Polica: Wandering star Channy Leaneagh finds her path

Singer okay with vulnerability on Give You the Ghost

"Her work ethic is incredible," says Olson, beaming over the phone. "She'll try different shit; she's not afraid to take direction and just go for things. [And] usually she has awesome ideas. A usual session, she'll just scat and freestyle and stuff, then work on stuff by herself and come back with it fleshed out. It's fantastic."

Olson and Leaneagh didn't know each other before he asked her to join Gayngs, a fact that the singer finds amusing in retrospect. "I actually tried to get out of being in Gayngs because I was so really shy. I did not want to go over to this person's house that I didn't know," she recalls, shaking her head. "Then I saw Ryan's face when I walked upstairs, and I was like, 'Oh, I totally know who this is!'" After touring together, the pair quickly developed a mutual respect, and once Leaneagh recorded some demos—"rough versions of me singing melodies with very shitty R&B beats," in her words—she knew exactly who she wanted to give them to.

Poliça's debut album was written in a two-day burst. Olson says he originally looked at the band—filled out with drummers Christopherson and Ben Ivascu, plus bassist Chris Bierdan, all hand-picked by Olson—as a side project drawing on his old, unused beats. "I was just going to have them play unknown shows, not have people know about it, and give them time to play around and start a band," he recalls with a gravelly chuckle. "Whatever. It's awesome; I have no qualms with what's happening."

A Poliça lineup featuring the usual suspects
Tony Nelson
A Poliça lineup featuring the usual suspects

On Valentine's Day, the group marked Ghost's official release with their second gig headlining First Avenue in three weeks. Leaneagh says the band already has 14 more "experimental" songs recorded for a follow-up. Before it was announced that the album would be released on Totally Gross National Product, there were rumors of entreaties by national labels. "We're not really sure where that came from," says Christopherson, who co-owns Totally Gross with Olson. "We were always curious about who was interested, but it was never really more than a curiosity.... We had our own agenda, so it was not a hard decision."

The local buzz around Poliça has been as strong as that for anyone in recent memory, and while there have been hints of broader interest—a tour opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a handful of shows at 2011's CMJ—it's fair to say the journey is just now beginning. But on at least one point Leaneagh is emphatic: She's singing on her own terms.

"I always wanted to sing R&B music, since forever," she says, leaning back in her chair and slinging her arm over the back. She admits, for instance, to making "crazy R&B mixtapes in high school," loaded with Aaliyah, K-Ci & JoJo, and R. Kelly. "Some people would say this isn't R&B, but it's, like, me trying to do it."

Leaneagh reaches forward and stirs her drink with the straw, then looks back up, the dim bar lighting making her light-blue eyes appear gray. "I never would have done this without Ryan. I'm completely indebted to him for this band," she continues. "It just worked out; it was just the perfect time. There have been a lot of perfect timings in this band."

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