Interview with Poliça
It’s not for us to speculate why a relationship ends; we won’t devote column inches to (un)romance, but when groups end, it’s different. As fans of the music, we all become children of the divorce. When the relationship between Roma di Luna’s Alexei Moon Casselle and Channy Leaneagh unraveled, we lost an inventive, honest, folk pairing, and it was left to see what would happen next. The wait was short, and consoling as Channy, blessed with a mystical vocal, spat her healing over super-producer Ryan Olson’s premade beats, to devastating effect. Just ask over-quoted fans, Bon Iver and Jay-Z. Although in supreme demand, Channy gave us her time before Poliça come to play at Latitude Festival this month…
You’re obviously in the States, from the number I just dialled, so I’m gonna do my customary British thing of asking what the time is there, and what’s the weather like?
Oh, it’s 10:27am and very warm, probably like very humid.
It sounds a lot better than the UK at the moment – it’s torrential.
Oh is it? We just had that the last couple of days, but I actually just got back from the UK and it was pretty cold…
I saw that you’d played a couple of dates in London – did the UK welcome you well?
Yes, it was a great time. We had a day in Berlin and a day in Paris, very fast, then we got more concentrated time in London. We played at The Camp, I walked around a little bit and had really good people on our team helping us so we saw some really great stuff, and had a really great time.
Playing the same venue two nights running, did you actually get some time to leave the venue and explore?
Yes, I did; I walked around quite a bit, went to the Tate, walked around the South Bank, walked back to Spitalfields area, so yeah, got a lot of walking in and it’s a beautiful, beautiful city. I bought an umbrella…!
You’re playing Latitude Festival this summer – how do you find those festival appearances in relation to your own headline shows?
Er, I probably prefer shows; I prefer the intimacy and the protection from the weather. I’m not much of a camper or anything like that, to be honest, but it’s a certain thing that’s pretty popular right now – people want to see music outdoors and be around big groups of people, but I’m pretty shy and don’t like loud noises in fact, so festivals can be pretty overwhelming!
Well Latitude is actually one of the calmer ones that I’ve ever been to, set in the beautiful Suffolk countryside –
- Oh yeah, it’ll be good. I’ve heard they paint the sheep.
They do, yes. We were up on site yesterday and I think the sheep had already gone for their dip-dye.
Oh, that’s great, haha!
There’s a fantastic line-up across the weekend, including Justin Vernon taking one of the headline slots – you’ve got some dates coming up with Bon Iver, haven’t you?
Yes, we do.
It’s been well cited that Justin Vernon is a big fan of yours, but have you reached a good working relationship now you’ve got over him being a big fan?
Well he was a friend beforehand; he actually grew up with one of the drummers and so we know him personally, I guess.
When Roma di Luna ended, I can imagine it was a very explorative time for you – I’m sure you were exploring many avenues, but what was it that pushed you towards Ryan Olson?
Well because we were already working together in Gayngs and he was the only other producer I knew in town and I had talked with a few other people and started talking to other beat-makers in town, but he was the only one that it got moving with quickly. It progressed very fast. I tend to want to work with people that I’ve known from a previous context, and someone that I’m really familiar with… although I wasn’t even that familiar with Ryan, but I was a fan of his work. So yeah, it wasn’t very calculated at all.
And Gayngs was an example of how far-reaching Ryan could make his music be – did that make you excited about the possibilities for Poliça?
Do you feel that you’ll continue to push the boundaries of Poliça, or have you laid good foundations for what the sound will continue to be?
Erm, it’s hard to tell, it’s really hard to tell. I’m not really somebody who gets off on groundbreaking things, so it sort of depends on what Ryan’s up for. He’s probably more of the visionary, I just like to write melodies and sing and perform. I’m kinda boring and unambitious, it’s one of my downfalls.
The beginnings of Roma di Luna show great contrast to that of Poliça, I mean, you started off Roma di Luna by busking as a two-piece with your musical ideals rooted in folk – has that move to electronic music felt natural for you?
I’m still sort of singing folk songs when it comes down to it, singing about love lost and kind of very repetitive, simple songs that are based around melodies. I like it a lot though; I like singing to a beat and Alexei, my partner in Roma di Luna, came from a Hip Hop background, so his guitar style was very rhythmic, so I’m enjoying it – I like it a lot. Overall I just love making music, no matter what the genre or the context is.
