Sunday, February 17, 2013

Interview with Purling Hiss

I discovered Purling Hiss basically because I trust Woodsist Records completely. I snatch up almost every release of theirs and I have never been let down. This label introduced me to Real Estate, White Fence, Woods, and a lot more. I picked up a copy of Purling Hiss' Public Service Announcement a while ago and really enjoyed it. When I saw that they had signed to Drag City I was ecstatic because Drag City is another label that does no wrong. It also meant that Purling Hiss was signed at home base for me in Chicago. For me, it's really inspiring to see a bunch of really great labels from Chicago doing some really incredible things. Big labels like Drag City obviously kind of spur the movement but with awesome labels like Permanent Records, Tic Tac Totally, Trouble in Mind, and Hozac all holding their own and releasing consistently diverse, incredible music, Chicago's doing pretty A-OK.

Purling Hiss is the brainchild of Mike Polizze from Philadelphia. Though it began as a home-recording project, it grew into a three-person band. The songs have become bolder, bigger, and recorded in higher fidelity. And Mike has released a lot of music, all of which I enjoy. He's been on a bunch of labels and played a lot of shows and continues to just hone his craft. The new band finds recordings that are a bit more collaborative, which Polizze admits.

I have been able to listen to the upcoming album and it is an absolute party. It's a well-rounded kick of adrenaline at times and also a tool of restraint, demonstrating Polizze's ability to a great song-writer in addition to a balls to the wall guitar player.

You can learn more about the band on their FACEBOOK PAGE or give them a spin on their BANDCAMP PAGE

Check it.

Jordan: Tell me about how Purling Hiss got started. Who all is in Purling Hiss and when did you all start making music?

Mike: Okay, I started off by myself without a band. For me, it’s something that I’ve always been doing. I’m almost thirty-two now but I bought my four-track when I was eighteen and I’ve always been recording songs on it for the last ten or so years. In 2008 I had another recording project I was working on and I happened to call it Purling Hiss. Permanent Records in Chicago found it because I had put it up online and I ended up working with them. I put a record out on Richy Records, Woodsist, and Mexican Summer too. Basically, because all of those small labels put it out. What prompted me to start a live band was being invited to do a tour with Kurt Vile and the Soft Pack in 2010. I’m buddies with him and he just asked if I wanted to take the show on the road. I had enough time to get the band together and it worked great. It’s the same three people now than it was at the beginning. Purling Hiss at first was a bedroom recording project but it’s cool because the new album that’s coming out is a big step up for us. It’s the first album that is in a studio. It’s the first album that has the band on it.

J: I just got into home recording too. I was thinking about getting a four track or something. Any recommendations for people starting with that?

M: Yeah, any basic four-track. I had a Yamaha - don’t even know what the model was. But just a basic four-track. It’s a good way to start out. I’m not the most skilled person when it comes to engineering. It was more about documenting my ideas. You do learn. In the time we’re living in, it’s easy to do everything on a computer but it’s nice to have some palpable - a physical four-track recorder is a great way to learn. It’s simple. You just get a tape and pop it in. I think that’s a good way to start out and then using that to export onto the computer. I personally would love to have a 388, a reel-to-reel. In the 70s and 80s they were the top of the home recording stuff that you could get, but I never used a reel-to-reel before but I’ve heard it’s easy. I love doing recordings at home. You get used to it and it’s fun to mess around with once you get into it. It’s funny - I don’t even remember the model, but you can’t go wrong with the four track.

J: Did your early output sound a lot different than the stuff you’re making now?

M: Yeah, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two I was really slow. I would really only record a couple tracks, but probably around 2004 is when I would hold onto recordings. There is stuff that you can still hear now that I recorded then. I haven’t played anything earlier than 2004 because the stuff before then isn’t really complete or worth showing. It’s changed. Between 2004 until the last few years I’ve gotten better at it, but now I’m at a point where I’m with a band. I won’t stop recording at home but it’s not the only thing I do.

