by Kate Lawson
“Poliça came across my eyes and it fit the conflicting nature of the music’s sound. Pop but anti-pop, harsh but sweet, smooth but abrasive,” says frontwoman Channy Leaneagh, when explaining the name of her band. Hailing from Minneapolis, and founded in 2011 by Leaneagh and Ryan Olson, Poliça (pronounced Poe-lisa), has, along with Prince and Spam, become one of Minnesota’s most beloved exports. With Leaneagh at the helm, the band also consists of bass player Chris Bierden, and drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, a collaboration that has earned widespread acclaim and celebrity fans including Jay Z. Today, Poliça has two albums, too many festival appearances to mention and many sold-out shows behind them, including a recent date at London’s Art-Deco venue, Troxy. We recently spoke with Leaneagh about the inspiration for her new album, feminism, and her love/hate relationship with fashion
Your music has been described in so many different ways. How would you personally define it?
Electrical Cord Rhythm Driven Sex Noise.
Tell me more about the title of your latest album Shulamith, which refers to the woman at the heart of early radical feminism, Shulamith Firestone. What particular elements of her thinking have inspired you?
Shulamith Firestone’s words on relationships between men and women, women and children, children and the world, and women with themselves, is a much wiser perspective than where I went with my lyrics in the Shulamith record, but they are coming from the same place. She inspired me to challenge my views of love and motherhood, and to reject even the most progressive forms of settling and giving into the idiocracy of modern relationships, motherhood, and being a slave to beauty.
The album artwork was also quite challenging in relation to the beauty myth and how women are represented (it featured a woman with her back turned, unclothed, covered in fresh blood). What was the story behind that?
It’s a piece relating to the rituals in a women’s life; combining menstruation with beautification.
And what about the video for “Tiff,” (a collaborative track on the album with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, which produced a disturbingly powerful video directed by Nabil Elderkin, which saw Channy as two opposing versions of herself, one torturing the other). What was the underlying message there?
That is a women as her worst enemy. “Tiff” is about self-destruction when you should attack. The majority of the time the women around me hurt themselves before they’ll retaliate against the external thing that is hurting them.
Do you write songs as a form of therapy?
I use myself for songs and that is a very therapeutic form of self-expression. It’s like that Joni Mitchell song, “Both Sides Now”…”I looked at love from both sides now…” Songwriters get to write about heartbreak from a different perspective than their own and see themselves through others’ eyes and understand all their weaknesses. And then to sing those tales over and over each night and have it really cut deep into your skin and feel the pain each night, hopefully affects the mistakes and moves you make in the future.
What kind of zone do you need to be in to write the songs?
I write best alone and on paper.
You come across as a confident and reactionary performer on stage, but away from the spotlight, I’ve read that you’re quite insular and separated from that public persona. How do you prepare for such an intense live experience each time then?
Our bodies know what to do. Warming up the vocal chords is always a good idea, but it works best for me if I don’t think about it too much. The person on stage who performs comes out when I get on stage, but it doesn’t want to be woken up before then.
As lead singer of the band, do you think it’s important to have a vision, and lead the direction?
I don’t take pride in making all the decisions or leading with my vision alone. I take pride in working well with my friends/band, co-leading with Ryan Olson, and making music as a collage that represents all five of us. The only situations where I am doing purely my own thing is when I perform and in choosing what I sing about and how I sing.
The band’s whirlwind rise to fame was further exemplified when your track “Violent Games” was used in Chloé’s Autumn / Winter 12/13 Paris Fashion Week show. As the face of the band and with self identity so heavily connected with fashion and music, how do you see yourself in relation to that?
I love and hate fashion equally. At its worst, it separates the rich from the poor and makes people feel empty and greedy. At its best, it makes people feel confidence and a sense of belonging. I just don’t want to be a part of any purchase or promotion of fashion that makes people feel separated from me. I don’t want to play a role in the games of the bourgeoisie and the trend towards using artists as advertising mannequins. I try to wear clothes and jewelery my friends are making and anything else needs to be simple and silent.
Talking of silence, how do you relax outside of the music bubble that now surrounds you?
Spending time with my daughter, family, friends, and being alone. Being alone is like a good massage to me.