Eletronic Band Poliça Takes On Racism And Police Brutality
Children receiving a lesson from fuzzy puppets, Sesame Street style, is a cute, visually appealing concept for a music video. Yet that special brand of adorability is turned into sheer, sickening horror in Poliça‘s “Wedding,” a music video that takes this concept of fuzzy, fabric friends imparting wisdom and turns it into a lesson in police brutality, oppression, and the current racial strife facing contemporary America. It’s shocking, but not nearly as shocking as the fact that millions of children are experiencing this horror firsthand.
It’s a bold and, frankly, surprising new direction for Minneapolis electronic band Poliça, an outfit led by vocalist Channy Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olson. They’ve always been a curious band for sure; their live shows feature two drummers, and their first record received as much praise as derision for Leaneagh’s echo-filled, Auto-Tuned self duets. But with their third full length album, United Crushers, coming out next week, their focus has turned away from the musical and onto the socio-political. Ahead of their show in Berlin, we caught up with Leaneagh, as she clutched her four-month-old son, about “Wedding,” police brutality, and the danger of trending topic activism.
Tell me a little about the video for ‘Wedding.’ What were you thinking about conceptually?
Well it came from the song. [Laughs] “Wedding” is in reference to the marriage of the militarization of the police and the drug trade and how they feed off of each other. When we wrote it I was thinking of pictures I saw on the Internet of cops with their bounty after a SWAT raid, all the cash and pounds of cocaine or heroin. That militarization scares me. We’ve become an occupied people in our own country. When people try to protest it or stand up against it, like Sandra Bland, they get murdered. So “Wedding” is speaking out against the silencing of people. Police are supposed to be servants of peace but they’ve become these warriors against them.
Why do you think that’s become such an issue for us specifically in America?
The history of racism, and the history of police acting as a guard of the people in transition from being plantation owners. They’ve been charged with keeping the powers that be, which means people of color continue to be overwhelmingly disadvantaged. And we also don’t protest as much as a country like France, but we need to be, as a people. Our police and our media do a great job of squashing protests. It seems to come to a head at certain points throughout history. And I hope that this time, [now that] we’re able to document it, we’ll be able to get our voices back. We need to, desperately.
Do you think an issue loses weight if it becomes a trendable topic?
It absolutely can! I found myself feeling discouraged when people only wanted to talk about feminism with our second record. And I had a gut reaction where I thought, “No, I don’t know if I’m a feminist.” But that’s stupid, of course I am! When things start to trend it can be really obnoxious, but you have to fight through that. It’s worth it if we can have more conversations about things that matter. And hopefully more people will question themselves when coming to understand the topics.
“Lately I’ve felt like I’m the Bernie Sanders of musicians.”
As an artist, do you feel like you need to push yourself to have a platform? Or do the things you care about naturally translate themselves into your work?
The second part; hopefully it’s because I care deeply about these things. Lately I’ve felt like I’m the Bernie Sanders of musicians. [Laughs] In the sense that I can only talk about one thing. When you’re promoting a record you need to be talking about the music, but I get stuck talking about police brutality and the disparity between the rich and the poor. I think it’s because it’s election season, but that’s my personality in general. I don’t do much small talk or fluffy talk, I get pretty intense.
Speaking of the music, what do you think you’re bringing to the new record that we haven’t gotten from the first two Poliça albums?
It’s thicker. It has more layers to it. And it hopefully has this feeling, which we worked hard to get, of translating the way that we sound live. It’s hard to do. It can come down to tiny things like finding the right microphone. We just wanted to make a record that has that energy you get when you hear us live. It makes it sound warmer. Really it’s all about keeping it fresh for yourself.
With your first record, there was a lot of outcry over your use of Auto-Tune, which I thought was kind of absurd. How did you respond to that?
I thought it was pretty funny, honestly. I was just using it as a vocal effect to synthesize my voice with the instruments. I like to put it like I’m having a conversation with the music and the sounds, that’s how all our songs start. I’m just talking to the beats. I love vocal effects, that’s my favorite part of what I do. But it really was silly. I mean, who doesn’t use Auto-Tune now? There’s a lot less Auto-Tune on the new record, but I guess I always try to sprint in the opposite direction of what everyone else is doing.
As a parent to newborns, do you think you’re more in tune with the problems facing our planet?
I think so. In my community of people, everyone is very concerned and of the belief that we have to act now. But in general, having a child is daunting. I truly understand why people wouldn’t want to have a child. There’s a level of ignorance that goes with bringing another human into this world. Like, “Why would we have kids? It’s such a bad idea!” Once you’re a parent you become aware that you can’t protect your kids from everything, most things really. We sort of say it in the “Wedding” video, but if you want to raise kids you have to be bold and confident. Like, I’m terrified of flying. But if I have one of my kids with me I’m not afraid, because I have to be strong and keep them calm. They can sense your fear. That’s how you teach bravery and fearlessness.
What’s one of the most challenging parts about being a musician?
Having to stay focused and glued to your band. It’s easy to get distracted along the way. The pressure you feel from wanting to cater to other people is amazing. So it’s important to remember to have fun, to keep it where the band all started. But I also hate having to explain yourself in interviews.
Oh, like right now?
Yes. [Laughs] It’s a very complex process. Sometimes I don’t know why we do things, and I start to get self-conscious and lost in thought about not knowing these answers. It’s kind of like when you start thinking about the universe and why we’re all here, yada, yada, yada.
Have you ever thought about another career you might want to do?
I have actually, because I’m always thinking that the music industry might just evaporate pretty soon. I’ve always thought about what I might do next, and I think the best answer is that I want to be a preschool teacher or a nurse.
Is it hard going on tour with a baby?
I don’t think either of us have enough time for me to give you the full answer to that question.
Check out tracks from Poliça’s new album here.
Photos courtesy of TCB Public Relations.
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