J: What’s the live band like? Do you guys collaborate on songs or is it still pretty much just you?

M: I just roll with what works. I laid the groundwork for the band and I guess I’m the primary songwriter. It’s cool because I’ll write a basic idea and then we’ll put it through the band where we work it all out together. I’ll basically write a song at home and bring it to the band and work it out there. That’s how we did this last album and then we’ll jam together and take it to the studio. That’s the basic dynamic. The band has a defined sound now, which is good. 

J: Do you guys have other jobs than this or is it a full time gig?

M: Right now I’m not really working. When I started touring I quit my job and I’m in between my mom’s house and my girlfriend’s house. The music is starting to work out with better money though. The other guys have jobs, and I do a bunch of odd jobs. I worked full time for ten years of my life from 19 to 29. When we started touring I had a couple odd jobs, but have been mostly concentrating on the music so we tour as much as we can and I think that when we do this album we’re going to try and stay on the road as much as possible. When we aren’t touring sometimes I do work too and the other guys have jobs too.

J: Are you guys gonna do anything for SXSW?

M: No, I don’t think we’re doing anything for South By Southwest. We did last year. It was fun - I’m glad we did it. I really don’t feel like there’s a need for us to do it. I think it depends on what a band really wants out of going. We went there last year and were doing an album with Drag City, but just figured we’d do it anyway. We played a show for Permanent Records at Beerland. We played the Austin Psych Fest party at the Spider House and we actually played Jack White’s showcase, but that was interesting since it was so different. He’s a big rockstar. But we got paid to play it. It was cool to be down there and see it with certain bands. Most of the shows I saw were at Austin Psych Fest. This year we have a new album and you’d think that we would go down and promote it. Like a rat race. But I don’t have that mentality. Everybody is going there, and instead we’re going to tour in April. The album’s out March 19, so we’re just going to wait and do it on our own terms. As much fun as it would be, it’s going to be a clusterfuck. Imagine loading in. Have you been there before?

J: No I actually haven’t even been to Texas.

M: Well, there are just so many people and vehicles and it’s terrible to park. There are no loading zones and it’s really exhausting. I’m not complaining because it was really fun but I just don’t think we need to do it right now. It’s more fun for people who are going to see music. They get a vacation out of it.

J: It seemed overwhelming seeing all the bands there and the crowds. I really want to go to Chaos in Tejas.

M: Yeah, I don’t want to speak to soon. We might play that. I don’t think so though. I’m not sure. I don’t know if we can make it happen because of schedules. I would love to play it.

J: The lineup is unreal every year. For me, being in Chicago and working makes it hard to take off time to go to Texas for just a short period of time. But I should probably grow some balls.

M: Yeah man.

J: So what’s the album like? What made making this album unique?

The new album
M: I think the fact that all these past albums were just me and home recordings. This time it’s a band and the old recordings were cerebral, but half-baked ideas. With the band and in a studio, we have more ideas. We can also let loose. I don’t like things to be too perfect either. I like to have improvisation in my music too. It’s cool to have the band to collaborate with. It’s really well-rounded. Some of my albums before were just blown out and shreddy and I had some albums that were more pop-oriented, with hooks. This is just the logical bridge. It’s meeting halfway. It’s a good opportunity to make a well-balanced album. There are some blown out guitar songs and there are some hooks in it too. The goal is to round it out and have both opposite ends on the spectrum without sacrificing anything. It doesn’t lean to much to one side, to be honest. It’s a solid half hour of a power trio playing hard rock. It’s got heavy guitars. It’s got a psych element to it. And it’s also got some great hooks and pop-sensibility. I think what ties it together is me mining from the same place in my mind. I’m being creative in the same way but the band puts their stamps on it.

J: What would you say influences the sound that you have? Can you pin down any bands?

