Performing behind a name like Los Angeles Police Department, one could be forgiven for approaching singer songwriter Ryan Polie’s work with residual baggage and skepticism. But for the LA based musician, aware of the curious nature associated with the moniker of his choosing, neither the name nor the tendency to self-title his records seem to be a reaction to anything, just a preference, or, in his words:
You have this concept in mind of how you want to execute the whole record, but when you get to the level of dealing with people and labels and hearing them tell you, “How are we going to do this?”, “Nobody can research your band name or find it on Google”, “You already – have – a self-titled record!”, “The (Spotify, Apple Music) algorithms are going to be confused” and well, I was like, “Cool, whatever”.
I sat down with Ryan at his home in the run up to his band’s slate of shows at the Bootleg Theater this month. All of the shows are free and the lineup of guest acts supporting Polie and co. include Shannon Lay (of Feels), Dante Elephante, Raener and more. The shows, taking place on Monday November 6, 13, 20 and 27, are in support for LAPD’s newest self-titled release, the band’s first for Anti- Records.
Continuing on the subject of self-titling multiple releases, I asked Ryan if he was going to “Peter Gabriel”-it, as the prog rock legend had indeed self-titled his first few albums. Ryan commented above and continued.
Ryan Polie of Los Angeles Police Department: It got to the point where, I mean, seriously, I’d tell everyone “Well, what do you want me to do? I’ve already titled it that in my head” so I just told them I’m sticking with it. But to answer your question, I don’t know what’s going to happen next, as in what the – next – album is going to be called.
Lee Bedrouni of MAT Magazine: Sure.
But, to be honest, I always thought titling my work like this was kind of like Weezer.
They’re more of a benchmark band for me than Peter Gabriel or Led Zeppelin, who I’d never compare myself to. I think it’s cool, the band name is so wordy, y’know?
Yeah, I wanted to pivot and tell you that listening to the new record, which I guess we could call, in Peter Gabriel fashion, “Plane”.
I wanted to tell you that the new album, in my opinion, could best be described as perfect hangover music. This record has a real ease to it, there’s a lot of balladry about it. It has a deliberate pace that I find flies in the face of what’s popular on some level with bands here in Los Angeles.
Like, we’ve covered bands like Frankie and the Witch Fingers and L.A. Witch, alongside other garage rock acts like Ty Segall and King Gizzard, and like, that kind of rock music, which is often fast-paced and frenetic. It’s all up-tempo and for me it’s interesting that what you’re doing on the record is more akin to taking your time, easing the listener into the feel of the music.
I mean, it’s definitely not intentional. Actually, it gets to be difficult when it gets to performing the songs live. It’s not just LA, but we take performers for granted a little bit and shows can become more of a social gathering than a place to see bands sometimes.
Like, there’s a lot of talking through sets, people meeting other people for a drink and getting to know that person while watching a set. So while you’re playing a song, when a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar is playing a song it gets to be really difficult as a performer to deal with that environment. But you can only write what you write.
I’ll do this thing all the time where I look back at the body of my work and go, “Shit, I don’t have enough material in this time signature” or “I don’t have enough up tempo songs” but then you have to take a minute and go, “well that’s not why you make a record”. You don’t want to be shoeing that in, you just want to put out music that comes out the way it comes out live.
Or you could do what Sufjan Stevens did on his most recent tour.
True, you could. But the thing is I use music to explore more of an introspective thing, for me. People use writing in a lot of different ways and I use writing in different ways, but for this project it’s like I really go inward. It’s like a reflection thing, so maybe that’s what explains why it doesn’t “rock” super hard. I have side-projects where I explore more, but when I write for myself, I tend to do ballads more.
Yeah, well it’s funny we got on this subject since the primary reason we’re meeting to talk is that you’re about to embark on the one thing that flies in the face of that depiction of crowds which is a full-month residency series.
And so, I’ve interviewed artists on tour, artists about to perform a record release show, but I’ve never gotten the chance to talk to an artist specifically on the subject of doing a residency in the same venue over a limited period of time. So what I really wanted to ask was does doing a residency provide it’s own unique kind of challenges?
Well, we released the record, we didn’t go out on a big tour immediately following the release, and we’ve been picking shows sparingly to appear on as to be impactful and not overload people.
But at this point there were two reasons why we wanted to do this residency. One was because I feel like, at this point, I know so many LA bands that I want to play with that I haven’t been able to play with, and it’s really hard to get ALL of those bands onto the same bill. But booking a residency means I get to see a bunch of my favorite bands, hang out with them all night.
On top of that, we’re going through a lineup change.
Yeah, so my old guitarist (Will Fox) just finished his record. He recorded that album with an amazing engineer and he wants to focus on that record. So Brendan, my band’s drummer, is moving over to guitar and we’re bringing in a new drummer. That means it’s going to be a really great warm up for us to get used to playing together.
Also, Will will be opening one of the residency shows as kind of a “going away” thing and that night that he plays, he’ll play with our band too.
But yeah, it’ll be a challenge because you have to keep generating crowds every week. Which means getting folks on top of the friends you’re counting on coming every week, which can be a challenge. But we’re also working with the best promoter in town, Sid the Cat so we feel like the whole residency will be better put together.
I wanted to ask about the artwork for the record.
My buddy Christian has done all of the artwork for the singles and all of the albums since I started. He is an old school animator, his line-drawings are my favorite thing in the world. He’s moved onto other stuff but I saw his work and told him he needed to do this for me.
