Interview: Purling Hiss
By Shaida Omid and Kayleen Fulton
The Belly Up was sold out before Dr. Dog had even arrived to San Diego. By the time I got there, the crowd was beginning to gravitate toward the stage in anticipation. The band’s new album Be The Void came out that very day and most of the crowd hadn’t heard their new songs yet.
Similar to Delta Spirit, Dr. Dog plays indie alternative rock, so the opening act, Purling Hiss, was something quite unexpected for most of the crowd. Mike Polizze came on and revved up the crowd by jamming harder tunes than most Dr. Dog fans were anticipating that night. The resolutely different genre of music that opened for Dr. Dog presented a precarious duo of Philadelphians, but it was very well-received by the crowd. Mike Polizze was generous enough to offer USDRadio an inside look at the lives that make up this lo-fi, psychedelic, garage rock.
Dr. Dog’s Eric “Teach” Slick, drummer, also joined in for a bit!
Mike Polizze: Purling Hiss’s guitar and vocals
Kiel Everett: Purling Hiss’s Bassist
Mike Sneeringer: Purling Hiss’s Guitarist
Eric “Teach” Slick: Dr. Dog’s drummer
Shaida Omid & Kayleen Fulton: How long have you guys been together?
Mike Polizze: A year and a half or so, almost two years.
SO&KF: What were you guys doing before?
MP: I have a band called Birds of Maya that I’ve been in for eight years, but we don’t tour. We’ve put out records on Holy Mountain.
SO&KF: Same kind of music?
MP: Sort of. It branches off. Mike’s been touring for 12 years.
Mike Sneeringer: I’ve been in a bunch of other different bands.
SO&KF: Are you currently in another band?
MS: Technically, I guess I’m in four. But this is, by a huge margin, my main band. Drummers get around. Sometimes it’s hard to find drummers that are willing to tour and can play different styles. I guess I’ve just fallen into knowing a bunch of people who needed drummers and so it’s worked to my advantage in a lot of ways because I’ve been able to continuously tour for a really long time.
SO&KF: How did you guys get together?
MP: It’s really cool that we were all friends first before we started the band. Basically how it started is that because I was in Birds of Maya for so long and they couldn’t tour – the main guy in that band has a wife and kids and a full-time job; music is his hobby. So, in my free time, I did my own thing and ended up just recording stuff and putting it out on small labels and Kurt Vile was the first guy to ask me, ‘Wanna go on tour with me? I’m gonna have a tour.” So Mike and Kiel were my friends and we had time to get a band together and rehearse and get ready for it and take the show on the road. So it’s kind of weird, it’s backwards. Most bands start, play songs, get your friends together, jam in the basement. But I made recordings and put out actual albums on small labels that got a little bit of attention and Kurt Vile, being a friend of mine, invited me on tour, and I got the band together, had time to rehearse and then we’ve been together ever since. And now we’re an exclusive unit, sort of.
SO&KF: So you knew Kurt Vile before?
MP: Yeah, we’re all buddies. KV & the Violators would play shows with Birds of Maya, my other band.
(Eric “Teach” Slick enters)
SO&KF: What cities have you been playing previous to Solana Beach?
MP: Cleveland, Columbus, Lawrence, Kansas.
MS: We didn’t get to play Boulder because it got cancelled cause of the snow.
MP: Yeah, so that got cancelled. It was a great night because we all went to a small town called Julesverg in the northern tip of Colorado and we all got to hang out with these guys and it was a good bonding, sort of, experience.
MS: middle of nowhere town, we, like, took over this dinky motel bar. the locals had no idea what to make of us. Like there were 12 or 15 of us. I guess it was 13 of us total. Rolled in there, into this bar that had had 3 people who all knew each other’s names. It was fun, though.
MP: So then we played Salt Lake City, then Phoenix. Then tomorrow, we’re off because Dr. Dog is playing Conan. Then Santa Ana, L.A. and all up the coast. It’ll be really awesome. Which is good because we’ve had some rough drives up here, we’re driving and Dr. Dog is on a tour bus.
SO&KF: What’s been your favorite city?
MP: Tonight was pretty fun.
MS: Tonight was definitely my favorite show.
SO&KF: Have you gotten to enjoy your stops much?
MS: We actually have a rare day off tomorrow. Like he was saying about the drives, this tour especially, it’s been literally: play, pack up, watch a bit of Dr. Dog and then we’re usually on the road to drive and in some cases, even a couple hours a night towards the next city, get a hotel, wake up, and drive the rest of the way. Even the nights that we’ve stayed in the city, we haven’t gone out. We haven’t even really hung out in the club. We usually, afterwards, we’ve been kinda like ‘okay we have to go get to bed, because tomorrow’s gonna be another long day.’ So tomorrow’s our first day off. Our first intentional day off, I guess. And then Santa Ana’s only an hour and fifteen minutes away. The next couple of days we have a ton of time.
MP: We went to Europe for two weeks and saw nothing.
Kiel Everett: I saw the tip of the Eiffel Tower from the highway.
MP: No! You weren’t there! My friend lives in Paris and we went to that cathedral, it was some cathedral.
MS: (jokingly) Kiel walked around with his eyes closed the whole time.
MP: I tried to get him to come, we kinda parted ways. I have a friend who lives in Paris and he took us to whatever cathedral and we could see the whole city. That was awesome.
SO&KF: So what are you going to see in San Diego?
MS: What did that guy just tell us? Some park, I wrote it down.
SO&KF: Balboa park?
MS: Yeah, that’s it.
