Being described by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as “the best band I’ve ever heard”, and donning smatterings of 5 star reviews for United Crushers, Poliça are blowing minds with their follow up album to 2013’s Shulamith. As dreamy as ever, but packing ever so slightly more of a punch, Poliça are set to hit our shores this year for Vivid LIVE, for the first time since their sold out shows back in 2013.
Named their most remarkable release to date, Poliça’s third studio album United Crushers explores the dark and grinding inner mechanics of social injustice from both a political and a personal stance. In the midst of all this, however, they are reaching for love, unity, empowerment and celebration.
The video to their second single Wedding (below) is the perfect enactment of this. They use a ‘70s Sesame St inspired set, kooky, surreal soft puppets and a mob of adorable children to gently convey their message about the police state and the need for our peaceful uprising as a community.
Music Feeds got a moment to speak to Chris Bierden from his hometown of Minneapolis. He invites us into Poliça’s weird and surreal world, telling us about the band’s creative process, road testing the album all the way to the Mexican border, and being an ally in the feminist movement.
MF: First of all, congrats on the new album!
Chris: Thank you very much.
MF: You’ve described the title United Crushers as being a phrase that encourages the crushing of negative forces. Can you elaborate on this?
Chris: Sure. United Crushers is a tag that you can see around Minneapolis. It’s a crew of graffiti artists that use that title. That inspired Channey to address some of the social themes that she’s talking about on the record… observations about the current climate with the police state and the social welfare questions that a lot of cities in the United States faces.
Minnesota, in particular has a lot of inequity. And so those are just the kind of things that were running through her mind when she was writing the record.
MF: So through using that phrase is she encouraging empowerment within communities, and bringing together the people?
Chris: Yes, exactly. If we fit into that picture in any small way, bringing people together in conversation… The Black Lives Matter movement is very strong in Minneapolis.
That was a big thing that happened last year, so we were all kind of going through that at the same time. I think just bringing the band into the conversation is a big part of it.
MF: Absolutely. Your video for Wedding also delivers a powerful, political message in a really creative and gentle way. Can you talk about the way you came up with the idea for the video and the meaning behind it?
Chris: We collaborate with a video maker in town, Isaac Gale. There was a collaboration between him and Brian and Channey, predominantly. They workshopped the idea together and drew up a sketch of what they wanted to do with it. And then I walked in to a big sound stage with like twenty kids running around playing, I didn’t realise the scope of it!
It was pretty amazing actually. It was quite lovely (laughs) considering the themes that they were addressing. It was actually a very playful video shoot; the kids were having a lot of fun. It was mostly our friends’ children that were there.
MF: It sounds amazing! So, in regards to your sound, Channey has described it as having an “intense bold sound mixed with vulnerability and sadness.” You can hear that carry across all three albums, yet they also sound so unique. Would you say you are refining your sound over time and can you talk about the process?
Chris: The uniqueness always starts with Brian Olson composing the track and then Channey writing vocals over them. We do collaborate when writing the songs too in some ways, but generally it’s a certain pairing of those two, and then they kind of see which ones work the best.
On this record we were bringing [the songs] into the practice space, we were all writing at the same time and fumbling around trying to figure out where our part is in the song… [Our sound] comes from four different school of music. We’ve all entered bands and music scenes through different avenues, so the band kind of meets in the centre where we all connect.
For this record we did it all in the practice space and then we took it on the road for two weeks on the way to the recording studio. So we were basically showcasing the new music live as we were still processing how the parts were supposed to be, and letting the crowd react to it. By the time we got to the studio it was pretty well defined what we were trying to do, and then we just spent a week doing it.
MF: And you ended up in Texas to record?
Chris: That is correct. We landed 40 miles outside of El Paso, Texas on the Mexican border. Right on the border there… it’s a pretty surreal desert landscape to be composing and writing.
MF: What an amazing place to do that… Just to reflect back a bit, on your last album Shulamith, Channey talks a lot about skewing the ideals of femininity in her lyrics. Would you say that United Cruishers further explores issues of gender but in a less obvious way?
