Wonderland on Poliça – we got right under the skin of ballsy Channy Leanagh.
Have you noticed that there are so few bands in the main stream of music that are really producing art these days? David Bowie’s recent death was symbolic of the end of an era of when pop music was a bit, y’know, weird and uninhibited – catchy tunes, performance art and politics, all rolled into one.
If, like us, you’re interested in pop that is using its voice to really say something, then you’ll like synth-drenched indie quartet Poliça – that’s if you haven’t totally fallen in love with them already. Quite the antidote to sex-centric R ‘n’ B, the group’s latest music video, Wedding, reads not-so-cryptically into police brutality and is articulated in their defining style; savage content counter-balanced by beautiful and softly sung lyrics by other-worldly front-woman Channy Leanagh. If you thought that was deep, listen to their 2013 masterpiece, Shulamith, which was named after the 1960’s intellectual-firebomb, Shulamith Firestone, which Channy states was about ‘Drums. Bass. Synths. Me, Women’. Their political messages are clearly present but certainly don’t dwarf the pop element of the music, the two conflicting components deftly interwoven into a product totally unique to Poliça.
Yes. They’re amazing. So, where did they come from? Who exactly are they? The group hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota and revolves around songstress Channy Leaneagh with Chris Bierden (bassist) alongside Drew Christopherson (on the drums) and Ben Ivascu (also a drummer) during live sessions. The name is, according to Channy, a Polish word for policy – which in turn is figurative of the group’s tough work ethics… “There is a line in the song Someway that says ‘rest never, rest never’, says the elfin artist of her touring lifestyle, “and that’s how I like to live”.
If ever art seems like a free and easy option, think again. Nobody sees the ball breaking work that goes into neatly packaged 12-track albums or the levels of emotional resilience required to enact a violent, torture centred music video (see Tiff) – nope, that part isn’t put on Instagram. When you’re a globally-recognised musician, nobody is switching the lights off at the end of the day. Sleep, never.
Whenever we get obsessed with an artist (which is quite regularly, FYI), we want to literally get under their skin; find out what they listen to; what they watch; what they eat, so that we can assimilate their enchantingly cool being. Much to our delight, contrary and self-assured Channy goes through her music collection with us. Where you might expect to find an archive of synth based 80s electronica that could have influenced Poliça’s sound, what you’ll actually find when you flick through the crates is rather unlikely; NASA Sounds of the Planets, Drake and Spank rock, to be precise.
We caught a moment with the elusive super-group, to chat about living the artist’s lifestyle, literature and ideas.
Hello, Chris, Drew and Channy, it’s nice to meet you. The video for Chain My Name was the thing that initially got us in your music and what you’re doing. It’s beautiful; haunting; fascinating. We want to get under your skin, so, can you tell us why you’re here on this planet and what your purpose is?
Chris: Well, as a musician, I suppose our purpose feels both arbitrary and important. An artist is really a reflection of the space and time that he or she occupies – you know, like, little particles of refracted light, broken up through a lens. So, with this notion, even the loftiest aspiration becomes a shared experience. Finding those common and true aural threads that might bind us together – that fleeting and transcendent moment of collective effervescence. Once you get that feeling playing music, it’s something you’ll continue to chase after for the rest of your life.
I sometimes like to think of music as scenery or architecture, a space you can crawl into and stumble around in, like a little world unto itself that becomes an unreal dream state and latches onto your DNA. In it’s most sublime incarnation, you’ll find some piece of yourself both familiar and strange all at once. This seems as good a reason as any to start a band.
It does. So, what kind of art or music influenced you along the way in your lives that you think had some kind of influence on your work?
Channy: Well, really, I have always been influenced by art that provokes strong feelings and is confrontational. I’m just looking to be moved and changed and am completely turned off by cushy shit.
Drew: Yeah, we all kind of like brutal imagery, especially when juxtaposed within a somewhat accessible and pop-ish setting. Like trying to bring out tender moments from within a barrage of violent music and dark subjects.
Yeah, we kind of look for the same – there needs to be character and intelligence behind something for us to absorb it. It doesn’t matter about the medium.
Channy: I love books and they inspire my lyrics in innumerable ways: W.E Dubois and James Baldwin are good reads, especially for me these days. It puts a lot into perspective… I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I think is one of the best novels ever written. Anything by Louise Erdrich or Sherman Alexei are guaranteed to be good.
How do you come up with the concept for an album, so, like, what’s your starting point. How do you develop the idea into something that starts to be tangible…
Channy: Well, I never know how to answer this question… That is to say, explaining how we came up with the concept ruins the magic of making a record. It’s like explaining how you play make believe-all of a sudden no one want to play anymore and we all walk away from the game.
Drew: Its more like an effective order of operations that gets a little more refined with each record. The right balance between assembly-line, creative input and followed by a collaborative approach to rounding out the rough edges. Think of the songs as being built from electronic skeletons, compiled into records that reveal their collective meaning once they’ve been put in order.
Channy: The concepts are developed in the play time of late night knob turning and making noise and conversing about music and other topics we like.
You mention that Polica is a Polish word for policy… which then translates itself back as a code for work ethic within your group… Can you tell us more about your working processes, how you knuckle down when it comes to making an album or when you have a tour… it must be pretty ball breaking…
Channy: So, there is a line in the song Someway that says ‘rest never, rest never’ and that’s how I like to live. You see, we are always working on something and making plans for more music. We are busy at it really because it’s fun and we have lots we still want to do.
Sleep when you’re dead, yeah. I guess the work is a lifestyle, here. You live, doing what you’re doing and because of that you’re constantly working. I mean, do you see what you do as work?
Drew: Yes, there are times when it all feels like work and there are times when it feels like creative playtime. But when you’re immersed in a music community like we are in Minneapolis, you’re still going out and taking in live music or working on other projects in your free time. I imagine its the same as when a person is writing a book versus writing for themselves, or shooting photos for fun versus doing a photo shoot. It even works out this way when making a record. You come in and execute all the ideas you’ve been working on and do your best to perform well and stay productive, but then you find time to just mess around and try things too.
Do you have a strong idea of what you want for the videos whilst you’re writing songs, or do you work primarily with sound? Your visuals are pretty strong, do you find that the two elements of aesthetic and sound become one?
Channy: The visual aspect is hugely important to us. Long drives on tour are excellent for writing video treatments.
I see images as I’m writing lyrics-I can see the story on the screen but it’s most important to collaborate with visual artists on video and art-work because it needs to be a conversation that goes beyond just one persons vision. I want to hear what colors, images and video treatments other people conjure up with the songs so that it’s not so self-indulgent or biographical.
Are there any countries you haven’t played in yet that you think would be awesome/have a good reception…
Channy: I would love to play in China; I’m not sure how the reception would be but it would be worth a try.
Drew: We would also love to get back to Mexico. We had an incredible experience playing there one time and would love to get to know that country better, considering we are neighbors.
What does Poliça listen to? We want to raid your record collection.
Channy: Helena Hauff, NASA Sounds of the Planets (for sleeping), Boys Noize, Spank Rock, RONIIA, Fog, Kill the Vultures, Dizzy Fae and Drake.
United Crushers is released on 4th March via Memphis Industries.