Up until recently the members of POLIÇA were perhaps better-known as members of other bands, but with the group’s new album Shulamith they have carved out their own territory with haunting, dreamy music which crowds are also prone to dance to. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION met with lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh and bass/vocalist Chris Bierden on a frigid, snowy Berlin evening before their ‘Heimathafen’ show to talk about who and what POLIÇA are.
Pretty cold out there – but I guess you guys are used to it being from Minneapolis?
Chris: Yea, still doesn’t really make it any easier.
Channy: During the Polar vortex last week in the midwest it was colder than it is on Mars.
Ouch. But I guess we are good-to-go for colonizing Mars, then? So, speaking of where you come from – and not just physically but – POLIÇA have this ethereal, fascinating sound that seems almost out of touch – in a very good way – with what people are used to hearing. Where do you guys come from? What made that what it has become?
Channy: I think where POLIÇA comes from is this Au Claire music scene in some way – a small town in Wisconsin an hour and 45 minutes from Minneapolis. That is where Ryan Olson and Drew come from. As a small town – and maybe Minneapolis included – in a sense we tend to be out of the view or influence of popular music. They’re obiously listening to it but their drive is maybe a little bit different – so there is this friend group who have been making kind of ‘weird’ music for some time – and I also think it has to do with the fact that the majority of us hadn’t really played in electronic bands before this. I’m reacting to electronic music coming from a non-electronic place. Ben is more of a hardcore drummer and Chris – I would say you came more from rock and a punk background in terms of your style? In VAMPIRE HANDS did you have electronics?
Chris: We did actually. In a strange way there are a lot of correlations between the bands I was in before this. There were two drummers one of whom just played a stand-up tom and he also sang through a chaos pad vocal pedal – so all of the weirdest parts about this band to me that is just naturally what you would do – you would want to messup your voice and add bizarre textured rhythms because that is the music bubble that I was living in – the psychedelic rock end of the spectrum – so when I joined the band it just felt really natural. I wasn’t used to electronics though – like, synthesizer sounds, Ableton and the programmed beats – that was all new to me. If people are able to develop their own musical personality without fear of repercussions from those around you – because we all encourage each other – then it is really nice.
Channy: And there’s not this: “This is what I am trying to make,” so “what would you put on here? What kind of bass lines or what kind of drums?” to instill individuality within the group that brings a less-focused sound.
What sorts of challenges do you face here and now given the fact that you have all this technology at your hands and given your set of circumstances? That is, keeping the balance with the electronic elements and also coming from a smaller scene but also thinking about perhaps what you should be making vs. just working organically?
Channy: A lot of my interactions with electronics are in the writing process. As far as how we can play off each other, but then when we get on stage if all of the sudden I have been playing this song for a year and I think “What I want you to do right here is to really swell – to get louder” or get more colurful or something then it it can’t – it is written and it exists unchangeable live. I mean, you could work it out, like Marijuana Deathsquads does live conducting – you could say to a drummer: “Really bring in the high hats right here and raise this song up” but there’s maybe not really room for a dynamic shift in the song and we have to rely on the rest of us to do that. So instead we would have a lead instument or the piano or the synth that would help the dynamics, but the dynamics are written already.
So does much improvisation happen in your live shows? Or do you guys pretty much entirely know what you are going to be doing?
Channy: Very little.
Chris: We try to tack a little bit on because we can set a loop at the beginning of a song and kind of stretch it out – you know, try something – but it will never last for probably more than 30 seconds.
The double drummer aspect is interesting. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a band with double drummers – at the beginning did you get flak for that? Or, considering that you are trying to do something complex in terms of beats then having two drummers helps to an extreme – maybe even gives you more ‘cred’ as a live band because – rather than a machine – you’ve got two humans up there?
Channy: I know there are bands – Chris brought up his – but it isn’t super common. BON IVER actually had two drummers on their last tour. We don’t get it so much anymore but sometimes when you show up to a venue and they’re like: “TWO drums?! Whaaa?” We don’t really catch that much flak for it, though.
Chris: When I talk to people after shows they love to mention the drums. Live especially it is pretty spectacular.
Channy: They play off of each other well and they’re not playing the same parts, so it is entertaining to watch.
A lot of bands have their album on iTunes as a prominent link across their websites and social media – a very public face of what people encounter when they might look you up – and your album’s page has THE KNIFE listed as your influence – Is that accurate or are there other bands you might mention? Any of those listed as contemporaries?
Channy: That is a band that I don’t even listen to because we are so heavily influenced by them. I don’t want to be any more influenced by them. The vocal processor that I use came into our scene because we heard Karin Andersson, the singer from THE KNIFE, talking about what she uses. Everybody has tickets to go see THE KNIFE in Chicago or New York in May. So, yeah, big influence. Sharon van Etten is loosely a friend of ours and I don’t think our music sounds the same but she is a string female songwriter and performer. EXIT MUSIC did a remix for us. Some of these others I don’t quite know.