The Unlikely Front Woman: We meet Channy Leanagh from PoliÇa
Photo by Jeremy Knowles
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 by no stretch one of these people. Overwhelmingly beautiful (more so than any picture might suggest) and incredibly soft spoken, I was wary of our interview. Despite fronting Polica, 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.
Secretly pleased I'd got the last press slot of the day, it's turns out to be one of those interviews where I don't have to refer to questions and 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 and the detrimental effects of Miley Cyrus on society, and 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 the record, 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 alot of people love that video. 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 abit 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 Polica is his favourite band”- it was like, that’s because we’re around him.
So Polica 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 [it features Leanagh brutally torturing herself] How did you decide to film it?
In that video I was just an actress. The ideas came from the directors. He [Nabil] was specifically a director I’d wanted to work with for a long time. He made the video for Novacane, the Frank Ocean song. I loved the way he worked, and I really wanted to see what he’d do with Polica. 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, like, 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 Polica’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 that whole debacle?
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 front woman? 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 band mates 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 fare with 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.
'Shulamith' is out on October 22nd. It's great.
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