M: It’s funny because I’ve said this in other interviews. I feel like a deer in the headlights when I get that question in interviews, but it’s a perfectly reasonable question. It’s something that should be asked. But you’re influenced by so many things. The guitar sound comes from my earliest memories, being a little kid listening to the oldies station. I’m influenced by my parents. My mom was very into rock music. My dad was too, but he was more into jazz. You could hear someone in the house playing music. He played saxophone. When I could watch MTV, I would hear Guns n Roses and when I was old enough to get a guitar, Nirvana was big. I had no mentor, like an older cousin or sibling. I had to try stuff on my own. I was a late bloomer in terms of cool music. In middle school I realized MTV wasn’t doing it for me. I had to turn to classic rock and discovered Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. It’s guitar rock 101 - rudimentary fundamentals about loud electric guitar. I had to figure out what was cool and what wasn’t. Boston was not cool.

M: For me in High School I tried to imitate Jimi Hendrix. And then I get into punk rock. I was a kid with some 70s rock influence. Just a squalling stratocaster. Then I discovered Black Flag and Minor Threat and the Bad Brains. Eventually I got into Dinosaur Jr. You’re Living All Over Me is still one of my favorite albums. I know that’s a lot for me to explain to you, but for two minutes going off, that’s the history. Going from oldies to MTV to Classic Rock to Punk Rock then getting my own gear. The band I started really playing with when I was 22 was Birds of Maya. I’m still in that band now. We’re active when we want to be but we don’t tour all that much.

J: What other bands are you in right now? I haven’t heard of Birds of Maya.

M: Birds of Maya is the band where I really started out. I was in bands perpetually in High School. Birds of Maya is the first notable thing I did. I moved to Philly and became best friends with those dudes. We played more devolved, broken-down, fucked up classic rock but it feels really off-the-cusp. We’re kind of intuitive when we play since we’ve been playing so long. Songs don’t begin or end. We just jump into it. It stops when it stops. It’s a three piece that’s fuzzed out and fucked up. You’ll hear some stuff in 2013 from them. Nothing I can really talk about yet. But we’re definitely in the middle of some cool things.

J: So you have Purling Hiss, Birds of Maya, an album, and a bunch of tours. Sounds like 2013 is a big year for you.

M: Yeah, hopefully. Birds of Maya is awesome because we just get together and jam when we can. That’s a thing we always have. Purling Hiss is being done big this year. Got some recordings done and then we’re going to hit the road.

J: Do you guys have any tour plans yet?

M: Yeah, we are almost confirmed for a two week tour in the U.S. in April. We’re going to start with a record release show in New York and then we’re going to go to the midwest like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Madison. We’re going to do a loop and as long as everything works out, we’ll go to Europe for a month in May and after that, we’re looking to go out to the West Coast. The summer and fall are pretty open, but we’re trying to fill it up. Should be cool.

J: Yeah. Psyched to see you.

M: I think we’re going to do a free monday show at the Empty Bottle. You know about those?

J: Yeah, those are the greatest!

M: Awesome. Well guess what? We’re doing it. If my memory serves me right I think it’s like April 15. I was just working on it the other day. We’ve got a couple cool bands that we’re booking some things with. It’s not confirmed yet, but if all goes well, we’ll have some touring bands yet. Chicago is like home base. Permanent Records is the first place we did a record and Drag City is in Chicago too.

J: Yeah Permanent is definitely my favorite record shop in Chicago. It’s great to see the proliferation of all sorts of labels here. It’s incredible.

M: Definitely. Fucking cool. It’s great to have so much and being able to go to Chicago whenever basically. Got me excited.

J: That’s about all I have to ask. You have anything else to say?

M: Not really. Just excited. Thank you for the interview. I’m glad that you’re excited enough to invite me to interview. I think it’s a real joy to have the album and happy you dig it and I can’t wait to get on the road. We’ll meet up in Chicago. Stay tuned. We’ll have more shit announced then.

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