Purling Hiss enter a whole new weird (playing Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday)

By
Photo by Philippe Midy

When Mike Polizze started recording the songs he’d eventually release under the name Purling Hiss, Purling Hiss did not exist. Recording just for kicks with a four-track in his bedroom, Polizze had no intention of ever releasing a proper album. “I’ve been documenting ideas on my four-track since I was a teenager,” he says. “It’s like my diary. I thought of these songs as just another recording, or old bedroom ideas. I didn’t originally make them for a record, or thinking anyone would hear them. I think that has a tendency to spoil songs. These were all very raw, honest, unfiltered ideas.”

Polizze’s solo work remained on the down-low until a surprise call came from the boss of Permanent Records, who’d heard a few tracks on MySpace and was eager to release an album. It was then that Polizze came up with the name Purling Hiss, and his self-titled debut dropped in 2009. Like the music he’d been making with his other band, the no-frills power trio Birds of Maya, Purling Hiss is a dirty, mean and off-the-cliff plunge into rock’n'roll excess. Sloppily spinning with reckless might, the songs are mostly first takes, with Polizze throwing down a beat and then improvising the guitar and bass parts. “I’d just hit record and go,” he explains. “I’d just jam on bass, and then rip guitar.”

The next year, Purling Hiss released Hissteria and Public Service Announcement, on Richie Records and Woodsist, respectively. While the former borrowed heavily from that beautifully gnarled Birds of Maya trash-rock vibe, the latter was more overtly experimental, and a dash conceptual. A mysterious layer of white noise had noticeably lingered (hissed) beneath Polizze’s other songs, but on Public Service Announcement it seemed as if he was using it as a tool to resurrect childhood memories of 24-hour pizza parties, wanky Van Halen fantasies and bizarro, psychedelic Miami Vice boat chases. “There are multiple layers of sizzling, fried, squalling guitars,” says Polizze, “but also noise and degenerated, destroyed samples.” And all this hissing didn’t help make these memories any less foggy; instead, it distorted them into a whole new, idiosyncratic universe of slacker-rock absurdity.

Once the cloud dispersed, Purling Hiss had morphed into a trio, with Kiel Everett on bass and Mike Sneeringer on drums. The band’s first tour was opening for Kurt Vile, and they’ve now shared stages with Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr, R. Stevie Moore and Woods. Last month, Fan Death Records released A Little Off Center, a cassette capturing a raucous in-studio WFMU performance from late-2010, and Purling Hiss’s first studio album as a trio comes out in April on Drag City. The album, recorded by Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recording and crediting Adam Granduciel of War on Drugs as co-producer, completes the transition of Purling Hiss from a bedroom solo project to a three-headed beast.

“I love collaborating with other people, and being in a band,” says Polizze. “I love solo stuff, too, but I didn’t want to go that route with Purling Hiss. When I’m at home, in my bedroom experimenting, that’s my private canvas—I can get really weird there. But I ultimately want to work with other people. The new record’s definitely a guitar record—everything always goes back to the guitar—and it’s still the old Purling Hiss. Now we’re just taking all that weirdness and channeling it through a live band, taking it in a whole new direction.”

Purling Hiss performs with Cave and Running on Thursday, November 15 at Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. Tickets to the 21+ are $10, more information here.