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The Unlikely Frontwoman: We met Channy Leanagh from Poliça

We spoke to Poliça singer, Channy Leaneagh, about their new record, feminism, Miley, and how interviews make her feel a bit gross.

by Tamara Roper
Oct 22 2013, 9:30pm

Photo by Jeremy Knowles.

London's Soho House is a bit of an awkward place for an interview. It's noisy, and full of people who enjoy the sound of their own voice a little too much. Channy Leaneagh is not one of these people. Overwhelmingly beautiful (more so than any picture suggests) and incredibly soft spoken, I was wary of our interview. Despite fronting Poliça, a band who rose to success at an alarming fast rate, and count Kanye West as a fan, I've heard she's notoriously shy in interviews.

Instead I find she drops all of the "made for magazine" bullshit that artists have so well honed these days. As men in suits talk business, we dicuss Bon Iver, feminism, and the detrimental effects of Miley Cyrus on society. It's the sort of conversation that makes me feel older and wiser than I actually am.

Noisey: Your new record Shulamith is named after the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone. How did you come about her?

Channy: I’ll probably never be able to explain to people properly why I chose her, why she fit the record so completely. I chose that name not because I wanted to make a statement about feminism—I didn’t want it to take over the record. After I finished writing it, I read The Dialectic of Sex. I started reading it, and I couldn’t stop. I was like, “This woman has just said everything I’m trying to say in 12 songs, perfectly.” This is what I wanted to say, this is what I was looking for. This woman to me is like my pop star. I want to try and be more like her.

You’ve come incredibly far in such a short space of time. Does it all tie back into making music for music’s sake for you?

It really does. Coming from the community we come from, going back home and seeing bands that are making music that are tons better than ours, you want to stay true to where you come from, and make the people at home proud.

Have you ever felt yourself falter?

There’ve been times where I’ve felt like I didn't do things right. It mostly happens in interviews, when I feel like I didn’t articulate what the band was doing well enough, so I did damage to the band. Sometimes when I do photo shoots, I feel like I don’t look like myself. I feel like I need to be more assertive.

Do you find the self promotional side of being an artist difficult?

Yeah. I come from a place where everybody is very accepting and very polite. I want to please people in general. I don’t love some of the things that we’ve done. I don’t love all our videos.

Any in particular?

I’m not a big fan of the "Wandering Star" video, though I know a lot of people love it. People write me, or come up to me and tell me that. So I guess I’m not making this just for myself. I’ve not made anything that I’m embarrassed of, or that I feel I’ve sold myself out over. I still love working with people, I don’t like to do things all on my own, I love working with other artists, I want to work with people and see what they make.


Speaking of videos, let’s talk about “Tiff.” How was working with Bon Iver? How do you know one another?

We recorded pretty much the whole album in Justin [Vernon]’s studio in Wisconsin. Drew, my drummer, and Ryan grew up around Justin—actually to be honest, my manager is Justin’s brother. People say “OMG Justin Vernon said Poliça is his favorite band!” That’s because we’re around him.

So Poliça and Bon Iver are pals?

Yes. Our record was coming out, and I don’t think he was doing it for publicity’s sake, we’re just the sort of community that are obnoxiously fan boys for each other. We love each other’s music. He said it when he was listening to it, probably because his brother was listening to it. So those things seem like a big deal to everybody, but to us, is just a very nice thing of him to say. You try and lift the people in your community: he’s very inspiring in that way. He really lifts up the place that he’s from. So, we were just sitting around, recording that song, and we asked him if he wanted to choose a song and sing on it, and he wanted to sing on "Tiff." He was just around, it kind of just happened.

The video for it incredibly graphic. How did you decide to film it?

In that video I was just an actress. The ideas came from the directors. He [Nabil Elderkin] was specifically a director I’d wanted to work with for a long time. He made the video forb Frank Ocean's "Novacane." I loved the way he worked, and I really wanted to see what he’d do with Poliça. I wanted to have that experience of working with someone outside of my community too. It was very scary, but a very good challenge.

Did he give you much of a brief?

