The journey from solo to trio did not come quietly for Purling Hiss.
But nothing does for the loud as heck, guitar blazing, noise rock band.
Mike Polizze released his first solo album under the name Purling Hiss in 2009. He played all the instruments, wrote the guitar-heavy music, wrote the lyrics, and recorded it all lo-fi at his Philadelphia home. Seven years later — after three home-recorded solo albums, two compilations, some EPs and singles, a live album, and three studio albums as a power trio — Polizze is still the heart of Purling Hiss. He’s the singer, songwriter, and guitarist too. But nowadays, the latest incarnation of the trio has drummer Ben Leaphart and bassist Dan Provenzano adding to the swell of sound.
The band’s latest album High Bias, out October 14 on Drag City, displays a seamless blend of disparate styles — a dash defiant psych rock, a pinch of punk, a smidge of a sweet pop treat. “We were gelling as a band and took our time, getting together naturally when we had time,” Polizze said. “There was no rush and I think the album captures that. I did want it to be more of a guitar-centric album, not so much heavy but sonically, you know, capture the band’s bombastic sort of stuff.”
The 11-plus minute album closer, “Everybody In The USA,” does just that, with its “cold, caustic feel” and double leads. “The first half has lyrics, the singing, the verses,” Polizze said. “The second half opens up to this long guitar noise jam which circles back to older Purling Hiss stuff. A lot of people like the guitar heroics as they would say, the unhinged jams. … It’s two guitar tracks both doing leads, kind of crashing together. I always appreciated that so we got to do that.”
High Bias has somewhat darker songs with “3000 AD” and “Notion Sickness.”
Amid the signature Purling Hiss guitar histrionics, surging bass and hypnotic drums there is a tuneful, softer side with the fun and bouncy “Pulsations” and the catchy melodious “Follow You Around.” “‘Follow You Around’ is the wild card on the album,” Polizze said. “It is more of a stark contrast, more upbeat, the pop element.”
The transition from solo to trio was difficult in part because it took place as Polizze’s music, with its lo-fi sound, was already established with fans. “People were listening to the records but had not seen me live yet because there was no band,” Polizze recalled. “They began to identify the music as it sounded and then when I formed the band, I did not really replicate the music in a way that sounded like the records. I went for power trio.”
Polizze’s music well predates his first solo album. In fact, he bought his first four-track recorder after graduating high school in 1999 and over the next few years was constantly working on his craft. “I was recording doodles on there,” Polizze said. “It was like a sketchbook for audio stuff. I was always documenting ideas. But I started to actually make messy, ramshackle songs around 2004.”
That same year, Polizze joined the band Birds of Maya which propelled him to start playing live and to make contacts and friends in and around the Philadelphia music scene.
“We were a band that was not really able to get it going and tour and even though I got a lot of experience from that…I just kept moving forward creatively and recorded stuff between 2004 and around 2007,” he said.
All the while, Polizze had been struggling to form his own band with no luck. “For years, before Birds of Maya, I had always been trying to get people to be in a band with me and take it seriously and they always had reasons why they couldn’t do it,” Polizze said. “Friends were going to college and moving away.” Life went on for Polizze too — taking classes, moving, working jobs. Through it all, he continued to record solo at home. By 2008, Polizze was intent on creating a project with a guitar focus. “I just wanted to do something with loud guitar,” Polizze said. “I called the tape Purling Hiss. Purling, it is like the rippling kind of effect on a stream or river. I was kind of fascinated with white noise for whatever reason, so that was hiss.”
Permanent Records picked it up and released Polizze’s infamous first solo album in 2009. The next year, two more Purling Hiss records came out one month apart — Hissteria and Public Service Announcement. Musician and friend Kurt Vile invited Polizze to go on tour. But all those years, Polizze had been recording everything himself. “I had no band. People thought Purling Hiss was a band but I just recorded all the instruments because I had to,” Polizze said. “I did drums and bass and guitar, then I sang over it.”
Polizze was able to form a band for that 2010 tour. It marked the first time Purling Hiss performed live and its first time as a trio playing Polizze’s solo work. However, the first recording of Purling Hiss as a trio did not exist until the studio album Water on Mars was released on Drag City in 2013. The move brought a more polished sound and Weirdon followed in 2014.
From 1999 to now, as a solo artist or power trio, playing garage psych rock or indie pop, Polizze remains the heart of Purling Hiss. “It is still me writing,” Polizze said. “Whether it is me recording at home 12 years ago or recording in the studio with bandmates. It is still me.”
Purling Hiss will play at The Chapel in San Francisco on November 10.
Purling Hiss, CCR Headcleaner, Luke Sweeney
November 10, 2016
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