Poliça's Channy Leaneagh: You can't ignore north Minneapolis forever
Photo by Emily Utne
Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh is one of the Twin Cities' most iconic performers of the moment. Blessed with a voice that can encapsulate humanity's softness and jaggedness in a single stanza, she has come into her own over two albums of synth-fueled soul, and this year's EP, Raw Exit. Each song from the band -- featuring bassist Chris Bierden, drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, and producer Ryan Olson -- pulls untapped emotion to the surface to writhe and gasp for air. It's a live experience unparalleled anywhere.
Ahead of Saturday's headlining performance at City Pages' second annual 10 Thousand Sounds Fest, Leaneagh met with Gimme Noise for some iced beverages at Spyhouse. She traveled from the home she keeps with Olson in north Minneapolis to discuss Raw Exit, her punk influence, and views on censorship, which she experienced with last year's Shulamith cover.
Photo by Cameron Wittig
Gimme Noise: Over the many times I've seen you guys play, you often change your look and your hairstyle. Is that something that you're constantly thinking about as part of your performance? Channy Leaneagh: I think the problem is I don't think about it. If I were meticulous about it, I would have had the same look from the beginning and I'd have stylists with me to craft the brand because that's what successful people do. They have a look and they stick to it. I will start tour and have something that friends have made for me. It's nice clothes, hair will be styled, and about a week and a half in I'll say "fuck it" and just wear jeans on stage. I understand the value of fashion and make up, but when I get onstage and It's like a separation between me and the audience.
I can't believe that people can't enjoy music unless the female singer is like super hot or is like done up. So I'm battling with that in front of people on stage. Sometimes I'm dressing up sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I cut my hair on tour and I destroy a good haircut because I'm sort of a performance artist just daily. Kind of going back and forth between trying to figure out if I can play the game or if I want to fight the game, I guess. I'd rather buy musical gear than keep up with buying fancy shit all the time.
Speaking of music gear, have you invested in much lately? Is there anything you've added to your arsenal?
No so much on stage actually. A lot outside the stage. We're just working on new material and playing around with a lot of off the stage kind of stuff. It's kind of more in production, I guess.
What are you doing with your vocals at this point?
This summer I stopped processing the vocals on stage and Ryan does that now. It's more enjoyable for me and I think it's a better show when I'm performing and I'm not like this [demonstrates being behind a module] you know. That's what I enjoy the most about being on stage so, more performing and kind of carrying the feelings of the songs out to the crowd. Ryan's effects change every night. He'll add some tweak or something that's gonna increase the energy. We'll respond off each other and the drums do so too and the bass. There's the element of spontaneity onstage that wasn't there as much when I was doing the effects myself.
How did people respond to Marijuana Deathsquads opening for Poliça?
You know, we played a few churches. To bring Marijuana Deathsquads with the lord looking down on them with this very kind of satanic music definitely felt anti-establishment. In a marble-walled room where just the drums are going insane it made Poliça's show different. We're having Web of Sunsets come with us in October. Hoping Chris Rose will play with us a little bit. So that's going to be really interesting too.
What do you get from your experiences performing with Marijuana Deathsquads?
Even more so than Poliça, like really listening to everyone else and trying to blend in and really react. Trying to be selfless. I think that's what makes Marijuana Deathsquads feel so good. It feels like church to me. Everyone's facing inward and feeding off of each other and it's not about performing but yet, I mean it is, but it's not about the physical. Nobody is really staring at you.
Can you break down the Raw Exit EP material for me?
"Raw Exit" was actually I think one of the first songs we recorded after Give You the Ghost was completed. Then "Baby Blue." ["You Don't Own Me"] we played on tour a lot and then we wanted to record it. We wanted to put it out and we had these three other kind of lost children. So "Baby Blue" and "Great Regret" are all kind of outtakes. "Great Regret" feels sort of like a 1970s Foxy Brown theme song or something. They don't really fit necessarily with the record, but the do kind of topically. I liked that the lyrical commentary of "You Don't Own Me" seemed to fit in the same world as a lot of things you're talking about in your own material.
It's really a great song. It's the first time we've ever had a song where people sing along that loudly and it means a lot of things to people way before I ever sang it. So that's really powerful. Men, women, children, animals -- everybody. Before we started, you mentioned violent summers in Chicago and Minneapolis. Do you take a specific interest in violence in society?
I try to find the line between interested and kind of afraid. I actually have a history growing up. I lived on the west side of St. Paul for a while. I was around a lot of people in gangs on the west side. I was friends with and dating and living with people in gangs and that's very far removed from where I am now. Now as an older woman, my life is completely different. Now I am a touring musician. My life is like so far removed from what I did as a teenager.
What did you see during those years?
It was fights -- people throwing pool balls. I worked at a youth center in Americorps and then ended up just sort of becoming friends with them. It was like the movie In Too Deep. I was 18, and I was too young to not be kind of influenced. They were cool people, I thought. I was supposed to be helping them find jobs and stuff. It wasn't a good idea to put an 18-year-old girl in a pack of 20-year-old guys. It was a lot of fights and people going after each other and drugs, but the gun violence is different. That's a whole other situation.
