Poliça Frontwoman Channy Leaneagh Lifts the Veil on ‘Music for the Long Emergency’
The convergence of electronic and orchestral music may seem centuries apart, and indeed are. But when Channy Leaneagh, lead singer for Minnesota synth-pop band Poliça, took part in a chance one night only music series with Berlin-based orchestral group s t a r g a z e, she saw something more than just a jam session, she saw worlds colliding. Because Poliça is known for having a deeply moving back catalogue of synth-ridden albums, the addition of strings, woodwinds and horns seemed like the perfect mood-enhancer. Once the two parties decided to make a full album together, there was no looking back. The end result is the devastatingly beautiful political album “Music for the Long Emergency.”
Just ahead of their mini tour, Leaneagh hopped on the phone with Entertainment Voice to fill in the blanks and expand on the story behind Poliça and s t a r g a z e’s new collab album and how she feels an orchestra enriched their already emotive sounds.
You met s t a r g a z e back in 2016, worked briefly together on a side-project last year, then worked pretty extensively after that on “Music for the Long Emergency.” How did you find the collaborative process of creating an album?
It was first just supposed to be a night of music, because we were commissioned by a music series called Liquid Music (with) Chamber Orchestra in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was nice because it was coming under the idea of creating new music for one night and it didn’t have the pressure of a record. I couldn’t even imagine we’d be at this point where we’re doing interviews about it or working on album artwork. So it had this sort of freedom to it… so that was nice in the beginning.
When Poliça writes a record, Ryan (producer) makes synths and a beat and works on that for a while, then I add lyrics to that. So some of the main melodies and ideas, the moods were formed pretty early. And then the bass and drums do their part over it which really completes the songs. Here, we tried to start from the very beginning without one person, or one band, having an imprint larger than the other.
Do you feel like your sound has been emboldened by the addition of the orchestral arrangements of s t a r g a z e on this record?
Yea, I don’t know what it’s done exactly. It’s hard for me to look at it from the outside. The way that the strings and the woodwinds and the horns are able to balance it out, made a song like “Agree” have like a very major notation structure, chord structure. It’s sort of a brooding spookiness. Yea, it made the music richer in the sense of like adding this conversation between a bunch of different people and sort of the yin and yang. It brought like the yang to our yin. It allowed us to blend more sounds and challenge ourselves.
You wrote the single “How is this Happening?” after the 2016 presidential election. The title and thematic elements of the songs are pretty self-explanatory, but one line stood out when you sing “We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Do you feel like your duty as an artist has changed since then?
Well, art and music has always had a place, an important role in observing the times around them and commenting on it. It doesn’t always have to be that artists are reacting to it specifically or commenting or observing, but just the idea of creating something means that you have hope that there’s gonna be a reason to… hear it tomorrow, or you can hear it tomorrow. Creating something takes a couple days, sometimes, weeks, months, years. It’s this idea of hope in the act of creating something. You probably wouldn’t make a baby if you knew that the world was ending tomorrow. So it’s sort of like the creation of hope. Some radio announcer on the BBC once told me, you know, ‘It’s kind of your job to let people forget about the shit they’re dealing with, about the darkness they’re dealing with. It’s not your job to remind them.’ I disagree, but also… as much as there’s a light, there’s a darkness. And every artist kind of chooses their own path. There’s always people that want you to escape.
Politics aside, the personal-aspects of the album are the most apparent. What can you tell us about the following songs, which, in one way or another, are essentially love songs?
That song is lyrically very personal. Kind of a song of the beginning of my relationship with my musical partner and my life partner. So kind of about the long period of us and me kind of pretending that I wasn’t in love with him and going on pretending I was a friend. Joining him on dates with other women and just hanging out.
“Speaking of Ghost”
I write pretty personal stuff. So then “Speaking of Ghost” is in reference to the son that I had with Ryan. A lot of this Poliça/s t a r g a z e collaboration was happening right after I’d given birth to my son. He came on tour with me for the first year and it was just him and I, as it often can be in motherhood sometimes. I’m writing these lyrics and I had this person with me. Sometimes I don’t like to talk about being a mother because it can be taken as simplistic or, kind of, not very well respected, yet the pressure is very intense and high on mothers to be perfect and to know what they’re doing. But nobody really wants to hear about it too much. At least in music. But that is the song, and just sort of the isolation of motherhood.
There’s some songs that are just like a stream of consciousness. It’s just a stream of consciousness exercise. I don’t want to make a story that isn’t there. We were recording on a pecan farm. They would flood the fields with fertilizer every couple days, so it was just like ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful here.’ Then we would get up in the morning and there’s just this raw, brown, kind of toxic sea around us and it smells horrible. So that’s what the last line is about (laughs).
Do you find it similar to write about both love and politics?
There are some similarities. If there’s any song that I had that’s like political-ish, or has a political message, that came like in a fever kind of like “How is this Happening” (which) is just like vomit (laughs). I just had something to say. Where a love song might need more crafting because I don’t want it to be too corny, or I need to maybe find a little bit of the right words. And sometimes it comes easier than others. But it usually involves a little bit more rewriting, where the political stuff is like something that’s just like, ‘I have to get (it) out.’
Lastly, will you speak on the making of your latest music video for “Agree,” as the project itself is very conceptual?
That was a director named Maria Juranic who had the idea and designed it and wrote it and directed it. I guess the idea of “Agree,” that song, is about choosing to be with someone even though you know it’s maybe not in your best self-interest of theirs (and) the brightness and darkness of love. So that video is kind of about a relationship that seems beautiful but also dangerous and deadly, I guess, in the end.
Poliça and s t a r g a z e’s “Music for the Long Emergency” is available Feb. 16 on Apple Music.