans for a long time. I don’t want to make music again for a while, I’m tired! But next time I decide to make an album, this band will be at the top of my mind.”
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