Evolved from a home-recording experiment to a full-on blazing power-trio, Purling Hiss have
quickly become the type of group to be mentioned alongside Mount Carmel and Pearls & Brass
in any discussion of great rock groups pushing things ahead while keeping one foot firmly
planted in the proud tradition of the past. The debut LP on Permanent Records was a serious
head-clean of psychedelic guitar, like Fu Manchu as re-imagined by Mainliner, but it was last
year’s Hissteria that really established their sound: melodic and catchy, yet in undeniable
worship of the riff. They hit the road with Kurt Vile to hone their chops, and blew away both
Magik Markers and Sic Alps when all three shared a stage last week, thanks in no small part
to the wild guitar of Mike Polizze, Purling Hiss’s guitarist, vocalist and founder. Check them live
and you’ll develop the same sort of goosebumps you got the first time you saw Brian Chippendale
drumming for Lightning Bolt. If I could shred on the guitar like Polizze, I’d probably get my name
embroidered on my jacket and refuse to ever take off my sunglasses, but Polizze is as humble
and friendly a soul as he is a master of his instrument. He answers my questions below and gets
my record-collector blood flowing in anticipation of whatever Record Store Day release Purling
Hiss have planned.

How did Purling Hiss come about? I remember first hearing that you made a CDr or two
of home recordings… did you originally intend for Purling Hiss to become a “real” band?

Purling Hiss was just another recording project I was doing at the time. There was no plan
at all. I had been making home recordings for a while on my 4-track that I bought at Sam
Ash when I was eighteen. I came up with the idea in 2008, that was going to be sort of an
off-shoot of Birds of Maya. I wanted to record it in stereo instead of mono, have a guitar
track panned left, another guitar panned right, and the bass and drums not panned. The one
goal was to have the guitars be real imposing and blistering with a loose structure. I basically
winged it, sitting down aimlessly playing the drums, then later adding layers of guitars. I
completed the recording in early 2009, made some cover-art, and hand assembled a case for
it. Then passed some of those CDrs around to friends.
Purling Hiss seemed at the time, more of the name of the recording session, not necessarily
a band or album name. I posted some of those songs on Myspace, and a couple months later
Permanent Records got in touch, interested in releasing it.

Where did you come up with the name? I don’t entirely understand it, but I think it’s a
pretty perfect moniker.

When I was working on the first Purling Hiss recording (the Permanent LP), I was reading
about white noise. I was learning how it appears on tape recordings, how it occurs in nature,
and hows it’s even used in work environments. The recordings started to implement these
things a bit, and so I tried to push the mixes harder, to get a scorched sound. When I got to
the idea of a name, I had been looking at words that were synonymous with white noise, and
starting messing with word play. Besides a stitching technique, purling is also the rippling
effect on a stream, with a murmuring sound. I thought the juxtaposition of it next to hiss had
a ring to it, and maybe it could be representative to the music. So it’s not a spoonerism!

I’d say you are known primarily for your ability to shred on guitar… when did you pick it
up and first start playing in bands?

I started playing guitar when I was 13. Many hours were spent in my room during middle-
and high school trying to mimic other musicians/bands on the stereo. I had friends I played
music with up into my early 20s, but nothing that seemed to ever come to fruition. I started
playing with Birds of Maya in 2004 when I was 22.

How’d you meet up with the Birds of Maya guys initially? You guys went to Japan early
on, right?

Not me! I missed the boat on that one. I went into Spaceboy Records in early 2004, and saw
one of those ads where you can tear off the contact info. The flyer didn’t say the name of
the band (they kind of weren’t a band at that point, and it wasn’t called Birds of Maya yet)
but they were looking for a lead guitar player, and I remember it said something about “The
Stooges, Acid Mothers Temple, Blue Cheer”… it was a photocopied flyer that had some cool
hand-drawn design on it. So I started emailing with them, and we became friends pretty
quickly. In fact at the time, I was looking to get a place around there, and the first night we
hung out, Jason (Birds of Maya bassist / vocalist) offered a room for rent, since one of his
roommates was leaving.

There seems to be two sides to Purling Hiss, the full-on live rock band, and the more
private, home-made recordings, ala the Woodsist LP… will these two sides continue, or is
the full band the main concern now?

