Castlepalooza 2016: Poliça step up to the festival plate
Poliça Singer Channy Leaneagh says the band has found a new confidence on third album ‘United Crushers’
Channy Casselle of Poliça performs for Flood Fest at Cedar Street Courtyard at the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Brian Feinzimer/Getty Images
Channy Leaneagh never dreamed of fronting a band of any kind, so it still feels pretty strange each time she takes to the stage. “I’ve always sort of lacked artistic ambition in the sense of imagining myself as someone famous, or anything like that,” she admits.
“To this day, I don’t quite believe it. It’s not like I’m playing in arenas or anything, but it’s still very odd. I try to be grateful for it, even though it kind of . . . well . . . weirds me out.”
As the lead singer of Poliça, the Minneapolis synthpop/alt-rock outfit who have released three fine albums over the last five years, Leaneagh has been on more of a journey than most musicians. When we speak over Skype, she is bouncing baby Schwa on her knee, his gurgles and shrieks punctuating her thoughtful answers.
He plays a part in this story, too: the birth of her second child coincided with the writing and recording of Poliça’s third album, United Crushers, released in March. New life gave her a new perspective, she says.
“The first record was really focused on the break-up of my marriage, and the subject matter of that record was kind of shame,” she admits.
“The second record was really sort of a break-up record of being cheated on, and dealing with my wounds from that. The third record, I find myself a lot more settled; getting married, having another baby, and reflecting on the last two; not wanting to make the same mistakes, and wanting to be hopeful about love and about this world that I’m bringing this baby into, and raising my kids in. I was basically able to deal with the world outside of my own hurt.”
Early performances As a child, Leaneagh was more involved in theatre and arts than music. Her first forays into performing came as a busking violinist on Minneapolis street corners where she “learned her chops”, before she formed her first band Roma Di Luna – a folk duo – with her now ex-husband Alexei Casselle.
After they split, Leaneagh began working with producer Ryan Olson in a more electronic capacity – initially as part of Gayngs, the 20-plus strong collective of musicians that he led. Working with a different palette of sounds after being immersed in folk for so long opened up a world of possibilities, she says.
Pushing the limit
“I still remember when a girlfriend of Ryan’s gave me a copy of James Blake when I was in Roma Di Luna, and I was like ‘What’s this?’,” she recalls. “I was stuck in a different time period, so once I started working with Ryan on Gayngs and he introduced new beats for me to write to, I really enjoyed it.”
She and Olson – who is now her husband and Schwa’s father, as well as producer for Poliça – continued to work together under their new banner, bringing other musicians on board to fill out their new band’s sound. Each Poliça album has been tentatively more experimental, ambitious and confident, a fact that can he heard in Leaneagh’s vocals on United Crushers.
“On the first record, I’m literally almost mumbling the song . . . because I was so shy, and it was my first time working with this Ryan,” she admits. “On the second record, I’m a little bit more comfortable – and we were also in a studio rather than a bedroom. On this third record, I intentionally said that I wanted to get a good vocal sound, and maybe try to make my voice sound the way it does when we play live. There’s been a progression and experimentation with new studios and new spaces on each record that reflects and influences the sound.”
She says that a quote that she gave in a recent interview – about how she sees United Crushers as her “last chance” – is not necessarily a death knell for the band.
“That’s one thing that happens when you take a three-year break from interviews. I think it goes back to the feeling of me being surprised that I am where I am, and so always wanting to make something the best I can – but also not wanting to take for granted that it might be the last thing that I get to make. So yeah, that was the sentiment – putting out stuff that if it’s the last thing you get to make, it’s something you don’t regret.”
In any case, she is looking forward to playing Castlepalooza, she says, as Irish audiences have always been receptive to Poliça’s slow-burning, synthy, indie-crossover sound.
“I’m sure you get this a lot, but my family’s Irish,” she laughs. “But we’ve had some of our best shows in Ireland; there’s really wonderful crowds and wonderful people, it’s absolutely gorgeous there. And we’ve never played a castle before, so that’s a first.”
Leaneagh has been described as an “unlikely frontwoman” in the past – a backhanded compliment if ever there was one. Still, she says, the older she gets, the more comfortable she is about confounding expectations and scraping away the fluff and nonsense.
“I’m not a pop star; I’m not like the ‘other’ frontwomen in the world that are really popular, or more fashionable,” she shrugs. “There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the world, and a lot of very upsetting stuff – and if you’re not upset and talking about it and trying to engage in the world and finding ways you can be active, then you’re not paying attention.
“I don’t really consider myself a frontwoman, either – it’s not the deal in this band. It’s really a democratic, four-person thing, which is why I don’t stand in the middle. Everybody’s got a part to play. We’re anarchists in our music, even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
- Poliça play the Castlepalooza festival in Charleville Castle, Tullamore, on July 1st. United Crushers is out now