New Music To Know: Poliça On Being a De Facto Feminist & New Album ‘Shulamith’

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Jeremy D. Larson
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(Provided by Polica)

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I first saw Poliça in 2011 in Chicago. Two drummers crammed to the back of the small stage while singer Channy Leaneagh swayed up at the front. Listen to their 2012 debut album Give You The Ghost and there’s a calmness to it, of soothing synth pop and R&B coming out of Minneapolis, MN where the band hails from. But live, it turns into something far more physical, especially with two drummers playing their drum kits right next to each other. Few acts inspire you to move and feel quite like Poliça do.

With their latest album Shulamith, the band continues to grow into their own singular sound, something like Portishead plus Cocteau Twins, or Sade plus Beach House. spoke with Leaneagh while she was in New York, touring with a band called, wait for it, Marijuana Deathsquads. You’re on tour right now and have a radically different band, Marijuana Deathsquads opening for you. What’s the energy like in the crowd after they perform?

Channy Leaneagh: We like playing shows with Marijuana Deathsquads because they come from the same person, the same place. To us as much as we have differences, we have a lot of similarities. And we share drummers, too. We come from the same producers, and from a lot of similar places — we come from a similar darkness. I don’t know how it works for the crowd. I guess it’s important to bring a show that you would want to see, that’s why we’re doing it.

The whole community of musicians that dovetail into other bands between Gayngs, and Marijuana Death Squads, and Bon Iver and The Rosebuds — does it seem to be better as opposed to curating a sound that comes from a community or as opposed to creating a specific genre?

Yeah, that’s more exciting for us, for sure. We’re very community based. In a lot of ways we have like each others music, so it seems to us that our music all sounds similar. But yeah, I guess.

When you started Poliça, did you have a specific image in mind that you wanted to accomplish with the band?

Not really. I can barely remember that time. Really there was not a lot of thought to it. I wanted to do something without much thought, just make something. There wasn’t a plan of how I wanted to make it.

So was it just an impulse?

I didn’t know what I want — it just started to make sense as we went a long. I just wanted to make music with somebody. Once we found what the basis of the sound was then knew what I wanted to sound like. You don’t want to know what to sound like, you want to be open to what it can sound like and just play.

With your new album, Shulamith, did you write it specifically about the author Shulamith Firestone?

Nope, I did not write it about her. The name comes from her, but the record is not written about her. I read her book, and inspired her, but it’s not based on her. I just named the record after her.

So it’s not about feminism?

I mean, I consider myself a feminist because I’m a woman, but I couldn’t tell you five feminist writers. I’m very ignorant about feminism except for the plain fact that I’m a women, I guess. I just read her book after I finished the record, and I thought, “This is the best women in the world” and named my record after her because it’s about women because I wrote it.

What inspired you about her book and made you think she was the “best women in the world”?

She’s an incredible thinker. She has amazing things to say about relationships, men and women, not even sexually but just the way men and women interact with each other. There are things that everybody knows that become more and more refined into doing the opposite of what is true and what is real. I don’t believe in everything she said, but a lot of things about childbirth, a lot of things about being a mother, a lot of things about mental illness…. talk about building a community, that’s the kind of woman that was a forward thinker and had a huge influence on the feminist movement and women in the ’60s and just ended up kind of dying alone without fame or fortune. I guess those are the types of communities that I want to build, with people who are thinking and being and acting, but aren’t seeking fame.

Is the idea that you want to build this community in the way of making music or what you want people to take away from your music.

It’s kind of how we make music, how we do business, how we work with people. Also, it makes more sense because a lot of the lyrical content, when I read her book, it filled in the blanks for all the questions I have. When you’re writing a record, it’s good to remember that I don’t want to talk about it that much. Because at the end of the day, if someone named their painting, like, “Friedrich,” all people would want to talk about is the name. “Why the f*** did you name your painting ‘Friedrich’” and it’s like ‘It’s just a f***ing name, lets’ talk about the music.’ I made this record more than anyone else for myself, then after that the band. But it’s a selfish process, and it’s a selfish name. And there’s a lot of significance, for me, for all the things that it could possibly mean. But at the end of the day, this is the name of the woman that is this record.

But all the things that I wrote, the lyrics for the record, and then reading this book and being like, ‘Wow this woman said it better than I did.’ But I tried to get at some things, [some of] her points, and then she just f***ing nailed it in one paragraph. She should have made a record, that would have been great.

Was this a difficult record for you to write?

No, it was overall enjoyable. It was maybe only difficult because I was gone all the time, but I loved working on it when I was at home. I wish I were writing another one right now.

What is your ideal writing environment?

I think my favorite time for writing the last two records, the kind of ideal is when it’s an active writing session…Walking around town, writing things in my head.

Is there a specific song on this album that was difficult for you to articulate? You mentioned that Firestone helped clarify some things for you. 

No, not at all. It’s more like, [Firestone] is smarter than me. I had plenty of things to say, but she knew better than I did. When I write songs, I’m trying to unravel something, or I’m questioning things. I write to explore an idea, so her writing better explained what I was thinking about.

When I listen to this record, the idea of independence comes up a lot, especially with regards to traditional relationships. 

I’m still figuring it out. Generally I want to say I don’t believe in them, even though they can be really wonderful, and that’s part of life. I don’t think traditional relationship — I don’t know. I’m not a f***ing expert about it, I guess.

If you could change anything about this record, what would you change?

I have to listen to it more… I would probably take off “Tripping.”

Why’s that?

It’s too depressed, or that’s not the correct version of it, I don’t know it just doesn’t feel right. I just listened to it the other day and thought that. It’s a very different song. But in general, I kind of let things go and move on to the next one.

When I see you guys play, because of the two drummers, they have such a body and rhythmic experience live. Is that something you think about when you make the record, that these songs are going to have a little more muscle live?

Yes, I think that. We go into making the songs thinking about how they’re going to sound live, and not try to do the same thing on the record.

Where does that come from? 

It doesn’t sound that much different, just a different energy level. One thing to note, is that most people don’t pay for the record, but they do pay for the live show, so I’ll give you a better live show.

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