Produced by The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel, Purling Hiss breaths “Lolita” to life with staggering force and energy.
We've been hearing about Purling Hiss and its creator, Mike Polizze, for some time now, echoing within the inner circuit of Philadelphia's most esteemed music elite: Kurt Vile, Richie Charles, The War on Drugs. Local promoters can't seem to get enough of band as well - their enthusiasm fueled by The Hiss' huge sound, out-sized energy and classic rock n' roll vibes.
Of everyone Adam knew, Purling Hiss was the one he believed would rise to the opportunity and create something remarkable, and so he and the band converged at Miner Street in Philadelphia to record “Lolita” over the course of a warm weekend in early April. The result: Polizze's swirling guitar riffs, and the band's rebellious rhythm (Mike Sneeringer on Drums and Kiel Everett on Bass), take the listener into a triumphant rock-n-roll landscape, one that can't be passively pushed aside in today's music.
The timing couldn't be more perfect to record “Lolita”. Purling Hiss was just back from a National Tour with Dr. Dog, and the idea of making a new full length record was forefront in their minds. Their sound has many classic elements, but it's also personal and intuitive. “Mike's guitar playing is out of this world and comes from the heart,” says Granduciel.
Purling Hiss began as a solo project in Polizze's basement 2 years ago, but when Kurt Vile asked Polizze to tour with him in the Fall of 2010, Mike put together a power trio consisting of himself, Mike Sneeringer and Kiel Everett to hit the road. In the end, the guitar, bass, and drums set-up, not to mention the quality friendships that have come from it, have proven to be a worthy sonic combination.
“Purling Hiss is noise made into music,” explains Polizze. “The band started out as just abrasive, scorching guitars. I was messing with ideas and textures and thinking about white noise and how it exists in nature. So I was looking up words that were synonymous with that. 'Purling' can be a knitting term, but it's also the rippling effect on a stream. It's kind of like white noise - so I added 'Hiss.' l liked the juxtaposition - the good and bad; Pretty and ugly.”
Mike's Guitar playing
is fast and heavy yet spirited and expressive. It's easy for someone to say he's just 'shredding' but not really. You can sign a song with your voice, or you can sing a song with your guitar.
“When I was a teenager I bought the Jimi Hendrix Woodstock album. It was so unrehearsed and unhinged sounding,” reflects Polizze. “You can hear him improvising. It was stream of consciousness. It made me want to learn more about what he was doing.” During tracking we could sense the urgency of Polizze's guitar playing. Though he stands humbly beneath a curly mass of hair, Polizze controls his guitar with defiance and direction.
“If I wasn't playing music, I think I would still be doing something creative: I would be an artist, taking what is in the room and making it interesting.”
The band is preparing for a spring tour with Wilco, an amazing opportunity that has prompted Mike to reflect on his first relationship with music: “I was encouraged at a young age to take lessons. After a while, I started making my own songs. Now, I guess I'm a Lifer.”
Recording a band like Purling is... well, it's ridiculously easy. Just pay careful attention to the right drum sounds (ie. “huge”), create a full, round bass sound and big, classic lead guitar tones. Then let the band do the rest.
For guitar, Mike arrived with an Ampeg VT-22 guitar head. These amps are about as classic 1970s guitar tone as there is. Plug in a Stratocaster, turn it up all the way, and that's your sound. Of course, with the amp in the room, it helped that he also brought a THD Hotplate. The cabinet was about 12 feet away from the drums mic'd with a Beyer M160 ribbon mic through an MCI console pre. Again - welcome to the 1970s!
Keil's bass rig was not exactly complex either. He brought a Fender Precision Bass, and plugged into the studio's Matchless Thunderman, a more modern (and more expensive) interpretation of the Ampeg B-15 flip top bass amp. A direct signal was patched through the Creation Audio Labs MW-1 into a Teletronix LA2A, and the amp was mic'd with a Shure SM7b.
“Mike had done all the recordings up until now at home on 4 tracks,” says Granduciel, “I'm a big fan of their music and just wanted to put them in a place where they could capture the magic of the three of them playing together live.”
Mike Sneeringer opted to use the studio's late 70's Tama maple drum kit. Some of the standout details of the 9 tracks used for drums were the Telefunken ElaM260s running through the Electronaut M63s (dear God, that's an excellent combo), and the Telefunken M81 on the snare. The kick and snare were also recorded using ancient RCA BA31 germanium mic pres - another great classic sound. There was something of an amusing roe over whether he should hit the rim shot or not - not
a debate, actually, but more of an epiphany on Adam's part. He'd never realized it would make such a difference to the tone. We ultimately opted for no rim-shot, producing less crack in favor of more low end tone. As Mike explained, “Think the difference between Nirvana and Fleetwood Mac.” (For everything people will say about Purling Hiss and Nirvana, the snare on Lolita is Mick Fleetwood for sure.)
“They are a loud, massive sounding band. As a three piece, everyone takes up a huge part of that sonic real-estate. My end goal was to make that massive size translate really well into a super powerful final mix.”
Polizze returned after the basic track to double the basic guitar track. Adam suggested adding the studio's Supro to the VT22. The basic track is in the left speaker, and the overdub is in the right, creating great moments of synergy into dissonance and back again. Watching the solos in succession was probably the most fun part of the day.
Apart from some sessions with Philadelphia's Jeff Ziegler, Polizze hadn't done that much studio recording before this session. So Adam's suggestion was to record vocals with a hand-held mic instead of anything too imposing on a gigantic stand. That Telefunken M-81 dynamic mic used on the snare has a huge full sound, and just enough definition to record a vocal. Jon ran the signal through the Electronaut M63 twice. The mic went into channel one, to a Distressor, out to ProTools, then back out to channel two, cranked up for maximum distortion. It's a technique that he used on Cat Martino's “I promise”, and it seemed right for “Lolita” as well.
For all our desires to layer gobbs of swirl and reverb, it seemed Adam and Mike were the better voice of reason. Lolita was mixed with ease in a few hours with nothing fancy about it. There weren't many tracks in the song to begin with. The tones were all huge. Finding the right balance wasn't hard. Says Engineer Jonathan Low, “They are a loud, massive sounding band. As a three piece, everyone takes up a huge part of that sonic real-estate. My end goal was to make that massive size translate really well into a super powerful final mix.”
Director of Photography