Q&A: Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh on touring with New Order and “Music for Pieces of Wood”

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Poliça, Polica, Channy Leaneagh, United Crushers

Photo: Paige K. Parsons

BERKELEY — Earlier this year, Minneapolis electronic pop band Poliça celebrated its fifth anniversary with a show at the city’s venerable First Avenue concert hall. Last week, vocalist-songwriter Channy Leaneagh, bassist Chris Bierden and drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson began an amphitheater tour opening for New Order, who know a thing or two about staying together while keeping the creative juices going.

Poliça also released a 7-inch record for Record Store Day on Saturday, featuring two unique songs with collaborations with rapper Spank Rock and producer Boys Noize.

But Leaneagh and her bandmates aren’t done. This summer and fall, the band is releasing a single and then an EP—a collaboration with Stargaze, which is a string ensemble that most recently worked with The National’s Dessner brothers. After that, the group will begin writing and recording a follow-up to 2016’s United Crushers.

The New Order tour stopped by The Hearst Greek Amphitheatre Friday, and after Poliça’s brisk, lively opening set, the band had to quickly pack up its gear and drive the mile across town to new venue The Cornerstone, where it was to perform a late electronic show. That’s where RIFF caught up with Leaneagh to talk about what the future holds for Poliça.

What’s it like being on the road with New Order? Do you have much day-to-day interaction with those guys?

Channy Leaneagh: They have been touring for over 20 years, I think almost 30 years. They all are nice, accommodating and very gracious to us. They are a pleasure to play shows with. It doesn’t seem like they are at all jaded, strung out or rude. They are all humble people. I’m really inspired by that; by their ability to put on a really great show.

You’ve been a band for five years yourselves, now. Your debut album, Give You the Ghost, was released on February 2012. Does time add additional pressure for a creative person like you? Do you have an itch to try new things?

Tonight we are playing an all-electronic set, so no live drums. And we all have our own projects we play in, and that helps keep it fresh. We bring that back to Poliça.

Tell me the story behind the 7-inch coming out for Record Store Day: “Still Counts” and “Lipstick Stains.” The two songs are sonically opposites from each other. The first is super-aggressive, while the “Lipstick Stains” is much gentler and minimalist.

The two interconnect. Boys Noize is a friend and he … is a friend of Spank Rock’s. We have admired both of those artists. We’ve become friends, meeting Naeem [Juwan]—Spank Rock—and Boys Noize. We’re all kind of connected by a community. We know and really respect their music. [“Still Counts”] was made by jamming in Minneapolis, mostly. We were just playing around, trying to make something with Spank Rock. “Lipstick Stains” was made in L.A. in a night, after a show when I played at the Roxy. Boys Noize happened to be working here on his [current] record and asked if I wanted to come and jam stuff out. It was the first time we had met.

In the video, you perform a choreographed dance with another woman. Who is she and what does the video represent?

Her name is Nkechi Njaka, and she’s a choreographer, and she’s actually a neuroscientist, too, and has studied how movement affects the brain. In the simplest terms, [the video] is movement created for and inspired by the feelings of the song.

What will the band be up to next? Have you started writing songs for another album or are you taking it one day at a time?

We’re releasing some other material this summer. It’s a project called “Music for the Long Emergency.” It’s a collaboration between Poliça and an ensemble from Berlin [and] Amsterdam, called Stargaze. It’s a string ensemble, so, modern classical compositions. We collaborated on a cover of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood.” It sounds very different than the original. Then we’re doing about a six-song EP with them, as well. It will come out in the fall. … Then [Poliça] will start working on new music as well.

What should your fans expect from that EP. It’s likely going to be starkly different from what your fans are accustomed to, right?

It is. It’s very folk—no, it’s not folk at all. The point of the [music] was to have a collaboration with a string ensemble and modern classical composer, with acoustic instruments, that wasn’t just, like, pop songs with strings on top—an equal collaboration between string players, what’s going on in the modern classical movement, and electronic music, with my vocals. Some of the songs on there are some of our poppier songs that we’ve ever written.

When we spoke last July, we spent a large chunk of time talking about your concerns for the state of the country, as a mother. The Republican National Convention had just taken place and several police shootings, including one in Minnesota, had just occurred. Has what happened in the last nine months reaffirmed your worries?

I think that things under Obama were bad for a lot of people. Even a president who seemed to try his hardest to make things right and was able to change a lot of legislation, for instance, the environment—but we still dropped drones under Obama, and he deported thousands of undocumented immigrants, and racial justice in this country did not improve. Some would even say it got worse. Racism is rampant in this country right now. You have people like Jeff Sessions who want to ramp up the War on Drugs, prisons and incarceration. Things like climate change and the environment will destroy us probably, unfortunately, before we can figure things out. There’s a lot of things, but you have to remember that the country—the world—goes in waves of progress and backward spirals. … People really need to crack open a book and get their minds right.

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