Sophie Burrell: “I don’t care too much about speed – I’d rather sound more like David Gilmour and play with feel”

Sophie Burrell
(Image credit: Press)

There’s never been more guitar influencers in the world than there are right now – and the community looks set to keep on growing, with apps like Instagram and TikTok heightening the buzz around longer and more in-depth lessons, covers and reviews on YouTube.

One of the most impressive players to find online stardom in recent years is UK-based content creator Sophie Burrell, whose covers of famous tracks by Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses and Alter Bridge have – pardon the pun – struck a chord with countless fans around the world, racking up some seriously impressive numbers in the process.

It’s the extreme attention to detail that’s separated Sophie from her many peers, nailing the vibrato and phrasing of different guitarists with exquisite finesse and impeccable tones – often with her eyes closed while caught in the magic of the moment. But it’s more than just her playing that’s propelled her to where she stands today; it’s her personality and honesty – especially when tackling complex arrangements like Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover – that’s made her even more likeable, documenting the personal struggles that come with attempting such challenging parts. 

You get the feeling she’s sharing her journey naturally with her feet firmly on the ground rather than fast-forwarding to unrealistic end results with an inflated sense of ego. Watch any of her clips and we guarantee you’ll feel inspired and empowered to pick up a guitar and start getting creative yourself.

This month, she launches new band Bxrrell: a modern rock quartet in which she sings and plays guitar alongside co-guitarist Sped Spedding, bassist James Rookyard and drummer Simon Uselis. Their debut single, Dare To, combines her love for hard riffing and pop-punk melodies and, perhaps unsurprisingly, features one mesmerizingly tasteful solo.

In this exclusive interview with Guitar World, the PRS endorsee talks us through her plans for the band moving forwards, the gear used on the recordings so far and her tips for tackling extraordinarily sophisticated leads by the guitar masters like David Gilmour and Eric Johnson...

When did you realize it was time to put a new band together?

“Me and Sped are the founders of this group. We’ve been friends for about seven years or so, and he actually knew me from my last band. We always wanted to work together, though we weren’t sure in what kind of capacity. It never seemed possible because time would never allow it. Then I left my old band and was immediately like ‘I’m going to work with you!’ and he felt the same. 

“We started writing for the project in 2020 and then the pandemic hit. The music was coming out great but the timing was terrible. I guess we’re a pandemic band! [laughs] But I actually think it worked in our favor – it’s taken a while to get here but it’s been a real journey. I’m coming into a new role as well. I’ve never fronted a band before. I’ve always written songs as a guitarist, not as a singer-songwriter. So I needed that extra time to figure out my sound and how I approach things.”

The debut single sounds like a bit like what you’d hear if members of Paramore and Alter Bridge formed a supergroup. What do you see as the main influences for this project?

When I first started toying with the idea of starting a band, I went really into the idea of what I thought people would want to hear. Everything I wrote with that kind of mindset didn’t make me happy

“When I first started toying with the idea of starting a band, I went really into the idea of what I thought people would want to hear. Everything I wrote with that kind of mindset didn’t make me happy. I didn’t like it, so I stopped caring so much and wrote for myself and that’s when I started getting somewhere with it. 

“There’s definitely a Paramore influence. Avril Lavigne was actually my first hero, so it’s funny how I’ve circled back to my roots and the style of music I liked as a nine-year-old. But you can also hear my guitar influences in there, too, and the same goes for Sped. We don’t really see ourselves as lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist; we prefer to share the solos.

“I’m currently listening to a lot of Billie Eilish. She’s probably my biggest influence from the last five years. I like writing catchy things that tell a story. Self-expression is a bit like therapy! It’s fun hearing how these songs come out given how varied my influences are. I learn and play all kinds of things for my channels. Dare To is like riffy pop rock, as are a couple of other tracks. Some are more production-heavy, which is probably where my Billie Eilish influence comes into play even more.”

So what’s next for the band… when will there be an album or tour?

“We’re doing it all independently at this stage, so it’s going to be interesting to navigate. We won’t be dropping an album straight away; it will be more like a series of singles. That seems to be the way everyone is doing things at the moment. It’s all about content and not leaving massive gaps in between releases. It’s better to keep things bubbling along. As far as live shows, as soon as we have enough songs for a set, we’ll be straight on that. We have five complete ones ready to go and I think another three would be a healthy set length.”

Sophie Burrell

(Image credit: Press)

You’re often seen with PRS guitars and EVH amps. Can you tell us about the gear you’ve been using to record the new music?

