Article by: Angela Suico | Photos courtesy of POLIÇA | Posted: 05/07/2012
The Minneapolis-based group POLIÇA is akin to one of those child prodigies who graduate from college at age sixteen: in only six months the band has achieved what takes years for some groups to accomplish, releasing their album Give You the Ghost almost two months early due to demand, playing sold-out shows as openers for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, being acknowledged by artists like Jay Z and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and performing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. And 2012 isn’t half-way over yet, so POLIÇA’s star will likely rise even higher in the upcoming months.
POLIÇA, a Polish word meaning “policy,” began as a collaboration between producer Ryan Olson and Channy Leaneagh, both of whom were already active in the Minneapolis music scene before coming together. Olson was behind the production of artists like Gayngs, an R&B collective to whose album Leaneagh contributed vocals in 2010, while Leaneagh was once the lead singer of the folk-rock band Roma di Luna. When asked how their previous musical experience applied to POLIÇA, Leaneagh says via e-mail that Olson brings more than ten years’ worth of producing to the table, asserting “it’s pretty sweet watching him work.” As for herself, she says POLIÇA has been a departure from her previous songwriting ventures, since her writing for the group has been “more stream-of-conscious than any other songwriting I’ve done.”
Lyrics like “fist on the floor pay me honey/teeth on the rope give me something/look me money” indeed hint at intense introspection, presumably brought about by Leaneagh’s divorce from her husband, which occurred near the time the band was formed. Other lyrics are more overt expressions of turmoil: “And I've kissed the moon/it was full when I fell in love with thee/but now the world turns without me,” Leaneagh sings in “Wandering Star.”
Laying Leaneagh’s lovelorn lyrics and auto-tuned vocals over Olson’s electronic beats, the two produced an R&B album in which drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu provide heavy percussive counterpoints to Leaneaghs’ destabilized, reverberating voice, with Chris Bierden’s subtle bass woven in between. The band’s distinct style de-familiarizes the familiar, exploring the uncharted territories of music, both in choice of name—Leanagh explains that “we wanted a name for the band that wouldn't have too many/any previous associations”—and in sound: Leaneagh’s electronic approach to singing and the difficulty in decoding her words give the group a surreal, ethereal quality (which Leanagh recreates in live performances using effects pedals). But Leaneagh says their sound isn’t the only way she accesses the otherworldly—for her, songwriting is also an entry to other realms. “Songwriting has always been cathartic for me both personally and empathetically,” says Leaneagh. “I am able to escape into another state of being when I perform and this band’s music adds to the otherworldly quality of that escape.”
Because of the band’s extraterrestrial connotations, it’s easy when watching POLIÇA’s video for “As I Lay Dying,” which depicts the delicately-featured Leaneagh swaying sensuously to and fro in a gossamer sleeveless dress, to imagine the singer as an elusive fairy with a siren’s voice. That voice has helped to attract some big-name sailors: Jay-Z featured “As I Lay Dying” on his blog, while Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has called POLIÇA “one of the best bands [he’s] ever heard.”
Besides captivating audiences with her unique vocal performance, Leanagh has also proven her chameleon-like ability to shift from one genre to the next, transforming herself from a folk-rock darling to an auto-tuned fairy, siren, or whatever mythical creature one might choose to compare Leanagh to. The singer’s admission that she has no one specific set of influences reflects her flexibility. “I really don't know how to tell who I am influenced by,” says Leanagh, “but more than anyone else I bet I am influenced by the people I am collaborating with at the time.”
But in spite of POLIÇA’s unearthliness, with its unique music and skyrocketing prominence in the music world, Leanagh has her feet planted firmly on the ground. When asked of her future plans besides touring, she enigmatically answers she will be “trying to find a safe place to hide my daughter when the shit hits the fan”—a decidedly earthly concern.
POLIÇA - "Amongster"