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Photo by Aaron Biscoe

Photo by Aaron Biscoe

Purling Hiss frontman Mike Polizze is a doodler by nature.

With a pen or a guitar, he just starts with something simple, a line or a riff, and let’s his art develop from there.

“I always have stuff that’s floating around, but I don’t really know where things are going to go. I’ve tried to have ideas before I start on something, but that’s a lot harder for me to already have a goal and make it happen,” Polizze says. “I just play around and see where it ends up without any expectations. It’s better that way.”

A guitar shredder with an experimental side, Polizze (also of Birds of Maya) began Purling Hiss as a bedroom project, the raw four-tracked recordings made with no expectations. He sent homemade CDRs to radio stations in and near his hometown of Philadelphia. After 2010’s Hissteria and Public Service Announcement and 2011’s Lounge Lizards, fellow Philly rocker Kurt Vile asked Polizze to open for him on tour, so Purling Hiss was reborn as a trio.

“Purling Hiss started just documenting ideas I had in my head. A lot of those old ideas were first take and not really thought out and that’s the way it sounded,” he says. “I always wanted that in the long run. I just like to write music, so I had the idea in the back of my head I’d have a band.”

For the next Purling Hiss album, 2013’s Water on Mars, the band signed to to Drag City and the record turned out far tighter and more focused than the Polizze’s homemade albums.

“It makes a difference when you go into a studio and have a band and have band practice. The way it evolved, it just makes sense,” he says.

Having the backing of an influential indie label has pushed the band’s sound, but the process before Purling Hiss gets to the studio is still pretty much the same.

“Sometimes I’m writing I’m playing on guitar and not really paying attention and something catches my ear and I’ll immediately start working on it. I’ll let it evolve. I never know what direction it’s going to go in,” he says. “I’ll run it through a few different phases, playing it faster or slower. Demos are all experiments.”

For the latest album Weirdon, released Sept. 23, Polizze started writing last summer, demoed over the next several months and went into Black Dirt Studio for 10 days last winter, recording in rural western New York with producer Jason Meagher.

“I whittled it down to a collection of songs I wanted to be well rounded and different from each other,” Polizze says. “The songs are a little bit more expansive than the last record. I didn’t want to force anything. We had a great time recording.”

“It’s a collection of songs that becomes its own thing. I’m trying to get them to be cohesive but they’re on their own at the same time. I don’t really think of a theme (when I’m recording). You can tie them all together by the name of an album, or the look of the art,” he says.

That artwork comes in the form of a bunch of Polizze’s drawings, vaguely psychedelic pen-and-ink flowers and faces, scanned and arranged as a collage. That imagery inspired the title.

“It’s a made-up word, but at the time we were looking at the artwork with all the songs, it kind of fits,” he says.

Drummer Ben Leaphart and bassist Dan Provenzano make Purling Hiss a fully fledged power trio, steadying the trademark loud guitar of Purling Hiss’ early recordings, allowing Polizze to draw in some acoustic guitars and piano while still leaving plenty of room to get weird.

Published Nov. 20, 2014 in the Tucson Weekly. 

 

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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