The Woodsist LP is actually older recordings than the Permanent and Richie LPs. I wrote and
recorded those songs in 2007 and 2008. I compiled a playlist of the recordings and decided
to make a CDr out of it last year. I made two copies – one to Kurt Vile, and the other to WFMU.
Kurt liked it a lot, and suggested I send it to Woodsist. So I’ve actually moved backwards
with this last album. There’s a lengthy back-log of music that will surface at one point, but
for the immediate future, we’re collaborating as a band.

Are you playing new material that was written as a band, versus solely yourself?
We haven’t really had the chance to learn anything new but two songs on the upcoming EP.
We rehearsed the set list before the tour, and since we’ve gotten back, everyone has been
pretty busy. I have a lot of ideas I’m excited about showing them though.

What guitarists have inspired you over the years, in terms of style or playing or whatever?
It’s strange, bands as a whole would leave more of an impression, rather than being focused
on the someone as a “player”. I did become infatuated with Jimi Hendrix as a young teenager
though. So I’d say he was definitely the main influence as a guitarist. I’ll throw in Greg Ginn and
Ron Asheton, too.

What bands left big impressions on you when you were starting to play, then?
Well, when Iwas first playing guitar, everyone taught me Nirvana songs and other 90s bands’
stuff. Some real dumbed-down Metallica riffs too. That was great stuff to start out on. I
remember I smashed the little student model guitar through the practice amp in my room. At
fifteen, I went through my parents’ records, and listened to Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Led
Zeppelin. I think I was 18 when getting into Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat. That’s also
when I really started going to see live music a lot.

Do you recall any particular live performances that blew you away, early on?
The early punk and metal shows I attended always left an impression on me. I remember
seeing Bad Brains with the Cro-Mags about 10 years ago and really enjoying that. Also around
that time, I went to a show in NYC where Dillinger Escape plan opened for Clutch (so did Spirit
Caravan). Having never heard or seen them before, DEP really surprised me. It was kinda scary.
The first time I saw the Japanese band DMBQ was another memorable experience. Birds of
Maya were playing a show with them and An Albatross who were touring together in 2004.
The show was in Wilkes Barre at a place called Cafe Metropolis. I remember coming back inside
the venue when they had just started playing. There were three guys on stage, gyrating with
their guitars with long hair or afros and bell bottoms. In the back was a lady holding it down on
the drums. They were musically telepathic and full of antics, hopefully they make it back soon.

If you were to pick up and learn a new instrument, what would you want it to be?
I’ve played other instruments besides guitar, but it’s hard to say. I like not knowing the answer
to that. I bought a mandolin on a whim a few years back without ever having played one, so
it seems unpredictable. I think I would like to get back into playing piano or organ again.

What was it like touring with Kurt Vile? I’d imagine he is kind of a prankster on the road.
Yeah, he’s hilarious. If you’re in a room with him he’s the loud-mouth, in the best way. It was
a pleasure to tour with him and the Violators. I still want to draw a cartoon caricature of the
whole band so badly. They are really like cartoon characters!
Purling Hiss toured with Kurt Vile and the Violators for five weeks this past fall, but I also
played with them for a week last year. We went out to Chicago to play with The Black Keys
on New Year’s Eve. During The Black Keys set, Kurt and Adam ran across the stage behind
the band. They didn’t know the way to get across to the other side, so imagine a couple of
longhairs floundering about. this was in front of a sold out show with 2,500 people there!
Definitely the funniest thing I saw them do.

I’m going to put you on the spot, and I expect total honesty here – Blues Control or
Watery Love? You can base your answer on musicianship, looks, personality or any qualities
you deem important.

Man, you can’t do this to me! I love them both! Blues Control have such a great setup. I love
watching them play so much, and am always wondering how they operate their gear. The
best part is not knowing. You also never know if they’re going to throw beach balls at you or
have glowing guitar straps!
Watery Love is a hell of a charming band though. Max and Richie have some real chainsaw-chops.
And even though Dan looks lost and Meg seems bored, that’s not the case. They’re having
fun and it really radiates.

When can we expect a new Purling Hiss record?
We are releasing an EP on Mexican Summer around May. It is another recording of just me
that I made last year. At the time, I had just separated my shoulder (not to be confused
with dislocated shoulder, people.. separated is way more painful). So instead of lugging my
big old half-stack to record with, I used Max’s (Watery Love) little Peavey Backstage Plus. To
give a hint, it sounds compressed the way the Woodsist LP is, but more straight forward rock
tunes. Also, look out for a Record Store Day split…