I didn’t actually get very much of a brief. I got a short treatment. Mike Piscitelli called me a couple of days before the shoot and said, “This is going to be really intense, it’s going to be a really long day, do you think you can do this?” and I said I think so. I got there and I did it, and it was a very intense day, but I did enjoy the experience. I really enjoy challenges and new experiences; it’s just awesome to watch a video crew made of very talented people working hard.

I struggled more when I had to do things to the double, though I did play both roles. I remember on the way to LA I had to send them a picture of myself so they could get a body double. I went into the airport bathroom and took a selfie in my underwear. That [beating up the body double] was the hardest part. In Poliça’s music, and with me personally, I don’t have too much of a hard time tearing myself down. I don’t shy away from violent films. Irreversible is something I watched shortly after I made this record, and it changed my mind. I don’t mind watching violence if it’s about learning about how people deal with these situations. When watched “Tiff” I thought, “That’s an intense video.” I told my mom and my brother not to watch it. They watched a tiny bit.

Do you think "Tiff" will be the only video you’ll do that will be in that sort of style?

I wasn’t trying to make a shocking thing. But then I did. There’s tons more disturbing things out there. I’m more disturbed by young girls acting like slaves to men in videos.

Like Miley? How do you feel about her?

I watched the YouTube video yesterday. I’m so tired of girls in leotards and bikinis, shaking their ass. There’s a lot of articles talking about how the whole thing was dominated by white artists, who are grossly stealing black culture. In general, I’m not sure where the music was. It’s like a gossip column. The music industry is a rough place.

How have you fared as a female frontwoman? Indie music is a very male dominated place, as with most genres I guess.

I like to be able to be aggravated so I can rebel against something. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been put with people and I’ve searched out people who are very grounded. My bandmates are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They’re very respectful, very funny, just good people. There’s no definition between male and female, we try to keep it like that. I’m very introverted, and sensitive to people. I don’t go out to the audience very much after I play not because I think I’m above that. That show, that performance is the most extroverted performance I will do all day. That’s a lot for me. I’m really insular and introverted, I’m nervous about interacting with people.

How do you feel about interviews? You’ve been doing them all day.

I had a horrible first one. I’m not good at them. I usually cry. In Paris I had a full day of interviews, and I started hysterically laughing on the phone to a friend and then I bawled for about an hour afterwards. But then I felt better. It’s weird for me, it feels gross. Who wants to talk about themselves this much?!

I've no idea.

Poliça on tour

North America
10/31 Milwaukee, WI - Turner Hall
11/01 Toronto, ON - Mod Club
11/02 Montreal, QC - Cabaret Mile End
11/04 Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club
11/06 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
11/08 New York, NY - Webster Hall
11/11 Nashville, TN - Mercy Lounge
11/12 Atlanta, GA - Terminal West
11/14 Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's Upstairs
11/15 Austin, TX - Emo's
11/16 Dallas, TX - Trees
11/18 Phoenix, AZ - The Crescent Ballroom
11/20 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre
11/21 San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore
11/22 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
11/23 Seattle, WA - Showbox at the Market
11/26 Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater
11/29 Minneapolis, MN - Mill City Nights
11/30 Minneapolis, MN - Mill City Nights
12/05 Chicago, IL - Metro
12/06 Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
12/07 Madison, WI - Barrymore Theatre

UK/ Europe
01/22 - Stockholm, SWE - Debaser
01/23 - Oslo, NOR - Bla
01/24 - Copenhagen, DEN - Vega
01/25 - Hamburg, GER - Uebel & Gefährlich
01/27 - Berlin, GER - Heimathafen
01/28 - Cologne, GER - Kulturkirche
01/29 - Brussels, BEL - AB (Main Hall)
01/30- Paris, FRA - Gaité Lyrique
02/01 - Lausanne, SWI - Les Docks
02/02 - Baden, SWI - One In A Million Festival
02/04 - Amsterdam, HOL - Melkweg
02/06 - Bristol, UK - O2 Academy
02/07 - Glasgow, UK - The Arches
02/08 - Manchester, UK - The Ritz
02/10 - Brighton, UK - All Saints Church
02/12 - London, UK - The Troxy

'Shulamith' is out on October 22nd. It's great.

Tamara is on Twitter - @tamararoper.

Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.

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