Ryan had already written the music by the time you put your vocals to it, but you’ve obviously built up your own musical style over your years writing – do you think that with future tracks, you’ll have a say in that music too?
Er maybe, I mean we’ve already started working on new songs and there’s about three or four of them that started out from synth lines that I’d laid down, just a few chords basically. But I actually have no interest in writing beats; I’m quite calculated in that I like to work with people in collaboration, I don’t really enjoy doing things completely on my own and really that’s where his talents lie, so it’s best to keep it that way. Collaborate with people and work with people on their strong suits and I’ll stick to mine. I feel kinda old to actually start involving myself with the writing process, but I give melody lines here and there. It’s more exciting for me to react than to get involved with what he does.
It was your idea to employ autotune though, was it not?
Yeah, it wasn’t very calculated though, I just wanted to. It wasn’t like I was trying to change something or hide something, it was just a couple of friends getting together and once I started playing it for other people, it started feeling like it could go somewhere, but at the time I was just sort of using autotune because it was a fun thing to do.
Yeah, it does look a whole lot of fun actually! It’s been given a kinda bad name in its use for tidying up singers’ vocals, but you’ve been able to use it as an extra instrument – is it easy to control on stage?
Hmm, not always; sometimes I want to throw it across the room.
I often witness loop pedals and things being temperamental, whereas your voice is something you can control, usually, infinitely.
Yeah, but it’s a part of the sound of Poliça, I think. Now it’s sort of like janky vocals, so the challenges are part of the aesthetic, I think.
You put great stock into the writing of the lyrics, yet with the effects used, it takes a little longer for them to unfold for the listener – do you see this as a positive though, that we have to sort of work at the songs to find understanding?
Well I really firmly believe that the lyrics are more for me than for anybody else, and the emotion and the mood that they make me feel, and that I’m conveying is important for the song and the audience and you know, I always loved reading people’s lyrics in the CD cover growing up and I think you can kinda enjoy them that way, but more than anything I’m just using the lyrics to sort of get myself into a place where I can be effective as an emotional singer, and convey emotion. I’m certainly not trying to hide things, or make things more challenging for people; it’s just the way I sing. I’m just trying to be a part of the music, not really stand out as a separate kind of preacher, or singer/songwriter, I’m really just trying to blend into the rest of the band. So yeah, I’m not trying to make things more challenging.
I find it really interesting that a lot of the lyrics were subconscious thoughts that sort of unveiled themselves when you first heard the music – have you wanted to evolve or expand any of those ideas in the lyrics since first uttering them?
Erm, I tend to have a hard time - once I hear a track and lay down the melody and lay down kind of a lyrical idea, I kinda fall in love with that and get connected to that and certainly now that I’m writing new songs for Poliça, they’re a little more difficult because there’s less repetition in the lyrics, but I haven’t really wanted to change those songs because as flawed and imperfect as they were, they were kind of capturing a moment in time that I don’t really want to mess with.
Poliça’s quick rise into music lovers’ attention has allowed you some high profile shows and connection with the public but is there anything that the speed of ascension hasn’t allowed you as a band?
Hmm, probably just time to find our own practice space and just have a… I mean, we’ve had time to go back into the studio but probably for me I just haven’t had time to get my feet on the ground; I feel a little bit confused, or ungrounded with such a drastic change in my lifestyle and I think that probably the rest of the band feels that a little bit too. While we’re all very excited to have the opportunities we have, and feel very blessed, it’s all a little unnerving to be gone so much and to kinda lose touch with your community, and music community that you come from, and your family and friends. It’s an intense experience… it sounds like whining for people who are like, ‘oh, success is hard…’
No, I mean, you’re a relatively new mum still, aren’t you Channy? Babies don’t compromise, but neither should they have to, so I imagine those kind of logistics keep you on your toes…
Yes, it really, really does. When I’m gone I miss her, when I’m home I forget how to be a mom, haha; it’s a confusing thing, you know. I mean I don’t really forget, but it gets a little out of practice! But it’s all good.
Do you get to take her much with you, or are you happier with her being at home?
She’s got a really good situation at home; she’s got a really good school and her family’s here, the rest of her family, so she does well here. The life on the road is so unstable, but festivals here and there, yes.