“We work with a producer. Me, Sped and James have the means to record our rigs in their full glory at home thanks to Two Notes technology. I use their Captor X to record my EVH 5150III, though interestingly I didn’t use the big one; I used the little LBX lunchbox head. Mainly because it was easier to have on my desk and tweak while sat down recording. They’re amazing amps and sound very similar.

“From there it was a blend of different IR cabs – I couldn’t name them specifically, but there’s a Victory Kraken one I ended up going to a lot. And my main guitar is my PRS Custom 24 Wood Library… always! Occasionally we’ve had some Stratty tones as well, but my Custom 24 did the bulk of it.

“Pedal-wise, we recorded dry and added reverb through the Two Notes software. Whenever I did need signature things like a chorus or delay, I’d use my TC Electronic Plethora X5 just because it’s in all in one and very simple to use. I guess my rig is pretty straightforward at this point. When we go live, that’s when things will get more interesting!”

The solo is a mixture of powerful pentatonics and big bends, as well as that high major seventh for a hint of harmonic minor...

“I’m a real sucker for harmonic minor! I’ve loved it ever since I first learned those shapes. It sounds really evil and cool. I really enjoy writing solos. It’s my favorite part of the guitar side of the process. I didn’t even think too much about the song meaning when I was writing it… but now in hindsight, I recognize it’s a fierce song and needed a fierce solo to reflect that. 

“Also it’s our first single and it’s no secret I was a guitar player first. I wanted to have that shreddy solo with a lot of feeling, so it sounded like me. What I wrote kinda goes all over the place – it’s a bit chaotic, but that’s what the song is about. I sat down and just fleshed it out. Funnily enough, there’s a video of me playing it on my Instagram back in 2020. It’s buried quite deep now, but it’s pretty much stayed the same.”

It’s very lyrical in that sense, reminiscent of guitarists like Slash or David Gilmour. What have you learned from covering their leads on your channels?

“David Gilmour is a strange one for me because I was raised on Pink Floyd. As a child, that was always on in the car whenever we were going anywhere. My parents are huge fans. Then in my teenage years, Mark Tremonti and Slash were my biggest heroes – I was playing their stuff all the time. I didn’t try my hand at Pink Floyd stuff until 2020. It didn’t strike me until I started making content and realized it might be a good area to cover.

“Then I did it and, I don’t mean this in an egotistical way at all, it felt quite natural for me to play that stuff. I reckon that’s because it’s all I heard when I was a child. I absorbed all of that information when I was young, so all his bends and phrasing make sense to my ears.

“There are other players whose solos require way more time and attention for me to learn. I’ll be sat thinking, ‘Why did they put that there? It doesn’t make any sense!’ while with David Gilmour it always makes perfect sense. He’s influenced me tremendously in my subconscious. I didn’t even realize it! I’m very grateful for that because he’s an absolute genius.”

One of your most recent videos was a cover of Cliffs of Dover in full. What advice can you offer everyone who is trying to learn that piece?

“I published my full cover a few weeks ago. It took me, on and off, about a month. I remember spending my new year’s eve learning it! It’s probably a piece I’ve been practicing since I was 16. There’s a video of me attempting the intro, not at all accurately – well, what I was playing was accurate enough, but the phrasing wasn’t quite there and the tone wasn’t very good.

“It’s a song I’ve come back and revisited time and time again. Every time I do, I’m that little bit better and I pick up a little bit more in terms of how he was expressing himself. I might realize a certain note might come a little later than I thought or something like that, because it’s a very swing-y song. 

“It’s so easy to make it sound rushed, especially during the chorus because Eric really hangs back. I struggled with that because I’m a very metronome-based player. When I was researching, I watched so many different people covering it and some of them were incredible. In a lot of them, I knew the players were on the beat and technically correct but it didn’t feel right; it felt rushed. Eric is that little bit looser and it’s important to remember that.”

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the song?

“The major challenge was the final lick in the intro where he descends down. I did a video of that last year and alternate picked that part, which was a mistake, because it’s economy picked. In fact, a lot of the song is economy picked, which is a fairly new technique to me. I had to start thinking about all the tiny details like whether he was using up or down strokes. I basically dissected it all and tore it apart until it felt like it was making sense. 

“There’s also a bridge section where it changes key halfway through the song, right before the final chorus, and there’s this one massive descending lick which is mainly picked that’s really hard. I was watching people do it thinking, ‘Oh god, this is where I fail – I’ll never be able to do that!’ I didn’t quite play it perfectly, but it felt passable. Nailing a piece like that comes down to perseverance and discipline, hours and hours of sitting there with a metronome, slowing it down to 25 percent, then 50 percent and then 75 percent. 

