An Interview with
Purling Hiss
by Kevin J. Elliott

It’s only been two short years since Birds of Maya guitarist Mike Polizze introduced the world to his bedroom project Purling Hiss. In that time, Polizze’s had a smattering of releases on a myriad of labels revealing the full scope of Purling Hiss. It hasn’t been so much his prolific nature as it is his want to show there’s more to these recordings than straight unfiltered choogling. Hissteria, his blown-out debut for Richie Records, was a solo outing of a guitar mania dabbling in biker-rock boogie, southern comforts, arena metal, and prog theatrics —all pushed to the edge simultaneously. But the subsequent records he’s released since I reviewed the album have shown a softer side, a distorted turn towards pop and folk as evidenced on his Woodsist album, Public Service Announcement. Even better is the glam surliness that shows up on Lounge Lizards, a new extended play for Mexican Summer. At the urging of Kurt Vile to take this whirlwind on the road, Polizze formed a volatile power trio with a monstrous sound taking into account the many mutations of Purling Hiss. His numerous aesthetics shifts, even if ever so slightly, have been so enigmatic I thought it was “high” time I get in touch and ask the guy some questions.

Knowing that you devote a lot of your time and effort to Birds of Maya, at what point did you decide to start Purling Hiss? Or is it something you’ve always done?

Mike Polizze: I’ve always been doing both the band and my own recordings simultaneously. I started recording ideas on a regular tape recorder and then eventually got a four-track when I was 18. Birds of Maya have been playing together for almost eight years. We are best friends who get together to hang out and play music when everyone has the time. I’ve always had plenty of time to do both.

Did Purling Hiss start out as a solo project? Are most of the early recordings yourself playing at home?

MP: All the recordings are just me. It did start out as just recordings, then after the Permanent and Richie Records came out, Kurt Vile invited me to go on tour with him. That’s when I formed the band.

From the clips I’ve seen and from firsthand reports, Purling Hiss has become a trio now. Is that what you’ve always envisioned?

MP: Generally, I prefer power trios, but not always. It just depends on the artist’s or band’s natural dynamic. I’ve always enjoyed a one-guitar musti-tasker, interweaving rhythm and lead. I wasn’t sure at first how I would perform live. I definitely thought of a few scenarios, even performing by myself. I enjoy watching bands the most, though, and realized I would enjoy it more with bandmates.

I really loved the first time I heard Hissteria because I’ve always been a big Birds of Maya fan. So how do you separate what you do with them and what you put out as Purling Hiss?

MP: Birds of Maya is mostly a group effort where we all share ideas together and build a song at the same time. Sometimes, one of us will introduce an idea, but for the most part, musically, it’s a collective effort. Most of the time when I’m at home playing guitar, it’s going to be for me. When Birds of Maya gets together, we just turn on the amps and go.

It was Public Service Announcement which turned me devout. It threw me for a loop with the softer, more twisted, pop stuff. Is there a side of Purling Hiss that you prefer? Is there more of that in the works, the “prettier” stuff?

MP: I really like a well-balanced mix. Recordings in the past have been one extreme or another, but I would like to combine both styles on a future recording.

“Choogle” is a word that does not appear in an actual dictionary, but definitions for it can be found on the internet, and it’s often used as an adjective to describe Purling Hiss. Do you acknowledge the existence of the word and do you think it applies to your music?

MP: It applies at times, sure. I tend to mimic a beat when I write something on guitar. It’s always based on rhythm first. For example, if I show my drummer something I’m working on, and I want him to hear the accent for a beat, I’ll just mute the strings and sort of mimic the beat on the muted strings. So there’s one variation or another of choogling, I guess. I never went out of my way to choogle I don’t think.

“Lo-fi” is also a word that gets thrown around a lot when describing your records, but judging from your live videos there’s nothing of the sort on stage. It’s a very powerful ’70s arena-metal, blues-psych display. Still there’s something intriguing about how mashed and blown-out the recordings are. Is that intentional? Is there a technique to your sound or is it just a product of the equipment and resources you have?

MP: Recording at home, can be limiting on resources, but not ideas. There’s a way to embrace what you have to work with physically and then manipulate ideas. Recording by yourself at home with little resources is a project. It’s a lot of fun, but I can’t wait to get into a studio and have new challenges.

Some have even gone as far as calling what you do “hypnogogic metal,” and though I’ve tried many times to accurately define “hypnogogic,” I’m at a loss. I suppose it deals with a new, heavily obscured sense of nostalgia in psychedelic music. Do you have any opinion on being lumped in with others that are linked with the word, like Ariel Pink or the Dwarr album?

MP: The physical sound of tape recordings or classic rock references can evoke a nostalgic feeling or memory. I can see that, and when you are behind the little mixing board at home you can create those feelings. I recognize other artists have done that. Every recording I’ve done has been a different experience and experiment.

It is fun at first to create the imagery, but taking it to a live performance, the translation has been different. When I recorded at home (every recording thus far), I didn’t think about how it would be live. Past recordings of Purling Hiss were documented ideas that weren’t always complete, which is fine. I enjoyed taking stream-of-consciousness ideas and make them into a cohesive playlist—that’s where the personality is. From the first release to the most recent, it is a work in progress. I’ve always enjoyed that with artists. When you witness live recordings, say Jimi Hendrix noodling, you are actually witnessing how he creates, and if you are paying attention, you can develop your own routine. It’s almost cheating that they are allowing you to watch their process. Now that there is a live band, I will take into consideration how a future recording will translate into a live performance more accurately.

Finally, Philadelphia is well known for being home to a number of wooly, monolithic, psychedelic bands over the years—from Bardo Pond to Birds of Maya. Even Lenola would fall into that category. What do you think it is about the city that produces this?

MP: It’s a city, so there’s a lot of people and all sorts of bands. There are too many bands to even keep up with. I don’t see any more of a certain style than the next, honestly. But Bardo Pond is definitely a fixture of Philadelphia, that’s true. Since they have been around for so long, they would have an influence on younger bands.