Sound & Vision: Channy Leaneagh on When We Stay Alive

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Listen to the interview in the podcast below at the 18:43 mark.


Channy Leaneagh of the group Poliça was considering leaving music a few years back. After the album United Crushers, Poliça was having trouble getting booked at venues and festivals in the US and Europe.

“As many people know, it's really hard to change careers and it's hard to figure out what else you're good at,” says Leaneagh. “I just felt like I was I wasn't really good at this thing that I have been doing since I was a child.”

She looked into going back to nursing school, trained at the post office, and taught preschool. Then, when she was scraping snow off her roof in Minnesota, she slipped and fell, ending up in a back brace, unable to work or take care of her children for a few months – it was a painful experience, both physically and psychologically. She eventually met a doctor who asked her to rethink her experience, which led to her new album, When We Stay Alive.

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with Channy Leaneagh of Poliça about that album and how she turned a traumatic injury into a therapeutic album.

On Leaneagh’s doctor telling her to rethink her memories of falling off her roof:

He could see the shame and disappointment in my face because I'm not a single person whose actions don't really affect that many people. I have children. And so, it was a heavy consequence because not just myself suffered. And so, his idea was, it doesn't matter that it happened anymore. And I need to rewrite the story that I'm telling myself in my head so that when I imagined it, to imagine that something different happened than did.

Like, I fell onto a puffy cloud or my friend lifted me off the ladder and was like, "What are you doing? That's insane. Get down." And instead of doing this kind of rehashing, like "why did I do that? How did this happen? How did I get here?", just being like, "hey, this is how it happened." And then, when you can think about it again, it doesn't bring up a lot of pain for me anymore. And I can just kind of move on from it and move forward, because I'm not really trying to find my identity in accidents or in trauma in my life. I'm trying to, you know, get stronger and move forward and be able to go with the flow of life, which is filled with a lot of pain for everyone and a lot of mistakes and accidents.

On how rethinking her history impacted her songwriting:

I started to look at all my songs and realize how I've been rewriting my story, but a lot of ways rewriting into like a sadder version of the truth. And I wanted to try to write a song like “Be Again,” which is on the new record and talks about kind of taking ownership back of your body.

Then, a song like "Feel Life" is the story of the accident. So that I could give that a voice and then be able to rewrite it in a more positive way for myself

Then "Fold Up," which is just sort of like a song about my desires and feelings like post accident and how I felt before. I still didn't become a completely new person who never complained about being lonely or having unsatisfied desires or something. I didn't become Buddha after I fell off the roof. I am still going to be working on becoming a better person and dealing with my usual things. But I can see it from a different perspective of gratefulness and knowing that I have the ability to choose how I tell my story and how I walk on this world.

On recording parts of her album in a back brace, which she was in after her fall:

At first, when I had the back brace on, I was like, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't sing," even though it wasn't pressing on my diaphragm. It was just this panic of kind of feeling restricted because my ribs were pulled in tight, but I could still breathe. It was about calming down and learning how to breathe differently and sing differently because I wanted to have something to do. And one of the only things I could do was write and I could still sing.

On the difficulties of leaving a career in music:

I was like starting back in the end of high school and I was reading career books about "what color is your parachute." More and more, I felt like I was mediocre and I wasn't really good at anything and completely lost. But then, after the accident, I couldn't work. So, what happened after the accident is I didn't leave saying, "oh, I'm ready to go at the music industry again and I'm ready to put out this record." I really had the time to finish this record. And I still love music. I still love writing music. But also the music industry is changing and it's OK for me to keep exploring some other work for myself. And without the feeling like I failed in anything. It's just music isn't always going to be my career. But it's always been there for me and it always will be.


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