Minneapolis quintet Poliça released their excellent third album United Crushers back in March and are coming to the end of a US tour in support of their newest release.
With just a few dates left to go, we caught up with singer Channy Leaneagh to talk about the band's third record and how it marks the end of an era for Poliça.
How does it feel launching the new LP?
Leaneagh: "In a lot of ways, it feels like the end a trilogy, sort of like the end of a chapter and from here, who knows what we’ll make and what we’ll do. But its sort of like an end piece, like the “final paper”. We took a lot more time, it was a lot more relaxed than the second one. You do the first record, if people like it, OK. With the second one you’re like “errrragh, I don’t think they are gonna like it” and the third one, you’re like “I don’t really care if you like it, I just had fun making it”. I think it gets easier and easier each time you put out a record. You remember that you’re doing it sincerely, hoping that you feel sincerely about it, remembering what inspired you. Just taking time, and saying: “you know what, we’re not gonna write just in-between chores — we are gonna take some time”.
It sounds like your process of writing has been substantially different this time, with this freedom.
"I was pregnant during the writing of this record and so, in general, I was just kind of thinking outside of myself, a little reflective, a little more relaxed. So… pretty — a little bit more — stable."
United Crushers makes bold political statements, challenging police brutality and oppression in modern America. What inspired you to speak out about these issues?
"The record was done summer last year. Some of the songs, like “Wedding” and “Summer Please” were inspired by the news. It’s not like it hasn’t been bad like this before, because, in America, it has. Police brutality has been going on for a long time and the The War on Drugs has been going on for a long time, oppression has been going on in America for a longtime. But we are a democracy — and things are getting less and less democratic everyday. Thanks to people’s phones, we are able to document it and see it for ourselves, and there’s something so much more striking and tragic about actually seeing it. It’s not just like hearing it about it from friends. We are watching it happen. “Wedding” was about the War On Drugs, and how it’s been very unsuccessful. It’s been used to make excuses for mass incarceration in America - of mostly black people, and people of color […] and it’s built this militarized police force in America.“Summer Please” is really a response to how, the last couple of summers, over July 4th (the holiday in America) there have been shootings, both in Chicago and Minneapolis, and how there’s a problem with guns in America and police brutality, and it stems from poverty and these disparities.”
So, would you call this record a protest album?
"I think of [the record] as more inspired by artists I looked up to, still look up to. Even people like Sam Cooke, or Bob Dylan, for example — I’m not comparing myself to any of these people, because they are at a different level than me — gotta be careful about that. Someone like Bob Dylan was always very adamant that he was not a protest singer. But he wrote stories of his time. Woody Guthrie probably would have said he was a protest singer, and he just wrote stories of what was going on around him. There’s a good Nina Simone quote that talks about how the job of an artist is to reflect the times around them, to reflect the situation around them. She was somebody who wrote lots of love songs, songs about the human condition and songs like “Mississippi Goddam”, very politically charged songs. So, I guess to me it’s more about just being a whole person and writing about...the world."
From your ideas of reflecting the times it sounds like you are trying to create a very personal testimony to what’s going on around you right now?
"The record is not just political. It’s very much, for me, kind of a biography of my time writing it. And, same for the bass player, it’s writing what he feels. It’s very personal. And in that way, it really is like a snapshot, a diary, of our life and our musicality at this time. People used to keep diaries. Some people still do. You can read the diary of a woman in the 1800s, or something, and you can read about her thoughts and her opinions on what is going on around her. And that’s kind of what I’m getting to, I guess. Not that it has this grandiose importance. But I think it’s kind of impossible right now to ignore all the things that are going on and to not want to talk about it. I wrote a lot of songs in my other folk band that were a more political, because I grew up in that school, writing about the human condition. So, I guess that’s more what I see we are doing: writing about the human condition. You don’t want to capitalize on it, though, and that’s what we are not trying to do. I’m grateful that I have a job where I get to write and think about the world and put it to music. It helps me understand it better.
The video for “Wedding” closes with the message: “We have to live in their world, but they will have to live in ours.” Futurity, the idea of generations to come, recurs time and time again in the record. Why is that?
"It’s hard for me to separate the fact that I am a mother. I do think about my daughter, when I’m on stage and when I write records, and her listening back to it someday, or the way she sees me on stage, as a performer. I come into contact with kids a lot more than mot of my friends do in music, because they don’t have kids. I feel like, even some of my passion about some of the stuff in this record, like “Summer Please”, had a lot to do with just being around kids a lot. Sometimes — I mean, I’m talking out of my ass here — but there are a lot of things on this record about the loss of freedom, the isolation of being a mother. I don’t get to go out and party, like I used to, to celebrate that I released a record. Instead, I come home and I feed a baby and I go to bed. But the trade off with that is that I am engaged with the world in a way that comes with being a parent. And so, I spend time in schools, at my daughter’s school in Minneapolis, and I think ‘why is it so segregated in schools?’ I have heard that on the news, but now I’m in the schools [visiting or volunteering] and I am seeing how segregated they are. With the first record with Poliça, my daughter was very young, I’d just gotten divorced, my life was… it was a lot more narcissistic, because I was dealing with so much of myself - relationships, getting divorced, I was very unstable, personally — and so the lyrics centre so much more around my own angst. And then as my daughter gets older, I get older, I get a little more stabilized. I’m engaging more with the world and so my lyrics also go through a little bit of an evolution. And who knows, maybe next year I will go back to being more angsty, there’s still plenty of angsty stuff there...but motherhood’s this huge influence on me, I think.
How do your collaborations with visual artists and filmmakers help you realize the vision of the album as a whole?
"That involves [having a conversation with] people that you trust and you feel have better taste than you artistically. There are certain people that you can talk to, and maybe pin. Erik [Carlson, artist], was the first person that I shared the lyrics with and so is kind of first person you’re sharing the record with too, which is a vulnerable relationship, but its like, just kind of, letting them, someone that you trust, conceptualize it, or react to it, the way it sounds to them and the colors it makes them feel, the imagery that it comes up with, and then having conversations about them. For me, our record is a lot about relationships, and so you have the hand with the missing ring finger [on the album sleeve], the feeling of the dreamy synth sound is kind of associated with a kind of dark venus, kind of like an opium den, with these poppies… When I used to make records, I would draw the cover, but now I’m more interested in finding people that I can get reactions from and seeing what the album brings out for him, because I think he has an amazing mind. “I think, one of the reasons I am looking forward to [touring] is having time on stage to have, like, imagery and lights. And it sounds really simple […] but it feels more whole on stage. We have beautiful stuff around us on stage. It feels funner to perform again. You feel like you are bringing the record to life in a way that you haven’t before.
How has the tour been with MOTHXR?
"It’s nice to tour with friends, and with people from Minneapolis — we’d do that probably every time! - but it’s good to branch out a little bit sometimes, meet new people. So, it's exciting to tour with a band that’s not from home. It’s a trade-off, maybe next go around we’ll bring someone from home."
United Crushers is out now on Mom + Pop