Poliça's Channy Leaneagh: You can't ignore north Minneapolis forever

Photo by Emily Utne

Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh is one of the Twin Cities' most iconic performers of the moment. Blessed with a voice that can encapsulate humanity's softness and jaggedness in a single stanza, she has come into her own over two albums of synth-fueled soul, and this year's EP, Raw Exit. Each song from the band -- featuring bassist Chris Bierden, drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, and producer Ryan Olson -- pulls untapped emotion to the surface to writhe and gasp for air. It's a live experience unparalleled anywhere.

Ahead of Saturday's headlining performance at City Pages' second annual 10 Thousand Sounds Fest, Leaneagh met with Gimme Noise for some iced beverages at Spyhouse. She traveled from the home she keeps with Olson in north Minneapolis to discuss Raw Exit, her punk influence, and views on censorship, which she experienced with last year's Shulamith cover.

See also:
Cover Story: 10 Thousand Sounds 2014 -- Behind the bands

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Gimme Noise: Over the many times I've seen you guys play, you often change your look and your hairstyle. Is that something that you're constantly thinking about as part of your performance?

Channy Leaneagh:
I think the problem is I don't think about it. If I were meticulous about it, I would have had the same look from the beginning and I'd have stylists with me to craft the brand because that's what successful people do. They have a look and they stick to it. I will start tour and have something that friends have made for me. It's nice clothes, hair will be styled, and about a week and a half in I'll say "fuck it" and just wear jeans on stage. I understand the value of fashion and make up, but when I get onstage and It's like a separation between me and the audience.

I can't believe that people can't enjoy music unless the female singer is like super hot or is like done up. So I'm battling with that in front of people on stage. Sometimes I'm dressing up sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I cut my hair on tour and I destroy a good haircut because I'm sort of a performance artist just daily. Kind of going back and forth between trying to figure out if I can play the game or if I want to fight the game, I guess. I'd rather buy musical gear than keep up with buying fancy shit all the time.

Speaking of music gear, have you invested in much lately? Is there anything you've added to your arsenal?

No so much on stage actually. A lot outside the stage. We're just working on new material and playing around with a lot of off the stage kind of stuff. It's kind of more in production, I guess.

What are you doing with your vocals at this point?

This summer I stopped processing the vocals on stage and Ryan does that now. It's more enjoyable for me and I think it's a better show when I'm performing and I'm not like this [demonstrates being behind a module] you know. That's what I enjoy the most about being on stage so, more performing and kind of carrying the feelings of the songs out to the crowd. Ryan's effects change every night. He'll add some tweak or something that's gonna increase the energy. We'll respond off each other and the drums do so too and the bass. There's the element of spontaneity onstage that wasn't there as much when I was doing the effects myself.

How did people respond to Marijuana Deathsquads opening for Poliça?

You know, we played a few churches. To bring Marijuana Deathsquads with the lord looking down on them with this very kind of satanic music definitely felt anti-establishment. In a marble-walled room where just the drums are going insane it made Poliça's show different. We're having Web of Sunsets come with us in October. Hoping Chris Rose will play with us a little bit. So that's going to be really interesting too.

What do you get from your experiences performing with Marijuana Deathsquads?

Even more so than Poliça, like really listening to everyone else and trying to blend in and really react. Trying to be selfless. I think that's what makes Marijuana Deathsquads feel so good. It feels like church to me. Everyone's facing inward and feeding off of each other and it's not about performing but yet, I mean it is, but it's not about the physical. Nobody is really staring at you.

Can you break down the Raw Exit EP material for me?

"Raw Exit" was actually I think one of the first songs we recorded after Give You the Ghost was completed. Then "Baby Blue." ["You Don't Own Me"] we played on tour a lot and then we wanted to record it. We wanted to put it out and we had these three other kind of lost children. So "Baby Blue" and "Great Regret" are all kind of outtakes. "Great Regret" feels sort of like a 1970s Foxy Brown theme song or something. They don't really fit necessarily with the record, but the do kind of topically.

I liked that the lyrical commentary of "You Don't Own Me" seemed to fit in the same world as a lot of things you're talking about in your own material.

It's really a great song. It's the first time we've ever had a song where people sing along that loudly and it means a lot of things to people way before I ever sang it. So that's really powerful. Men, women, children, animals -- everybody.

Before we started, you mentioned violent summers in Chicago and Minneapolis. Do you take a specific interest in violence in society?

I try to find the line between interested and kind of afraid. I actually have a history growing up. I lived on the west side of St. Paul for a while. I was around a lot of people in gangs on the west side. I was friends with and dating and living with people in gangs and that's very far removed from where I am now. Now as an older woman, my life is completely different. Now I am a touring musician. My life is like so far removed from what I did as a teenager.

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