Poliça to make Aspen debut at Belly Up
If You Go …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, Oct. 26, 9 p.m.
Tickets and more info: www.bellyupaspen.com
Poliça came into being and made its first album quickly. Not because a record label was pressuring them, and not because fans were demanding it, but because producer Ryan Olson and singer Channy Leaneagh clicked and found the band’s melancholy minimalism and its hypnotic blend of synth-pop and R&B in short order.
The Minneapolis-based pair had previously worked together in Olson’s band Gayngs, for which Leaneagh had sung backup. They began collaborating in summer 2011, after Leaneagh split from Roma di Luna, with Leaneagh singing over Olson’s electronic arrangements. Within days, they had 11 songs.
They brought in a rhythm section — bassist Chris Bierden and drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu — and Poliça was born. When the band’s debut album, “Give You the Ghost,” came out in February 2012, they’d been playing together for less than nine months.
Leaneagh said they made the record just so they could play some local shows. But it quickly gained a buzzy international momentum that extended far from Poliça’s hometown.
“We had no idea what was going to happen,” Leaneagh said via email, in between recent shows in New Orleans and Houston. “We put it out with the intention of playing Minneapolis … but things picked up with it quick and suddenly we’ve been gone for almost three years with little dips back home to say ‘Hello.’”
The band makes its Aspen debut on Sunday at Belly Up.
“The second and third record will never be that laissez-faire, but all in all we try to be deliberate without taking ourselves too seriously,” she said, “and being as unaware of who we are as possible.”
For “Give You the Ghost,” Leaneagh mostly sang and freestyled over arrangements that Olson had put together. They largely stuck with that approach for Poliça’s 2013 follow-up, “Shulamith,” and since then, with Olson putting together layers of synths and electronic beats, Leaneagh contributing lyrics and melody ideas and the double-drum power of the rhythm section adding propulsive live instrumentation.
On the records, Leaneagh’s voice is bathed in auto-tune and other effects, complementing the disorienting, bleak spirit of Poliça and the hovering heartache and tension of songs like “Lay Your Cards Out” and “Warrior Lord.” The distortion of her voice amid the band’s sea of goth electronica makes for a cohesive sound — and maybe this is what has helped set it apart from its peers. Unlike a lot of bands that use electronica as window dressing around a front woman’s booming vocals, Leaneagh’s voice is woven into the fabric of Poliça’s sound.
In concert, the band performs without Olson.
“I switch up vocals a bit, but all in all we like to keep the sounds on the record going live,” she said of their approach to tour performances. “But it is higher energy than the record.”
The rapid pace of making “Give You the Ghost” lent a captivating rawness to the album’s mix of danceable electro-pop and moody atmospheric songs. The recording process is about capturing a song’s soul, Leaneagh believes, not about tweaking and producing away all the imperfections. That kind of process can suck the life out of a song — Leaneagh and Olson aim to keep them alive.
“We try to find the personality in the music,” she said. “And perfection doesn’t have a lot of personality from my perspective.”
As a music fan, Leaneagh said, she tends to dive into a band’s lyrics, often reading along while listening. She points to Joy de Vivre and Eve Libertine of Crass and Beth Gibbons of Portishead (the British band that’s frequently cited as a Poliça influence) as the lyricists she most admires. Reading along can be helpful in digesting Poliça, too — buried under those layers of digital distortion is Leaneagh’s poetry, a tightly written mix of feminine power and bitter failed romance.
“Found a man, and he’s found me,” she sings on “Tiff.” “It’s a pact like a lion’s den/ You come out, but you can’t come in.”
“I don’t like when you tell the boys that I’m your girl,” goes “So Leave.” “Wear me round like a lucky charm with plastic pearls / So leave.”
But she’s not the kind of artist who keeps notebooks full of lyrics waiting for a song — she fits her words to the beats and moods her band creates.
“I write whenever I can,” Leaneagh explained. “As soon as I get a new beat or melody in my head I can find something to say. It’s a challenge I still enjoy, like solving a puzzle.”
The most recent album is named in honor of Shulamith Firestone, the revolutionary feminist author of “The Dialectic of Sex.” Leaneagh calls Firestone “one of the strongest of the strong in the fight for gender equality whose focused energy towards her wise convictions, fearless truth-seeking and radical boldness is the standard I want to rise to.”
In the musical realm, she points to songs like Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Women” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” as models for the uncompromising feminism she injects in Poliça songs.
The band has been recording new music, Leaneagh said, but she is cryptic about when fans might hear it or when a new Poliça record might come along.
And while indie and electronica audiences have embraced Poliça, Leaneagh said the band is unbound by the expectations of any genre, and they’re aiming their sights high.
“I’d like to reach out past our own music community and seek ways to live outside of the convenience of comfort and tradition,” she said. “I’d like to bring a tour to the world that is as unique to the audience each night as it is to the musicians on stage. … I want to stretch myself farther than I ever have — like Stretch Armstong far.”
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