My grandparents had a big Wurlitzer organ that I used to play on all the time. I also fell asleep to the oldies station on the radio every night when I was in grade school; that seems like a good way for a song to really become embedded in your mind. You were originally known as the guitarist from Birds Of Maya, are there any plans for new material in ?
There will be things to look forward to later this year. What does the name Purling Hiss refer to? At the time it was just another 4-track recording I was getting into. I wanted something really unhinged and loose, with the guitars way out in the front.
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Purling, besides something to do with stitching, is a murmuring or flowing sound, usually from a stream. That, next to the word hiss had a ring to it. I thought it seemed like a good fit for the music I was making. Who are the members of the live band? Mike Sneeringer plays drums and some backing vocals, and Kiel Everett plays bass. How did Purling Hiss start and how has it evolved into what it is today? Originally, it started as a solo recording project.
I recorded and released two albums Purling Hiss and Hissteria before there was a live band, and by the time the third album Public Service Announcement came out on Woodsist Records, we were on our first tour. How long have you known Kurt Vile? Birds of Maya played a lot of shows with him back then. What effect is it having on you at this point, some three years later? He gave his seal of approval, and hooked me up with Woodsist. Though Woodsist asked Birds of Maya to do a record a few years prior, this one was hooked up by Kurt. Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process for Purling Hiss?
Do you still subscribe to that theory? Lounge Lizards sounded much more constructed and intentional than the earlier Purling Hiss records.
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I used to be really stubborn about writing songs. I realized I had to find what quality originally stimulated me and re-work it; I learned that from playing with Birds of Maya. I took it as giving up. But I realized it could always pop up later, and we did indeed learn something from it. I brought that idea to working on my own stuff. I think the Lounge Lizards EP was just a natural progression from the earlier recordings.
You recorded the first four Purling Hiss albums and both of the limited cassettes yourself; will you explain the recording process and what sort of equipment you used to record those albums? Some of the recordings date back to I recorded all the instruments and vocals by myself.
I had a single Shure microphone that I used to mic everything, one track at a time. Recording the drums first made the playback much easier for overdubbing the other instruments. Have you always been a lover of analog or have you dabbled in digital recording? It seems to be just about everywhere, almost unavoidable at this point, but as far as I know all of your releases have been recorded on analog equipment. I love analog recording. The goal at the time was just to record the ideas and create the song.
The recordings are crazy and all over the place, nowhere near a normal engineering technique; which I think, makes the recordings interesting and unique. I always filled the 4-tracks on the recorder, and when I ran out and wanted more, I ran all the tracks into Garageband as one track, usually just to do vocals, exporting them as an mp3.
The interesting fact about Public Service Announcement is that it was recorded before the first two official Purling Hiss records. The Lounge Lizards EP was the first time you went into writing an album with the knowledge it was going to have to be performed live by a band. How did that affect the writing for that album?
How has it affected writing since then for Purling Hiss? That was a record that did come out while the band was together, but it had been written and recorded before the band. You have recorded the bass, drums and guitar for every Purling Hiss record up until this point, is that the case with Water On Mars as well? It really turned out great, and to play those songs live, and have the recording sound the same is awesome. Did you enjoy the experience? Did you learn anything that you used on the new album?
I was trying very hard not to be afraid as I pulled on my fins and strapped on my dive gear. The Maya believed that the cenotes were windows into the underworld, a crossroads of the living and the dead.
Slipping below the surface, I saw the underworld exactly as the ancient Maya described it: cold, dark, wet and forbidding. I breathed in from my air tank and began my downward descent to a place very few living humans have ever visited. The tiny light offered some small comfort and I followed it. Another smaller yet stronger light appeared on my right. I kicked closer and came face to face with a human skull, resting on the sand with big empty eye sockets that stared back at me.
The skull was pre-Colombian, with a wide flat forehead that was likely modified the ancient Maya used coils and boards to modify their head shapes to look more like certain animals. I also noticed how large it was—to me it seemed like the largest skull in the world. Dante led me to another skull, buried deep in the sand, along with other separate piles of bones—most of them belonging to animals.
Most archeologists believe that these derive from animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice to the gods of the underworld was common, and the practice did not disappear with the end of the ancient Maya civilization. Earlier that morning, Dante had explained how in the Maya town we had driven through, they still conduct an annual animal sacrifice—usually a bull—which the people throw down into the cenotes. Scuba diving among ancient sacrificial remnants is kind of spooky, so I was quite happy when we turned on our larger lights and made the underwater underworld glow a brilliant teal color.
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Suddenly I could see the monstrous limestone walls, flowing with fluid shapes of nature. Mineral stalactites glowed violet-blue, shimmering in our artificial sun. Dante showed me the ancient objects, placed exactly where he had found them: whole clay pots from long ago, beautiful amphora with carefully-crafted handles and shards of broken dishes. I brought my mask within inches of these terrific ceramics and imagined the people who had used them—the same people who had climbed up and down the steps of the pyramids I was visiting.
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However many centuries ago, someone had dropped a pot through a hole in the ground and here it was, sitting undisturbed and upright before me—an everyday object that had outlived the civilization it served. Dante believes these pots were either dropped when Maya were collecting water, or they were part of the funerary rituals where food was sent down to accompany the dead on their journey to the underworld. The Maya realm of the dead was made up of nine specific layers, a numeric structure that is evident on so many of the great pyramids in Mexico, including that of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza.
The nine levels of the temple represent the nine layers of Xibalba. Unlike the hot red hell of Judeo-Christian canon with its eternal fire and brimstone, the Maya underworld is a cold, dark and unhappy place.
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