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FILTER 48: Strangers in the Night: The Ghost Stories of Poliça

By Lauren Harris; photos by Marc Lemoine on June 21, 2012


FILTER 48: Strangers in the Night: The Ghost Stories of Poliça

It started with a series of beats, of clicks and stops and spaces that four people were to know by heart and build upon. In their cars and in their rooms, the members of Poliça—before they even knew they were the members of Poliça—were given the scaffolding, and without ever discussing it, created their gorgeously sullen, R&B-flecked debut Give You the Ghost.

Orbiting each other through their Minneapolis days, Poliça—comprised of lead singer Channy Leaneagh, drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and bassist Chris Bierden—was initially less a band than an all-star team, each drafted by producer Ryan Olson, who had created the beats these songs were carved out of, some up to 15 years ago. Olson knew all the members through various Minneapolis musical mainstays Roma di Luna, Vampire Hands, GAYNGS and Bon Iver and, over time, brought each one in to the band by first introducing them to these 11 tracks. In each member, Olson recognized something intrinsic and necessary to the sound Poliça would come to have. While Poliça’s formation may appear to have more in common with a boy band than an artistic endeavor, Leaneagh is quick to point out just how far that is from the case. “It sounds like we were manufactured, put together, but we just wanted to make songs together. It happened pretty organically.

“We knew these beats,” explains Leaneagh of the unorthodox process that created Ghost. “We were all connected to it. We were all reacting to this one thing.” It wasn’t until after the record had been completed, at the band’s first practice, that its members would all inhabit the same space at the same time. Nerves gave way to the crackle of potential once they started to play. “As soon as we started playing and I saw the way [Channy] zoned out and started to dance, I knew it was going to be interesting,” says Christopherson.

While the process of making music in a vacuum might sound challenging, it was a welcome reprieve for Leaneagh, who for years had been one-half of the husband-wife duo behind Roma di Luna with her former spouse Alexei Caselle. The dissolution of that band, and of greater magnitude, her marriage, left Leaneagh in an emotionally depleted space; to conceive of a new way to collaborate was highly appealing. “We don’t have the basis or the history of friendship,” she says. “In a way, it’s a work environment where we want to get along with each other because we work together.” Free of certain interpersonal dynamics that can make life in a band so challenging, the effect is a greater clarity of purpose. “There’s a sense that there’s a mission that we were put together to do.”

In both its construction and the emotions it traffics in, Poliça (pronounced po-lisa, and translating to “policy” in numerous eastern European languages) is getting at something more primitive than the cerebrality that has come to characterize much of independent music. In moments, Leaneagh is a spine-winding seductress; at other times a gorgeous fury, calling up some deep well of emotion that is almost unrecognizable when speaking with the exceedingly polite, pixieish Minnesotan. The decision to drench Leaneagh’s voice in Auto-Tune on virtually every song adds to the bracing chill of Ghost, and places distance between the recorded Leaneagh and the one met in conversation.

The divide is not unintentional, says Leaneagh. “I recorded a lot of the record sitting on my couch smoking cigarettes at 2 a.m.,” she says, alluding to the emotional state she was in last spring while writing the lyrics for this record. “I was in a different mind state, like an alter ego or something.” While Leaneagh is clear about not wishing to return to that place and time, there is a sense of loss communicated over the fact that she could not even if she wanted, a nostalgia for the space she inhabited, and its simplicity. “A lot of the songs are about me being in a relationship, and not being able to give yourself to the relationship anymore, but you can give the ghost of yourself to it.”

Though the band members were essentially strangers when they began playing together, there is a strong current of intimacy between them, and a reverence from the emotional space these songs came out of. “It’s a time capsule,” says Christopherson. “It’s a record of a place in your life that you can’t get back to.”

The band is acutely aware of the conditions under which Ghost was created, and what that might mean for the next Poliça album. There is an inherent inability to once again create in those same circumstances, but the band is unconcerned—there is an excitement to work together, to create from the sum of their parts rather than in isolation. “I am very moved by these beats, and these two drummers and this bass player,” Leaneagh says. “We’ve gotten to know the setup a little better, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do as a band.”   F