Poliça: TAS In Session
When autotune is abused — and yes, Ke$ha, we're looking at you — it's painful. But in the right hands, as aptly demonstrated by Bon Iver or Poliça, the audio processing technique can be downright beautiful.
Singer Channy Leaneagh and her longtime Gayngs cohort and producer Ryan Olson have created a mesmerizing digitized soundscape on Poliça's restless debut album, Give You The Ghost, utlizing autotune with sensuality and tenderness. Although Leaneaugh, a former member of the Minneapolis folk-pop outfit Roma di Luna, still leans heavily on Olson's songwriting, her delicately determined vocals exude confident ownership of tracks like "Violent Games" or the brassy "Dark Star."
Poliça kick off a fresh set of North American dates this week, including a stop this weekend, August 5, at Chicago's Lollapalooza festival. The band won't make its way back to New York until the fall, playing Webster Hall on October 6.
Not long ago, Channy and her bandmates — drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and bassist Chris Bierden — visited The Alternate Side and WFUV's Studio A for an exhilarating session, playing a set from Give You The Ghost. Read the interview highlights and watch the videos below; listen to the full session, airing on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 3, at 11 a.m. EDT, streaming on The Alternate Side:
Alisa Ali: You have two drummers here. What was the thinking behind two drummers?
Channy Leaneagh: The thinking was to not necessarily have a louder sound, but to have a variation of sound and texture. They go back and forth on this roll, but you have something that’s holding down the groove, establishing the foundation of the beats. The embellisher is the second drummer, adding fills, textures and things like that.
Alisa: Which [drummer] is the embellisher?
Channy: Well, it does switch back and forth but it mostly goes to Ben [Ivascu]. Ben is also a sort of “wall of sound.” They’re both very versatile and good at what they do!
Alisa: This band kind of came together after you put the record together?
Channy: Yes, me and the producer [Ryan Olson] had finished the songs. I thought they were pretty much done, but he really started to see a larger picture of a live show that would be interesting and exciting to watch. Filling out the sound and making it something that moved further than just a female vocalist and electronic beats. It fit with the community of Minneapolis, where we come from, and the people we work with. We really didn’t know [what the songs] would sound like when we started or if they were going to work. But when the songs came together, we thought that this needed something else: two drummers and a bass player.
Alisa: Did you know these guys before?
Channy: I knew who they were! I’d seen them around. I probably knew Drew the longest, but I’m pretty quiet and don’t really talk to people. I knew who they were but had never talked to them before.
Alisa: So now that you’re taking this album on tour, are you becoming more of a people person these days?
Channy: I think that I really talk to people after the show and have a good time but after I leave the show I go completely into wall mode. I build a huge wall around myself and hide until I wake up in the morning. Hey, it’s part of the job. I’m not necessarily the friendliest person at night.
Alisa: Whew, glad we’re not doing this at night!
Channy: Oh, I’d be friendly to you, of course!
Alisa: That is a relief!
Alisa: Give You The Ghost is such a cool record. I saw you at SXSW and I kept catching your show. I saw you play, like, five times.
Channy: We played a lot. Ten times.
Alisa: So I saw 50 percent of your shows!
Channy: Yeah! Thanks for checking it out!
Alisa: You used to be in a band called Roma di Luna. Very, very different sound. Huge departure. How would you describe Roma de Luna?
Channy: It’s sort of a busking duo with a backing band. It was rooted in Americana and blues and sometimes heavier on the blues.
Alisa: Now you’ve got this trippy, goth, hip hop thing going on. How did your fans of your previous work feel about the new stuff?
Channy: Minneapolis has been very supportive and I think they’ve been very good to us, this new band Poliça. They were very good to Roma di Luna. I think, for me as an artist, if you trust yourself and you’re confident about the music, you can lovingly lead people on to the next new thing. There’s certainly plenty of other Americana bands in Minneapolis; it’s not like I left them with a hole in that area. I just love to sing. I think if you, as a performer and artist, happy, they can tell.
Alisa: Your voice comes through really well on this new project, but you also have a lot of autotune and other effects. When did you decide to add that specific thing?
