Take two ex-Gayngs members, a healthy helping of programmed beats and some atmospheric, auto-tuned vocals and what do you get? Poliça, AKA Justin Vernon’s favourite band. Thanks to the haunting, R&B-influenced electronica on Give You The Ghost, this Minneapolis-based quartet are one of our favourite new bands too.
We spoke to lead singer Channy Leanagh to find out about the band’s experiences at SXSW, the story behind their debut and how they’re coping with the media attention so far. Read the interview below.
Hi Channy, where are you right now?
I’m on the road an hour outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where we’re playing tonight.
So when did you first start making music? And if you hadn’t been a musician what do you think you’d have done instead?
I first started making music around age 8, as a violin student. I loved making up songs on the violin and writing out notes on notation paper. I wrote my first song with lyrics when I was 25. I never wanted to become a musician; it just happened and I’m still trying to figure it all out but it is something I love to do and it brings me a lot of joy when I sing. If I wasn’t a musician I would go back to teaching pre-school and violin, most likely.
I was/am a huge fan of Ryan’s work in Marijuana Deathsquads. I like his ear and the way he interacts with musical language. The original outlook I had for me and Ryan collaborating together was simply to see what happened. It was an experiment and we liked the result. I’m not sure about being a front woman so I try my best to deny it until I’m onstage!
Can you tell us a little about the writing and recording process and the lyrical themes on the Give You The Ghost please?
The record captures my experience of hearing Ryan's tracks for the first time and my response to them. It is in the subconscious and breathes out a mood and a state of mind, more than a polished and refined thought. That is the case for the rhythm section too. And the lyrics are an emotional response to Ryan’s beats under the influence of my life experiences and the community around me.
What were your main musical reference points when writing the album?
My main reference point was those beats; I studied them like I was learning a foreign language and I didn’t listen to much of anything else... Sometimes Ryan and I would take a break from writing and he'd play me music he was listening to at the time. I suppose I was studying him in a lot of ways and wrote those songs for his beats.
Speaking of which, the beats on the album sound amazing through headphones! What would you say is the optimum way to listen to Give You The Ghost?
Live performance is the best way to listen to Poliça.
Is there a track on the album you’re most proud of?
‘Dark Star’ is interesting because it was the beat I toiled over the longest. When Ryan and I first met up and picked 12 beats for me to write to and lay down quick, rough vocal takes for, that was the one that I didn’t lay down an initial vocal melody for. I almost tossed it out ‘cause I couldn't find the right groove to play on or the right melody to fill the beat; but it came one day as I was playing with my daughter and those sorts of surprises are the most rewarding.
One of the most striking things about the record is the use of auto-tune. What was behind the decision to use it?
I think because the attitude going into this was so removed from a specific goal. There was never a conversation about not using auto-tune: it was just something I wanted to try and experiment with. It was a good way for me, as a singer, to change my relationship with my voice and to bring my mind into the mood of the beats.
You worked with Mike Noyce of Bon Iver on a few of the tracks; how did that come about? Is there anyone else you’d particularly like to collaborate with in the future?
I worked with Noyce in Gayngs and Ryan wanted him on the record and I was happy to have him. I wasn’t around when he added vocals, as is usually the case with those sort of things. I just like to write songs and would love to write to lots of different types of beats with lots of different producers/beat makers. I am excited about collaborations of all kinds.
How was SXSW this year? And did you have time to check out any of the other bands?
SXSW went well for us. My favourite show was at the Filter Fort with Gardens & Villa: it was awesome to play to a great crowd for our last show, play with a band I really admire and know we had completed all our tasks for the week. I saw Spank Rock and that was about it.
Justin Vernon described Poliça as “the best band I’ve ever heard”. Have you noticed any extra media attention since his comments?
Yes, it has garnered some media attention, for sure, and we really appreciated his kind words!
What are your plans for the rest of 2012? Will we be seeing you over in the UK, and will you be playing any festivals?
We are planning on a lot of touring and a bit of recording time. We will be over in Europe this summer and will most definitely hit the UK! We’re very excited about that as most of the band has never been to Europe at all, let alone performed there.
Finally, can you sum up your sound in one sentence and tell us the best thing about being in Poliça please?
Percussive, alien, slow jams. And the best thing about being in Poliça is getting to sing. Singing is the best drug around.