Reporting Cole Premo
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minneapolis-born electro pop ensemble, Poliça, is ready to embark on a packed U.S. tour later this week shortly after releasing their second album, Shulamith.
The band, whose core members are singer Channy Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olson, quickly gained popularity with their first album, Give You The Ghost, released in February of 2012.
Now, their sophomore album — named after feminist Shulamith Firestone – looks to take their sound and message a step further. It may be more electronic dance-pop than its predecessor, but it still keeps the brooding, melancholy tones that gave Give You The Ghost its life.
There’s this dynamic between Poliça’s in-your-face electronic synth elements, the heavy natural drums (Ben Ivanscu and Drew Christopherson) and Leaneagh’s soaring effect-heavy vocals that’s surprisingly complimentary.
At points, it’s like her voice is being played through a radio sitting in the middle of an empty, enclosed racquetball court, with her voice bouncing and ricocheting off the walls. Intro song “Chain My Name” and “Vegas” are examples of that. The band and record producers have a lot of fun utilizing her voice.
“Torre” is one of my favorites: It hits you first with crisp groovy drums and later adds futuristic synth in the background — glimmering like a sci-fi dream. Meanwhile, Leaneagh’s voice serves almost as another melodic instrument, weaving through and tying it up.
Other favorite songs of mine include “Tiff” (featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon), “Trippin,” “Smug” and “Vegas.”
Check out the music video for “Tiff” [Warning: semi-graphic content]
The only real criticism I have about the album is that with the vocal effects, it’s at times difficult to make out her lyrics. I’m not sure if it’s too low in the mix, but the individual words are lost on me during many of the album’s songs. But that’s what the Internets are for, right?
Overall, the album ebbs and flows in emotion: Dipping into a dark despair at times with “Very Cruel,” grooving in the laid-back “Matty,” and simply dancin’ it up with “Chain My Name” and “Torre.” It’s great as chill background music or “vegging” out with the headphones. Simply put, the songs are beautifully recorded.
For more on the band and its new album, Leaneagh talked with me Monday morning. Check out the interview below!
So — and feel free to paraphrase — could you give me a little history of your life/bands before Poliça and what led to the Polica’s creation?
Right before Poliça , I was ending a band that I had been in for about six years called Roma di Luna – we’re from Minneapolis – and we played around town and regionally. It was a folk band and I wrote songs and sang … my husband at the time was in the band. So, it was really deep in the folk music scene I would say. I started as a busker in the streets at the Farmer’s Market. Then, I had a baby in 2008 and before Polica, I was going to begin phasing out playing, but Ryan (Olson) heard me singing at the Turf Club, and he asked me to sing in this project called GAYNGS. So, I did that and he invited me on the road with them after the record was released. I never toured nationally and I was kinda like, ‘I should try this … who knows if this’ll happen again.’ Then, Ryan and me began writing songs and that’s kinda how Polica began.
How does the song writing process usually go overall – from start to finish?
The first action is Ryan, who writes the beats. Then, him and I work together and I put the lyrics and melody down. The first record and second record are based on demos, what I get out of demos, then we elaborate on that, add the drums and the bass. So, it’s kind of a separate process, but it’s very reactionary.
I hear a lot of your writing happens when you hear “the beat” for the first time … does the beat really give you a starting point for the mood of your lyrics/melody?
It definitely does. The beat really sets the mood for me and kind of the tone. It always brings up some kind of memory, some kind of feeling that relates to a situation. It really weighs heavily on me.
What do you write about? Any controversial subjects? How much of your writing is based on real-life experiences vs. fictional stories/musings?
In the record, there’s really not one topical theme, but it really comes back to me and my dealings with the world. It’s really specifically feminine and woman. Men can relate, but it’s really about being a woman in the world. It really isn’t political, but only as much as being a woman is political, you know? There’s a lot of politics even in love. So, that’s really the main theme — it’s pretty narcissistic (laughs). It’s really me trying to figure out the world, what it’s about and my place in it.
I was curious, because on Spotify and iTunes, the album is “pixelated,” but not so just about everywhere else I look online.
It’s pixelated on the big corporate guys, like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon. It was censored for unknown reasons … (laughs) … No, they said it looked like it was bloody and too violent. I’m not sure. The DMX record, or, there are tons of other albums I can think of … but for some reason, they were very offended by it.
It’s kind of ironic considering the album title/the themes within the album …
Yeah, it is very interesting … just the man trying to get me down … (laughs).
In the band, one of the key features is your voice and the liberties being taken with it. When did you start experimenting with vocal effects like reverb, delay, the auto-tune? What equipment do you use? Do you use that for both recording and live performances?
Yeah, I do use them right away when I start demoing. It’s a hardware box, so it’s not like an auto-tune plug-in. It’s a pedal, but it has a lot of stuff on it, too. That’s really from my experience with GAYNGS. All the singers used specific vocal boxes and effects, and I learned all of that from being in GAYNGS.
Could you tell me a little bit about the new album? What you wanted to achieve musically and lyrically?
Musically, after the first record, it was a chance for Ryan and me to be like, ‘that wasn’t just a fluke.’ We wrote the record so quickly the first time, so they simply weren’t polished or recorded very professionally.
With the second record, we wanted the ability to have Ryan write beats and tracks specifically for Polica, knowing the band we are, the live shows we play, the energy we have on the stage, what we’re lacking, what we’re looking for. And some things to challenge the drummers – there’s a lot of hard things for them on this record.
For me, I wanted to sing more like myself and blend into the music … fine-tune my effects.
Lyrically, I was looking to write a record less mantra-based like the first one, which was really repetitive. I was writing it on the spot, whereas with the new one, I had more time to think through the beginning and end, choruses … In general we had a lot of room to go up.
What are your thoughts on the current state (and future) of music distribution? For example, Spotify, for me, is great for sharing music, but I’d like to hear your take on that.
With Spotify, interesting story, Lou Reed just died and we found out that he had GAYNGS on his Spotify playlist. It was really cool to know that he listened to this record we made.
But in general, I think it’s unfair that artists aren’t paid. I don’t think musicians should make an unreasonable amount on their music, but free or pennies isn’t a reasonable price.
But overall, I don’t understand it yet, because it hasn’t had its effect. It hasn’t completed its consequences yet, so I think we have yet to see what happens.
In general, it’s less hard for artists like me because I have never known what it’s like to sell lots of records and get paid for lots of records. So, I think it’s tough for artists who have done that and now their stuff is on Spotify.
There are pros and cons to it, but it does screw over artists.
I had trouble trying to pin you guys down and relate you guys with other bands, which obviously isn’t a bad thing. How do you guys get your unique sound?
We all have different musical tastes, so when we make music together and we’re able to be ourselves and print our reaction to the beat and melody, we’re all coming from different places.
Lastly, I see you guys are playing in downtown Minneapolis in late November – what should fans expect to see at the show?
We’re bringing a real DIY light production. We’re bring a more interesting live show. The new songs are really great to play live. But I think, just being able to see us evolving and giving a great performance. That’s what I hope — doesn’t always happen. (laughs)
Poliça (with Marijuana Deathsquads) is scheduled to play at Mill City Nights in downtown Minneapolis on Nov. 29 and Nov. 30. Click here to buy tickets.
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