Channy: I was writing and working on this in between Gayngs, a band that I was a backup singer for. I used the same processor with them. So when Ryan Olsen and I were writing these songs, I didn’t even think about it. I just turned it on because that’s what I was using. It’s almost not even worth talking about because so many people use vocal processors. I certainly don’t want to be a champion for it. I think, because it started out as an experiment, it wasn’t a statement. Now I see it as a really good way for me to separate myself from Roma de Luna and say that this isn’t a continuation; it’s a separate project. It’s a good way for me to marry my mind and my vision along with the electronics. Not continue habits that I had created in singing folk and blues; venture off into a different mindset.
Alisa: Vocal effects are certainly not a new thing but I think the way you’re using it is different because it can be over and underused and really blown out of proportion.
Channy: Sure, sure. It was funny. We went to a show the other day and the sound guy was like, “I hate those things!” I teared up a little bit … it’s sort of like my child. I was like, “You hate it? Why do you even want me here?” (laughs)
Alisa: It is like your instrument now. You use it in so many ways.
Channy: It definitely is. I even got my bass player using one. I’m proselytizing to everyone in the band, “You’ve got to use these, they will change your life.”
Alisa: When you’re composing songs, do you compose on a guitar? Do you get melodies in your head?
Channy: With this band, the reason I started writing this kind of music and why I came to Ryan Olson is that I was writing at night after my daughter — I had a baby three years ago — went to bed. I didn’t want to be loud so I’d be on a computer singing into it and copying these melodies. You know, small apartment living. I’ve gotten more used to just recording melodies and not using a guitar or piano. I usually walk and write. That’s my favorite place to write. To go on walks and sing until I can get it down on a piece of paper.
Alisa: Do you sing to your daughter?
Channy: I do. Now she’s like, “No Mommy, this is how it goes.” She wants to be the one singing. She likes: “Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do!” She has a valentine book that’s all about “heart” lovesongs to do with Mickey Mouse and friends.
Alisa: Would you encourage her to be a musician?
Channy: Yeah, sure. As long as I have enough money to support her. I would encourage her to be a nurse or doctor. Something that helps people and makes money (laughs).
Alisa: Totally dumping your own profession!
Channy: Don’t get me started on that right now.
Alisa: You already have some new songs for your next record. You’ve already started writing?
Channy: Well, yeah. There’s still a lot of people who haven’t heard these songs yet off of Give You The Ghost and we want to give those some time, but for us as musicians, the producer likes to keep it going — and I do too. It’s good for a writer, for me, to keep on writing. Especially on the road to have things to write to and work to and have things to look forward to so you have a break as an artist from just performing. You can also have creation time with your band, so we do. We play those [new songs] live, about four songs. We’re trying new stuff at soundcheck. I think most bands do; it’s healthy to keep it fresh.
Alisa: With the next record, Ryan Olson, who was the producer from Gayngs and you’re friends, he put down the beats for this record. Is he going to do that for the next record?
Channy: Yep. He and I really started this band together. The difference is that the next record, the next batch of recordings, is more organic. The first record were things that he already made. Now, it’s making things from scratch and working together a little bit more. There’s a few songs where I lay down keyboard parts and he built this really beautiful song out of it. Instead of the band coming in after the songs were made, they’re a part of the beginning process and forming the songs in whole. It’s a lot more of a community project.
Alisa: I heard that you used to play violin.
Channy: I did. There’s two songs, “Amongster” and “Wandering Star” that have me playing violin on them. I suck at the violin. It’s so embarrassing. It’s good to do things that we’re not good at for sure — I’m not saying that everything I do I have to be the best at — but it’s not enjoyable to me to play it. Maybe someday it will be. I really want to join a community orchestra when I’m a little bit older; I love playing classical music. I don’t like incorporating violin into non-classical music.
Alisa: So you’d like to play violin in a classical orchestra?
Channey: Yeah, I did that as a kid and in college. That’s my experience with the violin; chamber orchestra, classical settings and I prefer that the violin stay there. For me. I like the sound of it in that arena better.