A track-by-track guide to Polica's new album 'When We Stay Alive'

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Polica, 'When We Stay Alive'
Polica, 'When We Stay Alive' (Memphis Industries)

When Poliça frontwoman Channy Leaneagh fell off her roof last winter and seriously injured her back. She was told she was lucky to be alive, let alone be able to walk. Even so, her recovery was a long and grueling process that kept her from being able to work or take care of her two children.

But now the singer and her vibrant synth-pop outfit have returned with a new record, When We Stay Alive.

Mixed in Austin with longtime collaborator Jim Eno, When We Stay Alive is a complex and vulnerable record that examines the trauma of the accident and Leaneagh's role as a mother. It also features the band's transition to an exclusively electronic percussion setup.

Leaneagh joined Local Show host Andrea Swensson to contextualize the stories and emotions behind each song on this deeply personal album. Below, listen to the songs on Poliça's fifth studio album (including a 2018 s t a r g a z e collaboration).

Driving

"We started about a year before February 2019. We had been working and we had even toured a little bit in Europe with about six of the songs, to kind of see how it felt, because we knew that we wanted to redo the way the drums worked live for PoliÔa. We wanted to move to all electronic kits. So we toured in Europe with about six of the songs — like 'Trash in Bed,' 'Driving' — to kind of see how people reacted, to see how we felt with these electronic kits.

"So in that sense, some of these songs are a couple of years old. Then we wrote about ten songs after February 2019 and finished about June, because then we went to Austin, Texas and mixed the record with Jim Eno, like we did the first record. Ryan [Olson] and I both wanted to try that again. With the first record we had given Jim Eno ten tracks that he couldn't even really mix. All the synths were bound together and couldn't be separated, and then he just had to deal with that and live drums and my vocals. So we wanted to work with him in a situation where we could really get into it. We were with him for a week.

"That's kind of the process of the record. We mastered it back here [in Minnesota] with Bruce Templeton, and it was sort of a hodgepodge of things with my healing that a lot of the record was recorded in my house, vocally, or with Alex Proctor, who does sound with us. I was determined with this record, even before I got hurt, that I would figure out a way to be comfortable when I record. I was always just very awkward in the studio. We would go away to El Paso with United Crushers, or we'd go to April Base or something, and I'd just be so nervous. When I'd get on stage, it's like I could sing the songs, finally.

"So I was just determined to not do that again. It helped a lot to also have some different experiences, the past couple years, of recording. I just got more used to how I wanted my voice to sound, and how to get comfortable. I needed to figure it out. So that happened on this record too, and then even [bassist] Chris Bierden had a better setup for himself. Everybody was kind on their own, recording in places that they felt most comfortable. Ryan was writing in his studio in North Minneapolis, so everybody just knew that they needed to be in their best working spaces. What was best for them, not necessarily what was best of most convenient for the whole group, but their creative zone of genius. That's a Gay Hendricks reference."

TATA

"The title is sort of like...I thought it was the word 'ta-da.' 'Tata,' you know? But I also had a neighbor named Tata who...this is also sort of a drop to her. This was a magical, wonderful girl who moved away and we kind of lost contact, but she was a really special person in my life. And that song is certainly not about her, but it's a song I think she would enjoy. She still likes to come to my shows and dance with my daughter."

Fold Up

"'Fold Up' was the last song that I wrote for the record and at that point, I was kind of like, 'uncle,' I've said all I need to say. I didn't really want to work on it anymore. There was one night that I put the kids to bed and I just felt I had something I wanted to try to conjure that wasn't even necessarily something I wanted to say, but I just wanted to try to make it a real job where I thought of something that wasn't necessarily my feelings. But I can totally relate to it and it was kind of tongue in cheek. 'Fold Up' is sort of like poking fun at myself for kind of being whiny or feeling lonely, feeling ignored when you know usually just have to ask for what you need."

Feel Life

"'Feel Life' is just like that wake up, when I hit the ground and fell. I finally felt more awake than I had, you know, since maybe I gave birth to my child or something. Where you come into your body again and you're like, 'Oh my God, it's like I've been sleepwalking for a couple years now.' It's when you start to heal your physical body. When you're kind of snapped into waking up and coming back into your body and you have to work on the physical then you start to be able to relate again, to be emotional and be like, 'I do want to stay alive. I do want to be here.'"

Little Threads

"This one came out of...we actually made a record with Dustin Zahn before this one, and a record with Alex Nutter before this one and those haven't come out yet, but it felt like it belonged on the record. I felt like it was a part of this release. So this is kind of a special glimpse into how fun it was to make songs with Dustin."

Be Again

"'Be Again' was one of the first songs I sang when I had my brace on. It has a really interesting quality that we ended up keeping. I did record it without the brace. At first I didn't really like the tightness. It has like a tight, kind of airy sound, which I don't usually sing like. And it was kind of all mental because the brace wasn't pushing on my diaphragm. It was just pushing on my ribs but it felt like I didn't have access my diaphragm. I just had to kind of learn that over again. So it (sounds) like I'm taking hits of ether in between singing.

"It's a song about...it sounds kind of like a love song or a conversation between two, you know, someone and a lover or something but it's actually talking to a self and you know, kind of different parts of yourself and talking about like coming back in to yourself. If you kind of think about the idea of like dissociating or kind of living outside of your body from different things that have happened and then kind of how you bring yourself back again and take ownership over your body. So it's sort of a love letter to the body and the self and the ego and all the good and the bad of the person."

Steady

"'Steady' was a song I wrote and it was this really empty track when Ryan sent it. It has this kind of jangly, unsteady sound. It was shortly after my parents had moved away. And my parents were like, literally the reason why I was able to tour with children. My daughter grew up with them. They know how to do everything that I would do. And so they moved away and retired in there, you know, can do some things and I had this feeling for the first time I was like, 'Oh, I'm in charge here.' So there was this unsteadiness for a couple years, it really felt like I wanted to just, you know, rent someone's grandparents."

Forget Me Now

"I have to really temper myself when I sing it live because I want to, like, scream it. But it's sort of a ballad, a very emotive ballad. It's when you feel like, what about you? It's sort of, [the song's subject is] narcissistic. What about me is making these people that I fall in love with just like, not be their best selves? Just, you know, whining about your choices."

Blood Moon

"'Blood Moon' is kind of like my baby. It's like a long story song, but it's really dear to my heart."

Sea Without Blue

"It sounds a little bit like an Irish drinking song, we always thought in the beginning. It's kind of evolved from that, but you can hear it a little bit in the web of the song."

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  • Album of the Week: Polica, 'When We Stay Alive' When We Stay Alive is an album about navigating a period of pain and loss, and about changing our relationship to our trauma. Channy writes beautifully about these topics, taking the listener along for the ride as she finds herself again and reconnects with her band.

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