Chris: It’s in there, it’s definitely in there. It’s not quite as focused as I’d say Shulamith was. I feel like [in United Crushers] she definitely broadened the scope of what she’s singing about. She’s always telling personal stories and so those elements, those things, are the kinds of things she thinks about and deals with on a day-to-day basis.
Just being a woman in music… it can be such a male dominated industry and it would be impossible to not write about how it effects you. It’s always in a lot of her songs.
MF: And as a man, how do you relate to those issues that she’s singing about? I imagine it would be quite present in your relationships within the band?
Chris: Absolutely. I would hope, and like to think, that all members of the band are male allies in the feminist movement. We have lots of political discussions in our band. We get along very well in that sense, and so I am absolutely more than happy to be in a band that can talk about these issues and express them with a certain amount of fluidity and grace.
I think it’s really interesting and it’s exciting. It’s exciting that there’s something embedded in the songs that’s more than just “oh we’re singing a fun song that we hope people like”.
MF: I noticed that the new album’s release date almost coincided with International Women’s Day. Was this intentional?
Chris: Oh My Gosh! I don’t think that it was. That was mapped out so far in advance… I didn’t even realise or make that connection and it hasn’t come up, but maybe I’ll have to ask!
MF: You haven’t been back to Sydney since your Give You The Ghost tour in 2013. How far would you say you have you come with your live show since then?
Chris: That’s a good question! For this last tour we’ve been running our own light show that has been pre-programmed by a wonderful lighting designer, and that has really affected the mood of our live shows. It’s actually very dark in some spots and can be very cinematic and dramatic, and the lighting cues are all synced up with the tracks.
So that’s probably the biggest difference, other than the fact that we’re always trying to refine and tighten [the live show] as much as humanly possible. The more you do it the tighter it gets, and the more confident you are with what you’re doing.
MF: As Vivid is so lighting focused, do you have any specific lighting ideas for playing the festival? It seems it is the perfect platform for you to push the visual elements further in your show.
Chris: One visual element that’s different for this tour is we made a giant banner out of the album artwork, big neon psychedelic flowers and fingers and things. We use that as our backdrop. It looks fantastic, it really suits the music so well, and it plays in with the light show as well.
Also, Channey and I are always thinking about movement on stage. Performing can be like a dance. She’s always moving around which kind of inspires me to choreograph, to figure out where we are on stage and how our bodies are moving. So that’s something that’s always a work in progress too.
MF: Yeah, you guys really do create your own world in your live shows. It’s very captivating to watch.
Chris: That’s definitely how we think about it and what we hope to accomplish, to create a weird surreal world that people can come into and be there with us.
MF: And you guys are going to be here at the same time as Bon Iver who you have worked with in the past…
Chris: Yeah we are! I don’t know if we get to overlap with our time exactly. We were trying to figure out if we get to hang out together at all…
MF: Plans for collaboration for Vivid?
Chris: I’ve heard no, but sometimes these things happen so fast that I’m the last to hear about them. I don’t think that there’s any plans for collaboration, not that I have heard about. It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen… We’ll see how it pans out.
MF: Any plans for a new album or are you still riding the wave of the current release?
Chris: Actually… we’re collaborating with an orchestra from Berlin called Star Gaze. It’s put on by a group here called Liquid Music [who] basically pair unlikely bedfellows. They found the Berlin Orchestra and they asked us to collaborate with them.
We’ve had a few meetings… and some material is starting to generate. It’s very exciting! They play very experimental string arrangements so there are some really, really fun elements to throw into Poliça, and that’s materialising now. We’ve had a few sessions just throwing ideas back and forth but that is going to be our next project.
Also, there was some left over music from United Crushers – a couple of my favourite songs didn’t even make it on so I know that those are going to have a life at some point. We recorded 19 songs or something so there is a handful left, we’ll see how many of them land somewhere, but hopefully that will find a release sometime in the future.
Poliça are set to play the Opera House as part of Vivid LIVE June 3rd. Head here for tickets.