Purling Hiss on Philly, Becoming a Real Band, and Being His Harshest Critic

I've never spent any time in Philadelphia, but I feel as if I have. Two of my favorite records of 2011, Kurt Vile's Smoke Ring for My Halo and War on Drugs' Slave Ambient both came from the town, sharing a blue-collar yet still out-there aesthetic. Adding the works of Purling Hiss, the project of songwriter Mike Polizze to those Philly-centric listening sessions further solidifies my ideas. The stuff is groovy, junky rock 'n' roll -- classic-sounding, even -- but not averse to experimentation and scuzzy punk recording ethics.

"Sometimes, I don't realize that until I live the city," Polizze says over the phone. "Philadelphia is just so honest. You've got all walks of life there. It's got a terrible murder rate -- It was one of the worst cities this year again . . . It's really bad. So you have that, but then you also have everyone else. You've got colleges, so it's a college town, and then there's artists and musicians, a community building in the last 10 years . . . It's fueling a lot of people and artists. It's a big-city atmosphere, but it's got those blue-collar roots."

Polizze and I discussed the transformation of Purling Hiss from recording project to band, the Philly sound, and being your own harshest critic.

Purling Hiss is scheduled to perform with Philly boys Dr. Dog on Monday, February 6, at the Crescent Ballroom.

Up on the Sun: It seems there's some really great bands coming out of Philly. Just last year, that Kurt Vile record blew me away, and also The War on Drugs record . . .

Mike Polizze: Yeah, we toured with both of them last year. They are good friends of mine. Kurt invited us out on tour last year, and that was two autumns ago, and this past fall, we went out on tour with War on Drugs. So we were just in . . . Did we play Phoenix? Maybe not.

I think you played Tucson.

We definitely played Tucson, but we were in Phoenix last year. It went great. When I started the Purling Hiss, Kurt basically invited me out, and that's when I formed a band. We were friends before that -- my other band, Birds of Maya, another Philadelphia band. We don't really tour, but we do shows every once and a while. We started doing shows with Kurt band in 2005 or '06, and I went on to starting to recording my own stuff.

You started recording as just you. How have things changed as you've developed a full band?

When I started Purling Hiss, it was just a recording project. I've [started] recording on four tracks 12 years ago. There was no intention of being a band; [Purling Hiss is] just what I named the project. I put out a record with Permanent Record because they just sort of found the music online. They got in touch, and it came out in 2009. I did an album on Woodsist, and Richie Records -- he used to play in a band called Clockcleaner . . . I put out the EP with Mexican Summer back in July.

I started touring with the band last year, but I already had stuff to put out in the works. That's why, even on the last album to come out, it's just me. But we're going to go into a studio and record an album for a record label. I really want to tell you about right now, [but] it's not finalized. We are planning on recording as a band and hopefully releasing something in the fall. That's a very tentative plan. We're going to do the tour, and come back and record in the spring, and probably have to wait during the summer, and as long as everything goes on time, a fall 2012 release will be available.

Listening to the recordings, it sounds like a band, and not just you. Not just because it's multi-tracked, but it sounds like a real band, like these songs are made for live boogie-ing.

Totally. [Laughs] It's great. I just get on the drums and play them first and do it all one at a time. Some of the recordings are different than others, but the ones that are more rocking out [is] very guitar-driving, and it sounds live, I think. It's kind of a raw recording, and it's kind of bad-sounding [laughs]. But it's cool at the same time. The secret with that was that I definitely mic'd everything, in a very simple way: one mic in front of the drums, and let it saturate, and then mic the bass coming through the amp, and mic the guitar amp . . . So it has more of a live feel to it.

Have things changed with the band?

It's a good time for me to set the record straight. It's a thing, a hang-up I have with myself about it, but it's weird that the band started . . . The natural formula is, usually, you play with your friends, you start getting better, play some shows, and then maybe record. With me it's so backward -- I made albums with no band, those albums got put out, and it went to people's ears, and then I formed a band, and we didn't get a chance to mesh. We meshed great, but we didn't have that organic start. They were my good friends, but it was like, "Hey, guys, here are the songs; we're going to just have to choose the best." And basically teach them. And as of right now, the last couple months, we've actually started to become a band. It's really a good thing. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that I felt like there was sort of a disconnect between what you would hear on the records but would see live. So as fast as things are moving for us, which is a positive thing, it might just be my being a hard critic on myself.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.