When the Minneapolis-based indie rock quartet took to the stage at South By Southwest (SXSW) last year, they were an obscure band that everyone knew about. All thanks to Bon Iver’s frontman, Justin Vernon, giving them a mention a month prior on Rolling Stone after his Grammy win – the best band he has ever heard of, no less.
Polica’s waifish frontwoman Channy Leaneagh wants you to take that with a pinch of salt. She feels that her 1.5-year-old band is lagging behind in terms of popularity – though she’s being modest. Polica’s debut album, ‘Give You The Ghost’ has received global acclaim for the way it fuses folk, R&B, zero guitarist, one bassist, two drummers and some vocal effects.
The Telegraph hailed Polica’s music as the sound of the future, although much of Leaneagh’s lyrical motivations stemmed from heartbreaks from the past –particularly after her divorce. I caught up with songstress ahead of her band’s highly-anticipated appearance at Laneway Singapore, and scraped deeper into the marrow of her songs.
After performing at SXSW last year, a healthy number of media outlets called you guys, in more ways than one, the band of the festival. Has that sunk in yet?
Not at all. When you’re just focusing on your music and getting up there to perform, it’s hard to know what to expect. I was really surprised at the reaction.
Do you feel that your position in the music circuit is clearer now?
The music industry is a really strange place. Although we were buzzed out and about we have a considerably small following. If you compare us to other acts, Polica is not a common name. Unlike people like (Canadian electronic musician) Grimes, we’re still under the radar. I don’t know if I prefer it that way. I just want to keep on making music and I’m thankful that our growth is slow and steady.
Well, on Rolling Stone, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver attests that you guys are the best band he has ever heard.
We took it with a grain of salt. He said that a month before we played SXSW. I guess a lot of people heard of us from his recommendation.
Polica ‘Dark Star’
You and Justin were also formerly from soft-rock supergroup, Gayngs. How was it like working with him?
Ryan Olson who founded Gayngs (and Polica) got different musicians to record their pieces in his bedroom. We all had a go, and that was where I met Justin. He’s such a nice guy.
In terms of musicality, what did you take away from being in Gayngs?
I’ve learned so much about working in-sync with other musicians and coming from different aspects of creativity to empower a whole performance. We toured for quite a bit. I was a backup singer for the band and observed how they prepared their performances on a national scale. I also learned how to use vocal effects which is employed in most of Polica’s tracks.
Talking about tracks, your debut album, ‘Give You The Ghost’ was rated highly. NME labeled it as “a beautifully poignant record”, Pitchfork said that“inaugural results are exciting”, and BBC called it a “stunning debut.”
I would like to believe that all the tracks came about organically. These were songs that just hung out there, reacting to each other, and we didn’t plan on how it should sound. It all depends on which school of singing you came from. I came from folk and wrote traditional American songs, but I’ve been listening to lots of R&B and electronica.
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The Guardian mentioned that your album revealed shades of Portishead's 90s eeriness while the Telegraph went one up and said that the band is the sound of the future.
It’s really important to not think too much and just be in the moment with the music. We don’t have a big plan that aims to merge the past and future in any way. My focus has always been to make good songs for people, and I don’t want to think too much about it.
Before Polica, you were in a band called Roma Di Luna. The latter’s 2010 album ‘Then The Morning Came’ is filled with songs about parenthood. With ‘Give You The Ghost’, heartbreak is written all over it. What happened in between?
It’s the same for both albums. It’s about heartache. The thing with folk music is that there’s never a biographical approach to it. The words are influenced by tragic stories and presented metaphorically whether they are politically correct or not. Although they might sound sunny and happy, folk music is usually steeped in misery.
Polica ‘Lay Your Cards Out’
You separated with your husband Alexei Casselle, who was a member of Roma Di Luna and the father of your child. Much of your raw emotions were translated through ‘Give You The Ghost’.
It was a really tough time.
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Is that why the album was titled as such?
When you finish writing a group of songs, people may go, “Oh my gosh! She’s sharing all these intimate details!” When I finish a song, it’s not about me anymore; I’ve shed the skin of that particular time. When you break up with someone, all they are left with is a ghost of who you were. Nothing but a memory. You’d probably change, but they’ll have that memory. We can only hope that it’s not all that bad.
All you needed was a creative release wasn’t it? An escape…
Yes. Anytime someone sings out an emotion, it has been proven to be more effective than antidepressant. It’s therapeutic.
How do you feel when you go on stage?
There’s a really strange feeling that never goes away. It’s kind of like an aggression on my part, like a monkey in a cage because everyone’s looking at you.
The Singapore edition of Laneway will kick start ahead of Australia’s. What might the set-list look like?
Probably almost everything on the album. Maybe some new materials. I’m recording vocals tomorrow. We’ll see.