february 2017

Onstage with Purling Hiss, Mike Polizze plays a ’90s Fender Stratocaster strung with a set of .008s, which he explains allows him to pummel his guitar’s whammy bar and still stay in tune.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography

A Strat-wielding sonic shaman creates his own space and time continuum with his still-evolving trio and a uniquely modded vintage Ampeg amp on the new album High Bias.

If you’re into gear—and you probably are if you’re reading this—the first thing you’ll notice about Mike Polizze, the guitarist in Purling Hiss, is his amp: a modded Ampeg VT-22.

You don’t see many Ampeg guitar amps these days, but they were a big deal in the early ’70s—especially for the Rolling Stones. The Stones were the first band to use Ampeg’s muscular V series and they brought the prototypes on their 1969 American tour. It was on that tour that Bill Wyman introduced the world to the SVT (his was a-300-watt, 95-pound beast), and those are the amps you hear on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, the Stones’ 1970 live album. Mick Taylor used a V series amp for his iconic solo on “Midnight Rambler” and they were still using those amps on Exile on Main Street in 1972. The Stones pushed their amps hard, and for that 1969 tour had a tech on loan from Ampeg to manage their backline if it melted down.

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One of the band’s signature approaches is the bass-technique-like “thumping” employed by both guitarists. Here, Abasi puts his thumb to work on his Ibanez prototype. Photo by Joe Russo

Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes reveal how, for the first time, they bypassed outside producers and collaborators to write, track, and mix their new album as a band.

Animals as Leaders has had a massive impact on modern electric guitar. The 8-string instruments the band use for their mind-bending fretboard acrobatics are now commonly found in stores around the world, their use of Fractal Audio’s Axe-Fx units helped propel the company’s products to international recognition, and their heavy electronic-music influence made it okay for bands to add considerable non-guitar elements to their guitar-based live performances. For proof of the band’s influence, start an Animals as Leaders Pandora channel and listen to a steady stream of like-minded artists that would have never achieved recognition without this trio from Washington D.C. come pouring from your speakers.

Animals as Leaders had their genesis in what was supposed to be lead guitarist Tosin Abasi’s solo album. Initially the outing was intended to have more electronic-based production, but with the help of Abasi’s friend, producer, and Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor, the album Animals as Leaders took on the heavier and more guitar-based character we know today. When it came time to put his band together, Abasi reached out to Javier Reyes, his former bandmate from the D.C. area, and the 8-string guitar-playing core of Animals as Leaders was set.

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