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Polica – Past Chats (Classic Dialogues)

Having honed her skills as a vocalist in Gayngs, Poliça’s Channy Leanagh speaks to Lauren Down about her ghosts.

Weaving a delicate, smooth tapestry from reels of nineties r‘n’b, hip hop and slick pop grooves, Gayngs alumni Ryan Olson and Channy Leanagh’s latest project Poliça only found its footing a year ago – a time frame that doesn’t quite prepare you for the sonic maturity found within their recently released debut. ‘Give You The Ghost’ finds its emotional depth wrapped in protective layers of silky vocals, hypnotic percussion and richly textured beats, so much so that it took speaking to Channy about the inspiration and experiences behind her lyrics to really open my eyes to the album’s nuances.

“The record was this happening of a very specific moment in my life that…” she trails off as we sit under the hot Texan sun before tentatively continuing “…was probably one of the hardest times I’ve ever gone through and the record is like the ghost of that.” An earnest and unexpectedly candid chanteuse she explains “I wrote this record at the time that I was leaving my husband and it is not really me anymore. I guess it’s like when you’re in a relationship with somebody and they don’t want to let you go you can sort of say I can’t give you myself but I’ll give you the ghost of who I was to you.”

Every part of ‘Give You The Ghost’ reflects the duality of her personal experiences – the liberation, anger, confusion and struggle of divorce, especially with a 3 year old daughter in the mix. “The cover was done by a photographer from Minneapolis called Cameron Wittig. It’s just his bedroom window but it’s very literal, you know it’s just a bed with one pillow. It’s this new life of not being married and kind of the freedom in that. The freedom and the loneliness I guess.”

But like the beautiful, ethereal ambience of the record that protects it’s aching core Channy elaborates on her life “like a soap opera” creating “fantastical non-fiction” that seems to ease the difficulty of sharing it with strangers because it becomes about more than just her. “You know I’ve never actually been strangled by anybody but it’s poetic licence you know. ‘Leading To Death’ is more about falling in love, falling for somebody that you know is the wrong this for you and it is like absolutely leading you to your death. You find yourself dreaming of them, thinking of them all the time like a really potent cigarette – you’re just self destructing.”

It is important to note that the liberation within the record is not only a personal one but a creative one, “I feel like this album is me grabbing for what I wanted and I was interested in doing something different than the kind of music I was already a part of.” So when Ryan Olson asked her to sing with Gayngs she took the opportunity to ask him if he would help her with some songs. “We started by picking out about 12 tracks that he had already made like 10 years ago for another band that he had never used.” When I asked her if this was a frustrating way to make a record she responded sprightly with “no not at all, it was hugely liberating and exciting. A lot of the beats worked perfectly with lyrics and melodies that I already had in mind, so I just improv’d over them and most things ended up sticking.  For Ryan to already have these synth tracks laid down for me to freestyle over and experiments with on my own was just the perfect thing for me at the time.” Further adding “I feel like I’m somebody who just steals from other people’s lives anyway, like I’ll read a page from a book and get an idea for a song. My mind is a very disorganised mess of things that I’ve heard and seen but writing for me is definitely a cathartic outlet, it is very much like therapy.”

Field Notes

  1. Channy was a violin player and although she still teaches, she kind of stopped playing for herself because it made her daughter cry.
  2. The full band is bassist Chris Bierdan, drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and of course Channy, who sings through a Helicon vocal processor.
  3. Ryan Olson used army-like hand signals while the band were in the recording studio to signify when the beat needed to change, when there was a breaks or when the volume needed adjusting.
  4. Jai Paul’s ‘BTSTU’ was sent to Channy by her brother whilst working on the record and she founds the “don’t fuck with me” chorus line really comforting, like a confidence booster.
  5. Before embarking on her music career Channy went to nursing school for a while.

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