(Photo Credit: Ray Flotat)
Synth-heavy indie pop group Poliça just released their third full length album, United Crushers on Mom + Dad Records earlier this month. Last week, founding member and lead singer Channy Leaneagh took the time to allow mxdwn to pick her wondrous mind. She discussed topics like the new record’s biggest influences, art, motherhood and the state of the world.
mxdwn: The March 4th release United Crushers, is just around the corner and features themes such as justice, self-doubt, isolation and love. What does this album mean to you?
Channy: That’s a big question! Well, whenever I write a record, it tends to be pretty personal and it tends to be true that it’s a sort of snapshot of my life at the time. And, I would never compare myself to Adele, but I like how she names the records after her age and she’s like ‘hey, this is my 25 year old record and this is how I sounded like, this is the kind of music I want to make’ and that I think is true for a lot of people and it’s true for me, too. That being said, I did start this record wanting to make songs that started outside of myself. I wanted to take an intentional hand at writing songs outside myself that weren’t completely personal or a tell all, I wanted to look outside at the world around me a bit more. It was a record I wrote when I was pregnant, so I was just looking outside of myself a bit more and looking at the environment I’m bringing my kid into and for me it’s special because at this point we know each other really well and we play together on the road for like three years and we play together very much like a family. There’s a lot of love between us and passion for what we are doing and a lot more comfortability that made it a lot of fun to work on. It’s just like a fun labor of love.
mxdwn: The album cover features very powerful art of a pregnant woman covered in “blood” flowing from two missing fingers and surrounded by wedding-finger-less hands. Can you explain the artistic and conceptual idea behind it?
Channy: Yeah, in conversation between the [album’s cover] artist and myself. Talking about the lyrics…the artist was kind of like the first person that read the lyrics and so it’s kind of like sharing them with someone else for the first time and opening yourself up and explaining where you are coming from on the record and what are some of the ideas behind some of the songs. Starting with the colors…I think the colors evoke the sounds of the record and songs like mine happen to have a bit more of a neon sound or brighter and there’s this play in the record between the natural quality of my voice and the bass tones and then some of the, we use radio samples, and samples of like moving chairs and plastic bottles. So there is some natural elements and then there are also very electronic things. The neon and the bold colors, like the natural reds and greens, kind of like earth tones mixed with neon and those kind of contradictions even in the record that are kind of love songs that are criticizing love at the same time and songs that are hopeless and hopeful at the same time.
And then you have the hand with the ring finger cut off and that’s kind of alluding to some of the questions about love and mischief and marriage. And then obviously because I was pregnant writing the record, the image on the front is me and then the poppies is in reference to when people ask us about our sound and the kind of music we are making and that kind of idea of an opium zen or something that makes you feel, in general, a little bit darker and moodier-it’s kind of a sweet sort of mellow and dreamlike.
mxdwn: I can definitely hear that in the sound! And art is obviously a very important aspect of your life. I know that you’ve attended art school in the past and the album is named after Minneapolis graffiti artists the United Crushers. What is the correlation between the album and the artists?
Channy: I like naming my music after people I think should be getting attention. Like Shulamith Firestone and the Crushers. People who live the walk not the talk and make art that looks good and that also has a message. People that live against the system and don’t look for fame and aren’t frivolous and there are songs on the record that talk about that like “Melting Block” and “Lime Habit” too I guess, but rejecting the expected norms and living life the way you want to and writing your own story and your own path. Being in a community of people that unite together to make a bunch of stuff and encouraging people in the community and Minneapolis is a city that’s really like that. I feel like everybody is kind of cheering each other on to make the best stuff and make stuff that means something and make enough with this record.
It was split through a lot of people even on its way to the studio Eric on the artwork and all the guys in the band, just making something that we care about. And the idea of the United Crushers – to crush back against things that are oppressing you whether that’s in love, fighting against society’s ills and just trying to make things better and trying to make yourself better and trying make each other better and trying to make the world better.
mxdwn: Much like the bold impressions graffiti often makes on the society that influenced it, your album addresses the teaming social and political issues plaguing our everyday lives. How and when did you decide that this album was to be that album for you?
Channy: I think I did not set out to with the intention to do so. [pause] yeah, I don’t really ever do that, but I write based on the beats and the tracks that Ryan gives me, but I also really write based on what’s going on in my life and what’s going on around me. I started music as a folk singer, singing lots of Wayne Jetski covers and Carter family and I was inspired and grew up listening to artists like Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and people that sing tons of love songs but also sing songs like “Mississippi Goddamn” or “Hurricane.” Like Bob Dylan was pretty adamant about saying he wasn’t a political singer or songwriter, he wasn’t an activist, but he wrote songs that reflected the world around him and I think it’s pretty impossible to not to engage with what’s going on around you and with the world.
