Mike Polizze of Purling Hiss discusses his four-track roots, Ampegs, and letting his song-guts hang out.
Mike Polizze got a four-track recorder in 1999. He was 18 then, and fresh out of high school. Polizze spent a lot of nights playing around with home recording, and in 2003, he laid down the first tracks he’d release under the moniker Purling Hiss some years later. Each record since then half-buries two or three decades of influence, an amalgamation of Black Flag, Sabbath, and the poppier side of Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth, all of it cloaked in a buzzy, white noise.
Between their first record in 2009 and now, Purling Hiss saw an explosive output of vinyl and cassette, roughly two EPs, a split 7”, one compilation, a live tape, and five full-lengths. The latest of which, Water on Mars, seems a bit of a departure from the band’s lo-fi roots: it’s bigger, it’s crisp, the lows are lower (much lower), shattering the transmission loss between Purling Hiss’s heavy live shows and the lo-fi (albeit ripping) pop of their back catalog. I spoke with Polizze about buying that initial four-track, making the new record, and the space between the two.
Tyler Curtis What’s with the higher production this time around? It’s not masked by the buzz and white noise of everything before. Maybe your intention’s different with Water on Mars? Or at least, something more fleshed-out?
Mike Polizze I feel like I shed my skin a little bit on this one. All the recorded stuff I did before was poorly lo-fi, with varying levels of quality. Most of the past recordings weren’t intended to be released when I recorded them at the time, because I didn’t know what it was going to be. A lot of it was first take, a lot of it was just poorly mixed. And I kind of did it on purpose. A lot of times I buried the vocals, not always on purpose, but just sort of kept them underneath. It was sort of like the learning process, before I was confident with the drums or the vocals. Plus, it was fun to experiment. Using the four-track recording as the tool itself in the process to give it it’s aesthetic. It’s like part of it’s own personality.
I bought a four-track in 1999. I was 18 then. So for the first few years, I just kind of messed with it a little bit. But around 2003, 2004, I really started recording. And there’s kind of where the backlog started. I was just recording stuff, and by the time Permanent Records put out the first Purling Hiss record, I had already recorded a bunch. That was kind of new at the time, so they kind of got me right when I was doing that. But we’re talking like 2004 to probably like 2011, of stuff you might hear, whether it’s on a tour-only tape cassette release or another record I did.
Tres Warren of Psychic Ills on sonic exploration, making music in New York, and Gibby Haynes’s culinary choices.
Psychic Ills’ fourth LP, One Track Mind, fulfills the promise of their record prior: eschewing the improvised jams of their early catalog, Tres Warren and Elizabeth Hart instead craft each dark, blasted track with full intent. It’s only fitting to find contributions from the likes Gibby Haynes, Peter Kember, and Powell St. John throughout their body of work, situating them firmly in the American psych rock tradition.
I called Warren as he geared up for their North American tour, now underway, and chatted about the record, living in Austin, and the density of New York.
Tyler Curtis How did you and Liz Hart first link up?
Tres Warren I met her in school, at the University of Texas at Austin. We were in the same Art History class. Psychic Ills happened a few years later.
TC Your earlier work, the Mental Violence EPs and stuff on The Social Registry, was based around drum machine and a lot of jamming. What facilitated the shift to live percussion and more song-based material?
TW When the band first started, I had just gotten this Roland TR-707 drum machine, and I was getting into programming drums and kind of writing songs along to drum machine stuff. And that’s kind of how that happened. There wasn’t really a course planned ahead, and it just evolved into a live band, you know? And at certain points there was still some stuff with drum machines, and there might be again. But it definitely turned into more of a rock band.
A lot of times it would be kind of jamming. And more recently, it’s definitely been more writing songs, almost like demoing them, and then recording them. There were definitely times where it was more of like improvised jamming, and seeing if you could write a song that way. And then sometimes improvising but not necessarily trying to write a song, just jamming. More recently, it’s just become writing out the songs and then recording them.