“It kind of reflects the journey we've been on this last couple of years...” hmv.com talks to Poliça
Formed by producer Ryan Olson and former Roma Di Luna vocalist Channy Leaneagh, Minneapolis-based synthpop outfit Poliça quickly rose to prominence with their 2012 debut Give You The Ghost, a heady mix of icy electronica, heavily processed vocals and politically-charged lyrics. Their follow-up record Shulamith continued in the same vein, building on the formula of Olson's sparse, rhythmic tracks and Leaneagh's atmospheric vocal performances, but for their third album United Crushers the band have taken a slightly different approach, trying to capture more of their live sound in the stuido.
With the new album arriving in stores on Friday (March 4th), we caught up with Channy for a chat about working on the new record, why the title is in homage to Minneapolis street art collective and tackling social injustice in the album's lyrics...
When did you start working on it United Crushers? Did you have much of a break in between touring the last album and starting this one?
“We started recording in I think April or May of last year, and we'd started work on it probably a year before that. The only reference point I can think of in terms of time is the song 'Berlin', the first song I wrote for this record, and that was thanksgiving day. I was at my parents' house, taking a break from helping in the kitchen and I just went up and demoed the song. So that's what I remember of when I first started working on the beats that Ryan had made while we were still on tour the month before. 'Berlin' was the first song and I think 'Summer Please' was the last one to be written.”
How does the writing process work for you guys? Is it mainly you and Ryan providing the creative impetus?
“We did this record differently from the last one in the sense that this time we all got together and rehearsed for a couple of months and then took the songs out on the road. It always starts with Ryan, he'll have these beats and maybe these basic synth lines or something, then I demo lyrics on top of that. In the past we've always just gone into the studio and recorded everyone's first instincts, we were kind of learning the songs in the studio. This time we tried a different way, we wanted to tour it down for ten days so we could get to know the songs really well before we recorded them, because sometimes the song will change quite a bit after the record is out and you've toured it for a few months. All of a sudden you're like 'ah, I like singing it better this way'. So that was the process with this one.”
How has that approach affected the sound on United Crushers? How does it compare to your first two albums?
“I think it's a lot more percussive, it has a fuller sound, it's more multi-layered in terms of the sounds we're using, but the drummers are still playing all the beats on the record. You might hear electronic beats on the album and think they're programmed, but it's still them playing. Just in general though we were in a new place, we chose to get out of home and go to a new studio that has different tools and things to experiment with, so it has different textures and different sounds.
“A lot of the synths were recorded in Hamburg while we were on tour, Ryan randomly found this little synth studio, so some of the sounds are from there. So I guess it kind of reflects the journey we've been on this last couple of years, places we've been and little sounds we've picked up. I think it's just that we've been a band for longer, you go to new places and pick up new experiences.”
Where did the album title come from?
“Minneapolis used to be heavily involved with the grain industry and there are lots of huge grain silos, some are abandoned and others are still working, but the words United Crushers are tagged on a lot of those in huge letters and it kind of looms over the city. So it's partly a homage to home, but also about that idea of trying to crush back on the things that are crushing us, whether that's society or even just as artists, striving to be a good crew or a good community.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“I still think it's a fairly straightforward Poliça album in terms of lyrical content. The way I've always written is that it tends to be a snapshot of my life, in really old school, journal kind of way. It's heavy, 95% of it is songs about my relationships and reflections on myself, but then there are songs like 'Summer Please' or 'Melting Block' or 'Lime Habit' that are more criticisms on the way I see the world interacting with kids, with poverty, with violence."
Some of that was evident in the video for 'Wedding' – do you guys have much input on that side of things?
“I worked with Isaac Gale on the video, the art direction for the album was all done by another guy from Minneapolis called Eric Carlson. So those guys should take all the credit, but it starts with a conversation between me and them. For the 'Wedding' video, there are a couple of different ideas running through it, which are to do with police brutality and also the war on drugs and how unsuccessful that has been.”
“So those are a lot of really heavy issues around criminal justice and social justice, and it just came from a conversation around how to get these ideas across. Isaac's a friend of mine and we're on the same page, so it's good to have those people you can trust and that are passionate about those issues too. Same with Eric, he's the first person I send the lyrics to, it's almost like my first interview where I have to explain myself, explain what I'm doing and then we'll come up with some images and ideas that reflect that. In my old band I used to draw all the covers, but that can get very insular so it's good to bounce it off someone else and take it outside of yourself a little bit.”
Were there any particular tracks that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“Yeah, probably 'Melting Block', there's a line in there that goes 'United Crushers' views are lusher'. I live in a really industrial part of Minneapolis and the graffiti crew that the album is named after, I go into where they work in their studio and they're kind of squatting in this really decrepit place but it has the sweetest view of the city. It's not even really bohemian, they're just like 'f*ck the system', you know? I don't want to take that for my own, but these are people that actually live what they talk and the art that they make. So it all started with that, the same way as Shulamith in the sense that it was named after someone that I admire. And that song talks to me personally but also talks to the world and that's kind of a theme with Poliça songs in general but especially on this record.”
What kind of stuff do you draw inspiration from, musically speaking? Your sound is quite eclectic...
“Probably the largest thing that influences my music is stuff that I read. I listen to talk radio, probably more than I should, probably more than I listen to music even! But otherwise, musically, I've been listening to Helena Hauff, Erol Alkan and a lot of classical music. We've all been listening to Jon Hopkins on tour a lot and Brian Eno is also a huge influence on this band, as well as bands like Crass and Men's Recovery Project and Faith No More which are big influences on Ryan and the other guys, so that probably contributes to the eclectic nature of it, everyone is coming form slightly different places.”
What are your touring plans for the new record? You're doing Lattitude in the summer, are you doing any other shows in the UK?
"We're going to be playing the Roundhouse in London in October, we're going to be touring the U.S and Australia first but then we'll be doing a few shows in the UK. In the U.S. we're touring with Clara-Nova and MOTHXR, I don't know about the UK supports yet, it'd be nice to have someone local so we'll have to see.”