If low expectations can be a good thing, Channy Leaneagh found that out with the success of Poliça. The band started as an experiment—as she says, “trying something out”—in 2011 with her friend and producer Ryan Olson. What resulted was the album Give You the Ghost, an enchanting meld of dreamy, stripped down, electronica-pop. And an immediate, if unexpected, hit.
Poliça started on the upswing and have never slowed. The band, which includes drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu and bassist Chris Bierdan, were quickly headlining their own shows and then opening for the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tour. They made the rounds of the late-night talk shows, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver called them the best band he’s ever heard. “I don’t have any explanation,” she says. “It is a bit of a lottery or a luck of the draw in the music industry. I just try to do what I can with the opportunities we have and be gracious and humbled by it, above all.”
The album was recorded quickly, in only a few months, with Olson producing and arranging and Leaneagh writing the lyrics. She describes both her and Olson as intense in their own way, “frantic and excited about keeping the engine warm and running.” Agonizing and slow, this process was not. “We both prefer the first take and writing instinctually,” she says. “If a song isn’t clicking we throw it to the side until maybe it speaks to me in a few months.”
The project was also somewhat of a departure for Leaneagh, who was previously in the popular Minneapolis folksy-soul band Roma Di Luna, which dissolved in 2011 along with her marriage to co-founder Alexei Casselle. It was a sad breakup if Leaneagh’s overwrought lyrics are any indication, but she seems to have funneled a lot of that emotion into Poliça’s songs.
Leaneagh says the writing was the most fun part, and she approached it a bit differently this time. “I was reacting to the emotion Ryan Olson’s beats brought out in me and writing words that best described that place,” she says. “But I wrote a lot less words on Give You the Ghost. This record is a lot more carnal than anything I’ve ever wrote.”
While Leaneagh’s voice was never really conventional, auto-tune factors heavily into the Poliça sound. But instead of its current utility in popular music where it hides lesser talents, with Poliça it’s used as a signature—and enhances the band’s ethereal, moody vibe. For Leaneagh, whose natural voice sounds a bit otherworldly anyway, it did take some getting used to. “I don’t believe autotune is supposed to sound like anything or has finished evolving,” she says, “so I am just always trying to find the best way it works for my voice and more specifically the band [and] our songs.”
Leaneagh is from Minneapolis, a city known for, as she says, “bitterly cold winters that create plenty of room for hibernating into your art, friends and lovers.” It also has an open and inclusive music scene, where, she says, bands like Poliça can happen. “There are a couple great options to collaborate in a weekly improv night,” she says. “There are loads of musicians that love to play with anyone and experiment with different styles. That is how Poliça was started.”
As for what’s ahead, Leanagh says there’s no timeline. They will begin recording again when they get back from their current tour. “We’ve only just begun,” she says. “I don’t want to jinx it by fantasizing about the unknown.”