With each new album, Channy Leaneagh wants her music to do the talking.
“I’m always kind of writing a biography of this time in my life,” says Leaneagh, the frontwoman of the Minneapolis-based, internationally acclaimed synth-pop band Poliça.
The past year has provided a fount of personal and professional moments to sing about. The vocalist toured the globe, married Poliça producer and co-founder Ryan Olson, and the couple welcomed a baby boy, Schwa, born in October. On Friday, three nights of sold-out local shows culminate with a performance in First Avenue’s mainroom and the release of Poliça’s new album, “United Crushers.”
How much of her private life influenced the new recording?
“I don’t even know how people know I got married,” Leaneagh said by phone from New York on the eve of her 35th birthday — as baby Schwa babbled in the background. “Let’s just stick to the record stuff.”
Answering inquiries about the origins of song titles and lyrics is as close as the shy, soft-spoken Leaneagh will come to opening up.
The new album, “an homage to Minneapolis,” bears a title with two meanings. It references a popular Twin Cities graffiti tag, most prominent on the Archer-Daniels-Midland silos near TCF Bank Stadium. It is also meant to be an encouraging phrase, referring to people uniting to crush negative forces like poverty, violence, ego, vanity and poisonous relationships.
Politics and personal experience heavily influence Leaneagh’s songwriting, though they sometimes seem to blend together. The band’s Valentine’s Day 2012 debut, “Give You the Ghost,” was steeped in heartache. Its 2013 follow-up, “Shulamith,” was named after feminist Shulamith Firestone and included the bloody life cycle of women and self-torture among its themes.
“Loneliness and isolation are something that go hand-in-hand with every record I’ve probably ever written,” Leaneagh says.
“United Crushers” falls somewhere in between those two albums’ extremes — pregnant with messages of social uprising yet showcasing Leaneagh’s big, bare belly on the album cover.
“There’s this walk between an intense, bold sound mixed with this vulnerability and sadness,” Leaneagh says of the band’s aesthetic.
On “Fish,” she asks, “I wonder about my friends / Why don’t they call? / Could it be that I / Have none at all?”
“Poliça is definitely like my extended family,” Leaneagh says, “but the more you’re gone, the more you get farther and farther away from your community at home. You build different communities around the world and you meet more people, but you keep up with people less and less. Your world becomes smaller and bigger at the same time.”
A track called “Wedding” is actually about the marriage between the drug trade and police militarization. That song’s music video is “Sesame Street”-themed, inspired by an ’80s episode of the public television show on how crayons are made. In Poliça’s story line, however, the children make gas masks. Another song, “Summer Please,” was inspired by an argument between a man and a woman that turned violent near the Minneapolis home Leaneagh shares with Olson. A line that echoes self-affirmation, “I’ve got mine / I’ll be fine,” reflects the views of bystanders who choose not to intervene when they witness suffering and injustice.
Despite the grimness of these topics, there is something optimistic about “United Crushers.” It is the soundtrack of a woman rising from the rubble, refusing to be defined by dashed dreams. It is a juxtaposition of sinister and sweet, helplessness and power, fear vs. hope.
Poliça, which also includes bassist Chris Bierden and drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, was formed in 2011 and quickly garnered rave reviews from the international press for its dreamy production and Leaneagh’s Helicon-manipulated vocals. The foursome has hit every indie band milestone you can think of, from “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” to mega-festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury to shout-outs from Rolling Stone.
“Channy does a really good job of bridging that gap between electronic and robotic energy,” Christopherson says. “There’s a certain emotional resonance.”
Poliça’s first two albums were recorded in bedroom studios, lending an urgent DIY feel to the finished product. For “United Crushers,” the band composed and rehearsed all of the songs before heading south to Sonic Ranch, a massive residential recording studio in small-town Tornillo, Texas. Along the way, Poliça played the new material live for audiences.
“This time around, we went in super prepared,” says Christopherson. “It was like we were going into the studio in the middle of the tour.”
The band holed up for 10 days on Sonic Ranch’s 2,300-acre pecan orchard within biking distance of the Mexican border and the Rio Grande. Leaneagh says the secluded, intimate setting was more conducive to creativity. The desert weather was an added perk.
“It’s always good to get into the heat,” she says.
The result is a dozen distinctly danceable tracks that seamlessly meld into a seductive trance.
The band previewed “United Crushers” early this year in performances in Paris, Berlin, London, Bristol and New York. This week’s trio of local shows started with the Turf Club (Wed.), then 7th Street Entry (Thu.) and ends with First Ave.
Hometown shows complete, the band will crisscross the U.S. for two months — and they’ll be doing so as humbly as they did when they began.
“Every tour is a different conversation on whether we should get a bus or not,” says Christopherson. “In the end, it always seems to make sense to do it how we always do it: in a van, driving ourselves. We’ve chiseled this into a fine-working instrument so we don’t want to mess with that.”
A ‘United’ front
Leaneagh has been perfecting the balance of motherhood and a touring musician’s life since long before Schwa’s arrival. She has a 7-year-old daughter, Pelagia, with ex-husband Alexei Casselle, whom she met while both were students at South High School. Together, they started the folk band Roma di Luna; it, and the marriage, broke up in 2011. (Casselle’s hip-hop group, Kill the Vultures, will open for Poliça on Friday.)
In the past, Leaneagh has relied on support from Casselle, her parents, extended family and friends to care for Pelagia so she can tour.
“I use my community. That’s how I can do what I do,” she says.
This time, Schwa will be along for the ride, as will Olson.
“He’s very much a part of this band as much as anybody else is,” Christopherson says. “To have the whole crew with you … is real important.”
The band has an equally intimidating number of dates booked in Europe and the U.K. in the fall, but Christopherson says the guys aren’t fazed about having a baby on board.
“We were just supportive and excited about it from Day 1,” he said. “I’m sure Channy had her questions whether it was the move to do or not, but I’m glad that they decided to give it a shot. We’re all trying to be there to help out whenever we can.”
As for Leaneagh, does she feel like she’s arrived, at least professionally? Not exactly.
“I think it’s a continual process of trying to make things that continue to inspire us and we’re excited about,” she says. “There’s other music I want to make with this band and I’m driven to keep on keeping on and discovering new places we can go.”
Erica Rivera is a Twin Cities-based writer.