SO&KF: (to Mike P.) Is the guitar the first instrument you started playing?
MP: Uh, no, piano was the first. I was young. I started taking lessons when I was 8, but I remember walking up to a piano and playing the beginning part to “Old Time Rock n Roll” by Bob Seger by ear. That’s my earliest memory of playing something by ear and then my parents put me in front of a piano and I played guitar after that, when I was 13. I took like two years of lessons, but I got bored of it. My uncle had an old Sears little practice amp from the 70s and a Kent electric guitar, a student model, I ended up breaking that somehow. And then I got an acoustic guitar, and then an electric. I love playing bass, drums… but the end goal was serving the song. Not being all for one instrument, but using each as a component to create this one, interweaving thing. I got into all the instruments that would make up a rock band. They’re all equally important to me is what I’m getting at. The guitar just ended up being my primary instrument.
MS: When I was in elementary school, in fifth grade, and the high school jazz band came to put on a performance for the elementary kids. You know, I was gonna be a cheerleader, but then I put down my pom-poms and picked up the drumsticks. The drummer of the jazz band was really good, did a solo, and I was like ‘That’s awesome, I wanna play drums.’ I convinced my parents get to me a snare drums, then convinced them to get me one more piece, one more piece, and I was in school band for a little bit then I got kicked out for disciplinary reasons and that’s when I started my first rock n roll band. I had a bad mouth when I was a child and I was shout or say things at inopportune moments… right when the music went quiet. They sent me to home ec. after that. Then I started a band with friends at shows… and that’s how I got started. THere’s a lot to learn when you start actually playing with other people in front of people.
KE: I started playing guitar when I was 15. THe first band that I was in, i played bass. I’m not a bass player. It’s kinda come full circle. I’m a very sloppy guitar/bass player… but it seems to work. I didn’t even own a bass when we started playing as Purling Hiss. Orginally I was supposed to play guitar, but the Kurt Vile tour was looming over us and we didn’t have a bass player.
SO&KF: (to “Teach”) Hey congratulations on your album coming out today.
TS: Yeah, it’s exciting, we’re number 2 on the alternative charts. But Lana Del Ray is number one. We’ve got to usurp her somehow…
SO&KF: Did you study music?
TS: I studied with a lot of different people, but I learned most of things about music from my family. My grandfather was a jazz musician. He played a lot of Billie Holliday, buddy rich, ella fitzgerald. I just learned a lot from him. My dad was a guitar collector, so I grew up around like 20 guitars in the house. There was constantly music happening in the house. I guess I kind of learned by listening and having my dad be like “Rock n Roll! You gotta save the kids!”
MS: I’m actually going to convince him on this tour to give me probably what is the closest thing i’ve had to drum lessons in a while. ‘Cause there are technique things that I never, ever learned.
SO&KF: How did you guys start touring together?
TS: I saw Purling Hiss play at Johnny Brenda’s, a really awesome venue in Philadelphia. They were headlining.
SO&KF: Do you generally choose who you’ll tour with?
TS: Not always. It really depends on what the tour is. So whenever we have a new album out, we have a tour to support it and we can pick whoever we want. As we tour more and more, we’re looking for interesting bills, so sometimes our booking agent will be like ‘Hey, you should take Deer Tick or Here We Go Magic.’ We’re constantly getting suggested these bands. Sometimes it’s beyong our control. But in a situation like this, I saw Purling Hiss play and I was like “Man, it was be so awesome if we could get them to go on tour with us, and all I did was ask our manager and he was like yeah, that’s an awesome idea. and everybody in the band was really psyched about it. It’s the only idea that I’ve ever had that was unanimously agreed on. I was like “Hey! Let’s have a tour where we have ice cream for three meals a day.” Everyone was like “Ehhhh, Eric shut up.”
SO&KF: How often do you tour?
TS: We never stop. We are always on tour. We tour 150-170 days per year. But there are bands who do more than that, which is crazy. In Phish’s heyday, they were playing like 250 shows a year. The band Wye Oak just did 300 dates a year.
MS: Here We Go Magic plays a lot too. Literally, none of them have apartments. They live on tour. When they’re off tour, they have to get hotels or stay with friends for the week.
SO&KF: Were you guys avoiding drinking tonight to be fresh for Conan tomorrow?
TS: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, I know Tobi drinks whiskey for his throat; it helps him sing. He bruised his trachea four years ago in a boating accident. It’s kind of amazing that he can sing. He almost completely destroyed his trachea. He was on a canoe with his wife and he was sitting under him and they hit a rock – he couldn’t sing for four months.
SO&KF: Have you found yourself being recognized on the street yet?
TS: I got recognized somewhere really funny recently, I’m trying to remember where it was. I don’t often get recognized on tour, but it’s been happening more and more in Philadelphia, in weird places like the bank or a sub shop.
SO&KF: How are the dynamics of the band working out since some members are newer than others?
TS: It’s really diplomatic with Dr Dog. We’re all great friends so when we’re working on something together, somebody has an idea, it always gets a shot. So if I’m like “hey, I want to have a screeching hyena on this track… or I want a real hyena and I’m gonna tickle it.” They’ll be like Sure, let’s get the budget, get a hyena. All kidding aside, that is how it works. If anybody has an idea, it get a shot. That’s really the best part about being in the band. We work as a creative unit. Scott or Tobi will write a song, but once it’s in the hands of the band, anything can happen.
Keep your eyes and ears open for some new recordings from Purling Hiss coming up in the next few months, and make sure to catch Dr. Dog’s performance on the Conan show if you haven’t already. Cheers!