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SXSW interview: Why Channy Casselle of Gayngs and Polica loves Austin but doesn't want to be a front-woman

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Austin might have a sister city to which it never gave much consideration. Minneapolis seemingly turns out as many successful bands as The Live Capital Music of the World, a few being Gayngs and Polica. Minneapolitan Channy Casselle was a backing vocalist in the star-studded Gayngs and is current lead vocalist for digital-rock quartet Polica — a much buzzed about band playing a multitude of SXSW showcases beginning Tuesday — attracting attention at home and beyond for her latest musical endeavor.

But don't call Polica and Gayngs off-shoot, and don't call Casselle a front-woman, either. Though attention can't help but gravitate towards the way Caselle's lithe figure rhythmically moves on stage, Polica is nothing short of an aggressive group effort. We were able to steal a moment to chat with Caselle pre-SXSW about our two cities and how SXSW might seem more like an audition than chilled-out show.

CultureMap: Minneapolis isn't a place that we are necessarily familiar with in Austin, but from what I can tell, the two cities have quite similar attributes. Can you tell me about the collaboration that goes down up there? So many artists seem to work together cross-genre (Gayngs is a great example of that, fusing Bon Iver with hip-hop artist POS), which is so striking to me.  

Channy Casselle: There is a natural movement towards community in the Minneapolis music scene. I’m sure it isn’t like that for every musician in Minneapolis, and there are scenes in Minneapolis that I know nothing about, but on a whole it seems people work together as opposed to against each other. I am rooting for my peers — I see them working incredibly hard at the same purpose as me and I am inspired by them.

CM: You dance as well as you sing, and you sing exceptionally well. Is there some sort of fantastic background that we don't know about?  

CC: Oh you mean my background in 18+ dance nights at the club? Actually I started dance classes when I was four and it is for sure my first love.

CM: Speaking of, I read you also have a background in classical violin. Is that something you keep with you when you're writing tracks? How do you use it as a source of inspiration for Polica?  

CC: When I started singing and songwriting I picked up the violin less and less — because I was using a guitar or piano more — until I became unfamiliar with it and uninspired by it tones.  I was never very good at the violin but I tried hard and my background in classical violin is integral to the sounds I make with my voice and the melodies I hear in my head.

 "That is the excitement of the [SXSW] challenge — you’ve got five minutes to load, no sound check, play for 25 minutes and you still got to kill it." 

CM: What does performing with Polica offer you that Gayngs doesn't, and vice versa? I'd imagine they speak to you as an artist in different ways.  

CC: Gayngs gave me the opportunity to hone my fluency with vocal processing, play on bigger stages for large crowds and sing back-ups without the pressure of being the focus of the show.  I always wanted to be the back-up singer like the old R&B singers used to have to do before they got a chance to be on their own. I would of continued to be happy singing behind the guys, but Gayngs is over now so we all had to move on.

CM: When you were on stage you said you loved being in Austin, particularly enjoying pickled eggs! What are some of your favorite haunts around town? Do you think Austin lives up to the Live Music Capital of the World moniker? Sounds like Minneapolis might be giving us a run for our money.

CC: I have important musical memories related to Austin. Stubbs was the first place I sang with Gayngs outside of Minneapolis and Ryan Olson and I spent sometime there mixing Give You the Ghost with Jim Eno. It’s a familiar and memorable place that contributed to the creation of Polica’s music. 

CM: How do you feel about playing Showcases during SXSW? Do you feel it's a different vibe or different goal than a normal, one-off show?

CC: For sure, it’s much more of an audition than a show. It isn’t a fair representation of most bands normal live shows, but that is the excitement of the challenge — you’ve got five minutes to load, no sound check, play for 25 minutes and you still got to kill it. I’m just glad it’s in Austin where it’s warm and there are good bars to kick back the rat race of the day.

CM: You mentioned you would have been happy still singing behind the guys in Gayngs. Do you feel it's more challenging to occupy your time and physical space while on stage as a front-woman sans instrument? You've got such a presence, did that just come naturally to you?

CC: I don’t identify with being a front woman or the main focus of the show. From my perspective, I am trying to meld into the three other band members and the music we’re making and create a force between us that is cohesive and captivating to the crowd.

CM: Obviously one of the most striking parts of Polica's live show is the fact that you have two drummers, two drum kits. Is it difficult/easy to find two drummers who can be that in tune, that in sync? 

CC: Ryan Olson should get all the praise for that. Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson have been and are in other bands he’s created over the years. He knew their attributes and how they would compliment each other. Chris Bierden rounds it out and gives them a smoothness barometer to stay in tune with.

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Check out Polica officially and unofficially during SXSW. 

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