There's like 16 kids running around the neighborhood and there's too many innocent bystanders. If you have a fist, it's just you and the other person or you and this group. Just in general, guns are an infuriating thorn in our society. Exploring things that make us afraid is not something you should shy away from. If you ignore it, it will go away for a while -- but it keeps on coming back. You can't ignore north Minneapolis forever. You can't just shut it off from the rest of Minneapolis because it will come to haunt us.
The artwork on last year's Shulamith was censored at several major music retailers. How did you feel about that?
It's a very violent society that we live in, so I was confused when like the image on our cover was censored. You look on iTunes and there's some really violent-sounding music. My music isn't really that, I don't have anything specifically violent about my music. That cover was exploring the life of a woman that's a mix of blood and beauty and the brutal existence of a woman. A lot of the covers on iTunes are just a face of the singer. Not like everybody has to have a message on their record cover, but it just infuriates me that iTunes is dumbing down the opportunity for musicians to have a voice.
What are you working on now?
I think I'm gonna take some time off. We've had kind of the same release structure with the first record and the second record. We were recording the songs the moment they became songs and then played them out for a year. At the end of that year, after the record's released, the songs are different. They come into their own. "Warrior Lord" is like that. That's the first time that song was sung. That's awesome. It's cool to kind of try something different. "Baby Blue" and "Dark Star" are examples of songs that like went through a couple different versions. I didn't quite know them until a while after I'd sung them. So right now it's sort of like this balance between feeding your older kids while nurturing these babies that haven't been born yet.
We're just planning on just working on the songs and playing in Minneapolis secretly and quietly and just having fun again. We've been on tour for two years, really. I just want to spend some time here and play the way we used to and maybe we'll play over in north. Just play the songs out and forget about the outside, the man for a while. We're really excited about the new songs. I think we set out to make like a hardcore record because I'm going through my 16-year-old crass phase right now. It's not that at all. It ended up being a lot of the songs are really sweet. It's smoother that the other ones. You can set out to do something and then it's cool to see where it goes.
So we can expect quieter results?
Yeah, I don't write the beats. I mean Ryan is the foundation of the songs. We were on the road together and those guys were playing like Men's Recovery Project and Butthole Surfers and Crass and the bands of their youth. They all have those songs memorized. I was like "Oh my god, this music is amazing." I grew up on rap and R&B. I have no experience with that stuff. But it's not where we went. It's not where we were feeling on the inside. You can outwardly want to feel one way, but then it almost allows you to sort of relax after you've listened to a couple hours of punk music. You're like chilled out or something. We're always going to be loud because we have two drummers.
What about your collaboration with Astronautalis, "Top Down," which came out on the Marijuana Deathsquads mixtape Tamper.Disable.Destroy? Will we see you stepping into that role again?
It was a really fun song to make. Yeah probably. That is like a late-night Ryan Olson song and there are many like those. He has to get settled in a little bit more for him to make more of those, but we're going up to this place up northern Minnesota that a lot of people are going to over the next month and doing that kind of stuff. What big changes have you noticed in yourself after two years on the road?
When I started this band I went through a huge change and had to find myself while on the road. I got divorced right when this band was forming, so I was already going through a pretty big change. I noticed when you're gone all the time all of a sudden you come home and nobody nobody calls you anymore.
There is more and more distance between the people that you used to see and so I find that I do become a lot more solitary. It hardens you a bit in a good way. You're a lot less particular. It feels like I'm always camping all summer. It's made me a little less refined. I'm a little bit more crass myself. You become road dogs. When I get home, I have a harder time figuring out what to do than I do on the road. Even though I miss my daughter like crazy, and I feel bad for being gone, I know how the road works and I'm very confused when I get home. I'm more awkward than I was before, which is really hard to imagine.
Does your daughter understand what's going on in terms of when you're going to be around and when you're not?
She just wished on a dandelion that I would never go on tour again. She knows what I do. She does hate when I'm gone, but she's gotten very good at it and I have a very supportive family. But when I'm home, I'm home. We've had the whole last ten days together -- spending lots of time together. That's a really nice tradeoff, I guess. Yeah, being a working parent is difficult in any way. One of the best things to teach your kid is how to work hard and hustle. Besides being a good person and humble and sympathetic, teach them how to work hard. Hopefully she's seeing that.
Poliça. With Sylvan Esso, Allan Kingdom, Carroll, Frankie Teardrop, and Tree Blood. The 2014 10 Thousand Sounds Festival, presented by Coldwell Banker Burnet, will be held between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, at the parking lot on Hawthorne Avenue between North 10th and 11th Streets in downtown Minneapolis.
Set Times: 4:10 p.m. Tree Blood 4:55 p.m. Frankie Teardrop 5:40 p.m. Carroll 6:30 p.m. Allan Kingdom 7:20 p.m. Sylvan Esso 8:35 p.m. Poliça
Tickets are $25 (general admission) / $45 (VIP). Available here. Note, VIP tickets will not be sold at the door, and GA tickets will be $30 at the door.
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