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Purling Hiss: Philly Indie Guitar Hero Goes From Solo Noisenik to Power-Trio Boss

Purling Hiss / Photo by Tiffany Yoon

Who: Once code for the crudely recorded, psychedelic solo experiments of Philadelphia native (and Birds of Maya guitarist) Mike Polizze, Purling Hiss has evolved gradually into a full-fledged power trio that, like Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana before them, specializes in classic rock gnarled for punks. It’s a transition that began when friend and associate Kurt Vile asked Polizze, 33, to develop a live show for a tour together across North America. “Early on, people would come out because they were psyched on the recordings,” says Polizze, who began self-distributing CD-Rs under the name Dizzy Polizze back in 2006. “But then they’d see us and they’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re, uh, different live.’ I mean, my first recordings were first takes, ideas that were not intended to be performed. It was like a noise project. But when I started playing with [bassist] Kiel [Everett] and [drummer] Mike [Sneeringer], I didn’t feel the urge to integrate that into the set. It’s interesting how things change.”

Classically Fried: This past March, Purling Hiss released Water on Mars, their first full-length as a band and their first for Chicago indie-rock haven, Drag City. Recorded last year in Philly with producer Jeff Ziegler (Kurt Vile, Clockcleaner) with assistance from War on Drugs leader Adam Granduciel, it’s an outing that emphasizes songwriting and clarity above all else. “I wrote music to complement the players in the band,” Polizze says. “I wanted something honest from this album. It’s the perfect bridging of the gap between now and my early work. But I’m still the same person and I’m still putting as much energy into the music, it’s just more direct and more visceral. It’s still classic rock, it’s still fried, and it’s still loud. There’s just no hiding behind a blanket of shitty recording noise.”

Little Wing: Renowned for his guitar heroics, Polizze says he developed an affinity for solos and distortion at an early age. “I was probably eight,” he remembers. “I was at my uncle’s house and he played the guitar, country music and stuff like that. But he had this acoustic plugged into his amplifier and just to make it interesting for me, he turned on the distortion so that when I strummed, it was so noisy and cool. Somehow I ended up with a Jimi Hendrix CD a few years later, and around the same time I bought my first guitar. I became obsessed with the blues scale and Jimmy Page and Black Sabbath and even Pink Floyd. I didn’t need to find anything obscure then. That was cool druggy music.”

You Rang?: Over the past ten years, Polizze has juggled an impressive array of day jobs, including a stint as a bellhop at the Hilton in downtown Philly. “You had to really hustle to make tips,” he says, with a laugh. “And when there was a convention in town, you could do pretty well. I worked as a fiber optics cable technician for a while. I worked as a mover at an auction house. I worked at a catering company. But I think I got my social skills from working at the Hilton. I was always helping people. And all I had to wear was a shirt and tie. I don’t think I would have worked there if I’d had to wear a funny hat.”