There is a band on the stage. There are two drum sets and a bass guitar. There is a woman in the front and two men seated behind her and another man standing nearby as she gyrates and dances and performs her art about herself. There is a curtain on the stage, and behind the curtain is a man—hidden from sight, manipulating the sound, these beats that he created carefully for this band—and sometimes he is actually there, but usually he isn’t. The man is at home, where he feels most comfortable, left alone to create more beats and more bands, to “spiritually advise,” as the woman likes to put it. The man behind the curtain is a personality reader, and he created this band, and he calls them on the telephone, directing traffic while they are out on the road, asking them how it’s going and what he can do to keep them challenged, and if they need anything—an outpost for confiding, a shoulder for crying, clean socks—all of this from behind his dark and shadowy curtain in the middle of Minnesota. And he loves the band, and the band loves him, and this is how Poliça works.
“We’re somewhere between brothers-and-sister and co-workers. It’s a safe amount of space,” says Channy Leaneagh, telling the story of how her band was created, a test-tube group put together by the mad scientist named Ryan Olson, he of Minneapolis and GAYNGS and the hardcore noise sorcery of Marijuana Deathsquads. In 2011, after he and Leaneagh had created the first Poliça album, Give You the Ghost, by blending his pre-existing dark, sexy beats with new words sung in her sexy, dark voice, Olson hand-picked the drummers, Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, and bassist Chris Bierden to accompany Leaneagh on the road, and, effectively, to become the faces of Poliça. Reeling from the single-blow dissolution of both her marriage and former band, this new start was a gift to Leaneagh from Olson, an LLC for which she could claim full ownership, and a place from which to gather new wings.
“I’m very shy,” says Leaneagh. “The whole time I was in Roma di Luna, I was trying to quit the band and go back to nursing school or do something that involved me not having attention. Ryan pushes me; he’s helped me understand how to not lose myself in this business, and have a voice. He talks me off of ledges constantly. It’s still very much a partnership; we can disagree on things but at the end of the day, I have a call on Poliça’s vision.”
So off they went, on the road for two years of vans and stages and curtains and calls, these strangers bound by an album. And, as the man in the shadows knew it would, the binding led to bonding—a band ultimately brought together by learned love and respect for each other, and for the one woman’s drive to do right by them all. As they grew with each other, more strangers started to turn up, to watch these people called Poliça play this new music on bigger stages, to see the dual drummers and the bassist and to see the woman gyrate and dance and sing her haunting, familiar songs. And after those two years it came time, as it often does, to make another album, one that would take its shape with new beats crafted from behind the curtain especially for the band, and from the woman’s first experiences of writing a record when she was never home, and about her interactions with this new world she was being introduced to, a place of spotlights and scares and, ultimately, strength. This is how we get to Shulamith.
Though Olson had created new music expressly for Poliça’s second album, as opposed to the way Give You the Ghost was compiled, Leaneagh retained the visceral approach that had worked so well for her the first time when she joined him in the studio. “It starts with Ryan’s music,” says Leaneagh. “I don’t plan what I want a song to be about; I just want to feel the first thing that comes out of my mouth. And that’s Poliça to me: capturing our first reaction to each other.” From there, the band operated as a fire bucket brigade; beats beget words, and the rhythm section learned their parts, with all five band members together in the studio to add to the cacophony. “It’s a drum and bass record to me,” says Leaneagh. “The bass really comes through and shines hard and the drummers play really unique, fun fills. They play off of each other and it sounds like one drum. Maybe this is the record that little kids who want to be drummers will get excited about.”
But perhaps the component of Shulamith that shines hardest is the woman herself. After her whirlwind crash-course in bandleading, Leaneagh is getting closer to becoming the artist she wants to be. “I spent a lot of the past two years figuring out what I wanted to keep from people and what I wanted to give people. It’s my first experiences as a performer realizing that people are listening to what you’re saying and they’re going to take as much as you give to them. I’m trying to hold onto what I am.” Filled with the experiences of two years on the road, as well as the strength and wisdom of literary luminaries like Shulamith Firestone, Isadora Duncan and Marina Abramović, Leaneagh inspired the confidence in herself necessary to realize the mission of her band.
“I think Poliça is a band for both men and women, but it’s especially important as sort of rebellion against pop music and the way women are portrayed in pop music,” says Leaneagh. “While I was writing Shulamith I was trying to build myself up and get strong and be assertive. It’s a little bit rawer; I’m a little bit angrier and a little less victim. When Ryan first met me I hadn’t been out of the house, I was afraid of people, of the world. I’ve gotten to the point where I do love performing and feel comfortable onstage and don’t mind baring my soul—writing art about myself. I definitely am where I should be.
“The most important thing in Poliça to all of us is the sincerity. If it’s a man or a woman making music with sincerity then all types of people will enjoy it.”