Don’t get her wrong: Channy Leaneagh loves the fact that she’s in a band with two drummers. She’s very fond of the two guys behind the kits personally, too.
When asked for the key difference between a typical performance by her Minneapolis-based electro-rock group, Poliça, and their new album and tour with Berlin-based neoclassical ensemble Stargaze, however, Leaneagh said, “There are less drums to contend with.”
“I can hear myself sing a lot better,” she cheerily reported, qualifying her answer to not offend bandmates Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu.
“They’re playing more electronic pads, and they’ve really reimagined their approach for this project — as have all of us. That allows me to get into this different kind of zone where I can relax more and kind of melt into the strings and the melodies.”
The rhythmic allure of Poliça is still prevalent but slightly subdued alongside a lush layer of strings and a whole lot of other sonic experimentation on “Music for the Long Emergency,” their adventurous and sometimes outright exotic new collaborative record with Stargaze.
As the LP lands Friday after a courtship between the two units that’s lasted well over two years, Poliça and Stargaze have paired up for a string of U.S. dates, including a show at First Avenue next Wednesday.
Talking last week before a trio of East Coast dates, Leaneagh called the new album “what can happen when musicians of different backgrounds get together, get to know each other and work face-to-face.”
“By the time we made the record, we had already played out together and really became friends,” she said. “It wasn’t just a collaboration that happened via the internet.”
Answering questions via the internet, Stargaze’s lead composer and arranger André de Ridder also emphasized the collaborative spirit behind the new album.
“With Poliça, there was a certain sensitivity and space for us, [and] everyone could introduce their ideas,” said de Ridder, whose other ventures outside the classical world have included work with Blur’s Damon Albarn and the electronic duo Mouse on Mars.
He saw the Poliça pairing as “a ‘real’ collaboration, as opposed to only being looked at as a group of classical musicians who accompany an already existing song of a singer or band,” he said.
The partnership first came about in 2016, after Kate Nord–strum, founder of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s genre-crossing Liquid Music series, proposed that the two ensembles meet up for a local performance.
While that was in the works, the two units met up somewhat by chance over the summer of 2016 at the Funkhaus studio complex in L.A. for a free-form music festival co-helmed by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
“It was all very serendipitous,” Leaneagh noted, recounting a creative spark even at their first in-person meeting in Berlin over dinner at de Ridder’s house. At that point, Poliça’s behind-the-scenes producer (and Leaneagh’s husband) Ryan Olson had been sending basic tracks to de Ridder that became the songs on “Music for the Long Emergency.”
“We played them some of the initial tracks that Ryan had made, and they responded right away, it seemed,” she said. “The point was for it to be very raw and not influence either band’s personality onto the beginnings of the music, keep it a true collaboration.
“They got out their instruments and played over it. From that point, the vibe and the emotions everyone has had is just kind of an excited vibe, and carefree.”
The two units would meet up again for their Fitzgerald Theater concert in November 2016, then they reprised that performance at last summer’s Eaux Claires music fest.
In between, they holed up at Vernon’s April Base studio outside Eau Claire to record the album. The rural setting added to the uniqueness of the project for the members of Stargaze.
“It was a huge treat for us, the woods and countryside,” de Ridder remembered. “It’s simply not comparable to Europe. Most of us live in large cities and long for being in the woods. We all carry very warm memories of those dark November days.”
From Leaneagh’s perspective, those days were doubly dark since they came right after the U.S. presidential election. She channeled her disenchantment into “How Is This Happening,” a sprawling, 10-minute song that has already earned ample attention online from NPR Music and numerous music blogs.
“We have got a lot of work to do,” she sings over haunted, frayed strings. “I’ll fight until my days are done.”
More than a year later, Leaneagh said the song resonates with her even more “since we’re in a constant state of chaos now,” but she also yields to her transatlantic collaborators on it for some added perspective.
“You don’t want to become too dramatic about it, because it becomes narcissistic, as if America is the only place dealing with problems right now,” she said. “André grew up when the Berlin Wall was up. He lived through true fascism and difficult times in Germany.”
Said de Ridder, “She couldn’t have put it better in words how she and everyone around her felt, and how we felt ourselves, flying over to the U.S. a mere five days after the elections.”
Other tracks on the album range from the light, flittering, lovelorn opener “Fake Like” to the urgent “Speaking of Ghost” (with ample drums!) to the dramatic, album-closing title track, which references James Howard Kunstler’s book “The Long Emergency,” about pending climate-related disasters.
Having an international partnership added meaningfulness to the songs, Leaneagh said: “It seemed like good timing in that regard.” And the collaborative union may just be getting started.
The two units are now working on more music with a choral element. That’s in addition to a new Poliça album that’s about three-quarters finished. Leaneagh’s prior band, Roma di Luna, is also about to drop an album in May made up mostly of songs it had been working on before its breakup in 2011.
Asked how this long-in-the-works album and tour with Stargaze might influence Poliça and her other projects, Leaneagh said, “It taught me to be patient, and not worry so much about the logistics,” meaning the challenges in financing and organizing such an ambitious project.
It also underlined something her other groups had taught her.
“Friendship really is an important element to making music,” she said.