“All of a sudden it came together and seemed to make sense. As guitar players, we often rely on vocals as cues or markers to help map things out, so with instrumental songs like this – which have a lot going on and different parts that sound fairly similar – it’s can be hard to remember everything.

It’s important to do things that people will want to watch, but it has to enrich your own soul first, so you’re much better off covering the artists or styles you personally like

“Eventually, I got used to the tiny-weeny differences in each section. It’s a marathon song that you have to take your time with. You just have to keep going back until you finally manage to unlock it. I’m still not done with it… my cover in five years time will be way better! [Laughs]”

We recently found someone on Instagram who keeps covering Cliffs of Dover in every scale... genius!

“I saw that and just started following him straight away. I don’t know how he does it. I think it’s the ultimate flex, doing Cliffs of Dover in so many different scales and styles, as well as making it look so easy on a Hello Kitty guitar. He posts so often, I’m usually sat there wondering how he manages to do it all!”

Your videos get a serious amount of traffic. What tips can you offer any content creators starting out?

“Do what feels right to you, because it’s a very crazy space to exist in a lot of the time. It’s not easy. People just see the surface of it, but it goes so much deeper. Being on social media can kinda become a job, I guess. I can’t remember who said this, I can’t take credit, but it’s very true and made a lot of sense to me: you should only make content that you would want to watch yourself because then you’ll never get tired of what you’re doing. Because you’re going to spend many hours editing that shit!

“It’s important when trying to grow a following to do things that people will want to watch, but it has to enrich your own soul first, so you’re much better off covering the artists or styles you personally like. If you’re not enjoying it, then it will fizzle out pretty fast and you’ll burn out. You will need to give it a lot of time and dedication, all of that stuff. It can take ages for things to take off.” 

So when exactly did you start taking it seriously?

“I guess I started getting serious about social media in 2019, so it’s been a few years of really grinding at it to get to this point, whatever this point is! You have to be in it for the right reasons. Don’t just be in it because you want some quick and easy shot to some sort of status. I don’t see it like that. I’m posting content for myself, to help me express myself and help myself get better. 

“It’s a bit selfish, to some extent, but if people like it or find it helpful, that’s the biggest bonus. If you like the content you create and nobody watches it, at least you can still be happy… well, hopefully! [laughs] You just have to keep at it.

“Don’t let people on social media tell you what you can and can’t do. It’s your space. That’s probably the most important thing, because everybody has an opinion. It’s easy to read what they say as right and wrong, but they’re just opinions. You need to remember that, and I’m stressing this because I forget it all the time.”

Is there any new gear you’re toying with that’s currently blowing your mind?

I still can’t play Master of Puppets the right way! My right hand is my weakest point and always has been. It’s probably because I never focused much on rhythm stuff – I’ve been way more fascinated by solos

“I’ve been playing with the Boss SL-2 Slicer a lot. I saw a video of it on their Instagram and immediately wrote a comment to the effect, ‘What is this? I need it in my life!’ I do work with the people at Boss occasionally and they very kindly offered to send one out to me.

“It didn’t take long for me to see how it could really help with songwriting and creating wacky sounds I wouldn’t normally think of. The very first time I tried it, I ended up writing a whole song and was like, ‘Fantastic, this thing is the best thing ever!’ It’s all about whatever helps creativity at the end of the day. 

“The other thing I’ve been trying out is the PRS amps, the Archon and the HDRX 20. I went to visit the European HQ back in November and tried those amps while I was there. I ended up taking them home and jamming on them a lot. Obviously I love their guitars, so I knew anything else they made would be great. The pedals are really cool, too!”

Finally, what’s next for you technique-wise? Is there anything you’d like to focus on?

“Anything to do with my right hand, to be honest, from economy picking drills to downpicking. I still can’t play Master of Puppets the right way! My right hand is my weakest point and always has been. It’s probably because I never focused much on rhythm stuff – I’ve been way more fascinated by solos, which has made my right hand not quite as good as my left. Economy picking, of course, is more of a lead technique. I’d like to work on it – not necessarily to get faster, but just to be able to stop my right hand getting burned out too quickly.

“I often beat myself for not being as good at certain things as I should be… but it’s important to remember you aren’t those players, which isn’t a bad thing. You might not be as fast as someone else, but that’s fine. It would be nice to be amazing at everything but you can still write great songs and great solos. I don’t care too much about speed and when I do, it’s in short bursts. Even though it’s very impressive, it’s not really for me. I’d rather sound more like David Gilmour and play with feel.”

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Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences as a guitar player. He's worked for magazines like Kerrang!Metal HammerClassic RockProgRecord CollectorPlanet RockRhythm and Bass Player, as well as newspapers like Metro and The Independent, interviewing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handled lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).