News Column

Poli a talks past and future at Coachella

November 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 24--NOTE: This interview with Polica from the Coachella Music Fest ran in April as the band prepared the roll-out of its second album, "Shulamith."

INDIO, CALIF. -- Jimmy Fallon's and Jimmy Kimmel's TV shows certainly provided some excitement. So did the four trips to Europe. Singapore, Iceland and New Zealand all proved exotic. The two coast-to-coast U.S. treks were grueling but paid off.

And then there was the Coachella Music Festival, a fitting climax to Polica's whirlwind, worldwide coming-out marathon. On Wednesday, the electronically rigged, rhythmically awash Minneapolis quartet returns home to symbolically wrap up the bulk of its road work at First Avenue, where the group launched its record 14 months ago.

"Start to finish, this has been a life-changing experience," said Drew Christopherson, one of the band's two drummers, talking just a half-hour last Friday after finishing their second set at California's sunbaked, desert mega-bash.

Polica faced a sweaty tent full of a few thousand fans, many of them dancing and mouthing along to their songs. Backstage, the members sounded a little winded but still excited as they looked back on how far they've come since Valentine's Day 2012.

That was the drop date of their debut album, "Give You the Ghost," and their kickoff performance at First Ave. Astonishingly, local fans gobbled up tickets before they even had a chance to own the record. Wednesday's show has long since sold out, too.

"That's maybe been the weirdest thing this whole time: People have actually been showing up to see us," quipped Ben Ivascu, the group's other drummer.

Christopherson pointed to a gig last month at a 2,000-capacity venue in Brussels as his favorite example: "In Europe, we never have much of an idea ahead of time what the venues or the crowds are going to be like. This one, I walked out on stage and saw how big it was, and I was like, 'Is this the right place? Is this really where we're playing?' And then I found out it was sold out, too."

It's time for a time-out

Things happened unnaturally fast for Polica, a fact the band credits to its ties with indie-rock guru Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon, and to its members' previous work with an assortment of beloved local groups (including Roma di Luna, Marijuana Deathsquads and Vampire Hands).

Frontwoman Channy Leaneagh, however, said things will progress more slowly from here on out. "We're going to take our time and not rush the new album," she said, describing the rather unusual process in recent months with the band's behind-the-curtain producer, Ryan Olson, of Deathsquads and Gayngs indie fame.

"Ryan just sent me a reworked beat, and I wrote some stuff to go with it. I can't wait to get home and work on it. But I have had to wait like that a lot, because we've been gone on the road so much."

The group's genesis grew out of the siren-voiced former folkie's experiments with the electronic voice-manipulation device Helicon -- think: an earthier, cooler version of AutoTune -- over rhythmic tracks provided by Olson. Eventually they brought in Christopherson and Ivascu for the unconventional two-drummer foundation, plus bassist and backup singer Chris Bierden.

While all four were friends, they admit it was a bit disorienting to suddenly wind up in a tour van together for a year and a half. "It was weird, yeah, but also a lot of fun," Bierden said.

Said Christopherson, "We had some natural chemistry when we started, but I think as a band we've really come together. We're more in control now. Instead of letting the music take us somewhere, we're taking charge of it more."

The band has been trying out a small bundle of new songs on the road, including "Tiff," a slow-grinder with Vernon on guest vocals that was just released as a single. At Coa chella, the quartet also freshened up its set with a coolly left-field Keith Sweat cover song.

For Leaneagh, all the road work has been extra trying, because she has a 4-year-old daughter at home.

"It has only gotten easier because she is growing up and is in school with friends now," she said, "but I still miss her intensely."

Mom's work certainly hasn't been for naught. In August, Polica's album -- initially released on its in-house label, Totally Gross National Product -- was reissued by New York indie Mom + Pop Music, the label behind Metric and Sleigh Bells. This summer, the band will enjoy a little extra payout with occasional, one-off festival gigs, including one at New York's massive Governor's Ball and another closer to home at the second annual Summer Set Aug. 9-11 in Somerset, Wis.

With plenty to look forward to, the band members laughed at some of the more humbling experiences back when they first hit the road.

"We would hear stuff like, 'You use a Helicon?! I hate those things,'?" Leaneagh recalled.

Christopherson added, 'Yeah, and, 'Two drummers?! What the?...??!'?"

Ivascu: "And, 'I hope you guys brought an extra bass-drum mic, because I only got one.'?"

In other words, the past 14 months have been a learning curve for everyone involved.

Chris Riemenschneider -- 612-673-4658 -- Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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