No ‘Bias’ Here: Purling Hiss Are as Noisy as Ever
Mike Polizze is Purling Hiss. Since the Philadelphia band’s inception back in 2009, the guitarist, singer and songwriter has been the sole permanent member, having launched it as a lo-fi solo recording project before expanding it into a revolving cast of live performers, fostering a richer, stereo-surround rock ‘n’ roll sound. Purling Hiss have always been big on dense, fuzzy guitars, but seven years down the line, Polizze's project has evolved into a full-fledged rock band, with a fiery live show to match.
The strongest showcase for the band’s evolution to date is sixth album High Bias, out October 14 via Drag City. Rounded out by drummer Ben Leaphart and bassist Dan Provenzano, Purling Hiss are a tighter, more focused power trio. The songs are still loud and heavy on blazing guitar riffs, but less clouded in a haze of feedback shriek. That said, the 11-minute closing track, “Everybody in the USA,” proves they can still let loose with an intense, psychedelic epic when the time is right. With the release of High Bias on the horizon, we spoke to Polizze about the band’s constant evolution, the ongoing challenges of making guitar-based rock music in the 21st century, and transitioning from a solo project to a full-band dynamic.
High Bias doesn’t seem as aggressively noisy or reliant on feedback as past albums. Was there a conscious effort to move away from some of those more dissonant tendencies?
We’re just as noisy as ever, at least live. It’s interesting to see different views on it. Like on the title track to [2013's] Water on Mars, that’s got a feedback intro. And in the last track to this album, it’s 11 minutes and has lots of guitar solos. I think sonically it’s similar to Water on Mars, but this one is more … I think it’s a little grimier — not necessarily with feedback, but I think it’s a little more caustic. I think it’s a colder album in a way. I’ll agree with you that it’s tighter and the songs are more together, and it’s not falling apart. It’s about how I balance it out and distribute it, so it’s heavy on the back end.
The lineup has changed several times since you started, but you’ve been playing with Ben and Dan for a few years now. How has the dynamic evolved with more of a permanent lineup?
I think, for me, it’s just that I got better at learning from others. The other guys that were in the band before, it was like I was teaching them stuff. To me, this sounds more like a band album than the last two records. We had a chance to tour together and they learned the songs. I’m the primary writer, but we worked out the songs together and we practice as a band. We did that before, too, but I think I improved over time with playing with people. I think that playing with different people, it’s always going to be different. We really took our time this year. We were really relaxed on making this record. I’m stoked. I’m stoked on jamming with those guys, too.
Do you write songs pretty quickly?
It’s weird because I’m always trying to figure it out. It seems like a thing where I’ll always be able to spout off ideas right away ... I’ll just fill up voice memos on my phone where they’re just raw and unrefined. They’re the start to something, but they’re not complete. Then I will go back or obsess over three or four songs at once. It takes time. I write stuff every day, and try to document them as much as possible. I guess on average we put out a record once a year, every two years. But I don’t know — it seems like I’m always working or have something I’m working on.
There’s seemingly more music being made than ever right now, but it’s that much harder to stand out, particularly as a rock band. How much of a challenge does that present to a band like Purling Hiss?
It’s weird, because I don’t think it’s getting as much attention as it used to, which is what I think you’re saying, but I think there’s just as many people that want it to be there. And it’s always there. Our culture is so fickle and it’s always moving. There’s no prediction. It’s like a hurricane or something. I think you’re right, and the reason why is — the Internet isn’t new anymore, but it’s leveled the playing field. Everyone has visibility now. Everyone has music on Bandcamp. It doesn’t matter anymore — someone can just be popular on YouTube. Someone can make a silly video in their room and get a billion views. I don’t mean to digress, but I think that’s the reason why rock music was more ubiquitous before, but maybe has taken a backseat. It’s harder to see it, but there’s a lot of bands out there. It’s like a give and take. In the '80s and '90s, you’d get huge, but it was like a lottery. Now everyone kind of has a piece. Maybe the culture’s changing, too.
After releasing seven albums in seven years, what would you say has been the biggest change that Purling Hiss has undergone?
I think the biggest change ... For one thing, I’m not going to make the same album twice. I can’t help it. I’m moving forward. The most noticeable change to me was, when we were pretty new between 2009 and 2012, I was doing lo-fi, four-track recordings, and that was kind of the identity. Which is still me. But the most drastic thing was when we put out Water on Mars. I think it happens with every artist: With each album, you’re going to alienate some fans. I remember being nervous about it, too, because I wanted to capture our sound. It was different, I had to just translate it.
It’s weird, too, because a lot of people have done that, and before when people have done the lo-fi sound, a lot of those albums, they sound like lost recordings, sort of. They sound like they’re supposed to be heard that way. And then a lot of those people doing lo-fi stuff ... would try to perform lo-fi, too, and some people can do it, but I was just like, “How am I going to do this live?” I tried messing with a tape loop once, with an actual tape player, but I’ve always played with bands. Some of the stuff I was doing back then was so fun; you don’t know if they’re able to be recreated or not, but they’re just there. So, the logical next step was just playing more music with other people and going into the studio.
As long as you’re writing music, will there always be a Purling Hiss?
Yeah, definitely. It’s always gonna be there. I’ve decided that. So, there’s lots more ideas coming.
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