So, we write lots of different types of songs and I’m just always gonna write about stuff… you know, I’ve written songs about Pine Ridge Reservation and American Indians and the A movement and I think that I don’t write every song about it, but I’m somebody watching the news, watching Bernie Sanders and I’m involved in politics and involved with issues are important to me that I talk about to all my friends all the time. Songwriting is often a creative escape and outlet, but it’s going to include stuff about me personally and stuff that I am talking about politically and I don’t separate those things from myself.
mxdwn: What was the writing and production process like?
Channy: It started with me and Ryan and then we practiced as a band this time and rehearsed for about a month and then we toured the songs down to Texas where we recorded the record. This time, instead of recording the songs before we played them all live, we wanted to be really familiar with them and hear how a crowd reacts to certain things and hear them all live before we actually put them down onto tape. And instead of going for that first instinct that you get on a recording when you just press record and everybody tries stuff out, we wanted to try knowing the songs really intimately before we recorded them. That’s one thing that was a little different. Yeah, we were down in a little town outside of El Paso for about 10 days, playing around and that’s how the record was made.
mxdwn: Off the album, the song that really stood out to me was the second single, “Wedding.” It’s a sort of discourse on the heinous police brutality that has somewhat presently become a societal “norm” and is paired with a music video, Sesame Street-esque lesson / warning to children. As both an individual and a mother, what concerns / fears about the state of the world were the mindset for this album?
Channy: The first track, “Waking Up,” is about waking up in summer and all the kids are outside, you’re hearing kids left to their own devices fighting with each other and you see all the kids of the neighborhood going to get free lunch at the park and it’s kind of like talking to them and hearing about the things they are learning at school. The education system is pretty shitty- it feels like kids don’t have much of a fighting chance. And how you can raise a kid and teach them to have dreams and be hopeful when you are not sure there will be opportunities available for them when they’re adults.
It doesn’t work, necessarily, just to say ‘you have to work really hard and be a good person.’ Some of the fears I have are a fear of Donald Trump becoming President, of craft warfare, racism and kind of getting the better hand. With Obama we’ve had a lot of measures in the right direction like gay marriage made legal, changing laws on incarceration so that people with non-violent levels of charges are getting off which benefits mostly non-white communities who have been oppressed most by this really bad justice system that incarcerates people for non-violent crimes for way too long and made things better in some aspects and started this movement of maybe things getting better. But now, I’m feeling like that’s bringing out the bigots and racists and fear mongering out of the wood work and creating a world that I feel we are with other countries with the reform missions and the damage we’ve done in the Middle East. And I’m thinking about a world where my kids are raised and we’ve done so much damage in the Middle East where I think that maybe is it possible to fix the mess we caused?
And I want to raise kids, that even though I’m not raising a boy with dark skin, that I teach my kids to look out for how big of a problem cops killing black boys and black men that I have raised them around and teach them how to fight for people that are oppressed and to not be apathetic. I think that people kind of grow overwhelmed with the amount of news and information that they get and people get a little apathetic. Like you hear about mass shootings constantly now and yet we don’t change our gun laws. It seems like a fear of nothing changing, kind of like insanity in our society of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but nothings ever changing. There’s a lot of violence in a more conservative culture. It seems like a more conservative culture sort of that’s less accepting and full of bigotry, but also more violent…a transition of our country.
mxdwn: When I was listening to your album, I got the idea that, now we obviously have some insane stuff going on in our world that needs to be changed and your album to me seemed hopeful and that there was hope for improving the present and living a better future. With that said, how do you hope your fans perceive the album and how do you hope it inspires them to either make a change or live their best lives?
Channy: You always hope that when you make a record that it just makes people feel good and that it makes them think and engages them and that the songs become their songs. Once you release it, it’s kind of not yours anymore and I just hope it goes in good hands and that it means something to them because it means something to me. So, I hope that it passes on passion, and it passes on engagement, and it passes on ideas.
mxdwn: You’ve recently performed two album preview shows- one on February 19th at Rough Trade in Brooklyn and the other on February 22 at Schubas in Chicago! How was that?
Channy: Good! Yeah, we played in London, Berlin and Paris before we played it in New York and Chicago, but good, it went well! It was fun and the crowd was good!
mxdwn: And you’re about to begin your Spring US Tour on March 2rd in Minnesota, perform at SXSW on March 17th and then continue onto an Autumn European tour for the last several months of the year. What are you most looking forward to in your travels and performances? What can fans expect?
Channy: Houston is always really fun! Atlanta, I’m look forward to Atlanta, I love going to Atlanta and the crowds were really fun and engaging. I’m traveling with a kid, an infant, so that kinda takes up my mindset on the world. It’s just like if he’s had a good day, it’s been a good day. But in general, I’m looking forward to just working. I’ve been off for about a year ago or so, so I’m just excited to be singing again, it’s fun! We’re having fun playing… as simple as that is. I just want to play shows!