But the way that it starts is that I’ll give him a “story” that I want to tell. So for the first LP, I told him I wanted it to be a drawing of a society of people centered around mining this unnamed natural resource. It’s kind of like an environmental message seemingly, and then you flip to the back cover and it’s the same people getting stoned or fucked up off of what they were mining from the earth. Which was something of a parable.
And the new one is of these birds tearing up a plane and, like, I have terrible plane anxiety. I have a fear of flying.
So it’s almost like this superstition thing, where like, if I have an album depicting a plane crash, no way am I also going to die in a plane crash. Like that would be fucking crazy, so the more I talk about it, the less likely I’m actually going to die in a plane crash.
That makes sense.
Yeah we’ll see. But that’s not all there is to the artwork for that album. Because I wanted Christian to show the birds sort of looking like they were attacking the plane, to get the viewer to feel like, “oh what the fuck? Why are they attacking a plane? That’s bad”, only to turn to the back of the cover and see that the image is of the birds building a bird nest out of the parts.
Oh, okay that’s cool. That leads me to my next question about “The Plane” and “The Plane Pt 2” and if the album artwork and songs had any coincidental meaning.
Well, I had the image of the cover in mind even if I didn’t wind up calling two of the songs “The Plane”, but it just kind of worked out that way. Those two songs were written in the same weekend, and they’re both about the same thing. I was just starting to date my current girlfriend, and things were looking really good for me for the first time in a long time, but it was the first time she was taking a trip out of town. Which doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.
But being apart for only three or four days, for the very first time, it was enough time for me to be like, “Oh shit, is she going to come back and everything’s going to be different?” or like, “Is she going to realize her mistake?” so thematically the songs have to do with her leaving on this trip, leaving on a plane.
Were there any new hurdles or things you had to do differently on the new record as opposed to the old one?
A couple of hurdles I had to get over. The first record I did all by myself in my room. And the way I did it was to do a song in a day, and be done. I would get up, write the song, record it and not look back. Then, when I had amassed 35-40 songs, I sat with some friends and we listened to them and talked about which ones were our favorites. Now this time, I recorded the demos and got a group of songs, but then recorded everything again with a producer.
Self-editing can be really hard for me. I don’t know how it is for you as a writer but once I’ve recorded a song, I feel like, “Fuck it!”. You know? “If it’s not good enough to go without being edited, even a sentence edited, it was never good enough!”
It’s difficult for me too, when it comes to writing.
Yeah, so I had to self-edit. Meaning I had to go and do the song again, and I was always worried that maybe there was something about the recording I might lose upon recording it again. The work (I create) is so emotional.
You thought you might lose something essential to that emotion?
Absolutely. And I had to work with a producer for the first time. Going into it, I was thinking, “Oh shit, what’s this going to be like?” but it turned out that the producer that I worked with, Jonathan Rado (Foxygen) has a very similar process that I have to working on music. He was very much, like, “Come on over, we’ll do a song and get it done”. I mean, if the recording was bad we wouldn’t keep it.
But it wasn’t this excruciating ordeal. I know some people work that way, the whole “let’s build this song over a month, six different ways” and like, all of that shit. I don’t think I could handle that because I know the emotion I had at the start would get lost. So working with Jonathan has been what I’d call a happy medium.
Yeah, of course. I will say this about the new record, there’s a lot of showcasing the breadth of your musicality. Sure there’s a lot of balladry, but there’s also songs like “Drugs” that has this keyboard riff that’s very muscular that goes right through the middle and drives the pace in a different way, sort of like an American Wrestlers (the Fat Possum Records band) song. So even despite the balladry, the album is very thematically and sonically consistent without being repetitive.
Sure, and that can be difficult to avoid.
But moreover to my point: There aren’t a lot of chamber pop bands (or bands period) that do what you’re doing in the pop landscape. In order to keep things fresh, do you ever consciously change the instruments around, or play a song or melody in a different key? How much futzing around do you wind up doing?
Well, for me as a songwriter, the actual song is always the first thing. Then the arrangement and how to bring that song to life follow. So with the demos, I spend 6 to 10 hours on a tune in a day, and that’s with me spending as much time as I do switching between different instruments while chasing that idea, that song. This is why, with this record, it was really cool to have everything sketched out and then take it to Jonathan who would be like, “oh, so that part would sound really sick on my synth that can get that sound better” or like, “let’s take that melody and put it on acoustic guitar”.
Right. So was the process of getting a more “simpler” song like “If I Lied” easier than the other songs since it involves a narrower range of sounds than the other songs?
RP: Sort of. The demo for “If I Lied” was a 70s country thing and the final product wound up being more of a Simon and Garfunkel thing. That’s because Jonathan came up with this toms idea for percussion that we both exclaimed upon, after recording it, “Paul Simon!” There was something about the demo that called for it, maybe the two part harmony. But yeah, the demo never really went into that kind of change-up, it just stayed.
One last series of questions, if you will, Ryan. In listening to the record, I also got the sense that vulnerability and catharsis are integral to your work. There’s a lot of build up and release, and I kinda wanted to ask if you’ve reflected on the role that catharsis plays in your work.
It’s weird. As self-centered as this sounds, when you’re writing, sometimes you’ll surprise yourself. Make yourself feel something. Like, you might come up with and sing a lyric and go, “holy shit!” I think, as a music-first person over a lyrics-first, which is the opposite of my girlfriend. Every time I make a song, she’ll go, “so what does the song mean?” and I’ll go, “I don’t know! I don’t know yet, it doesn’t matter since the song’s good!”
Less-so lyrically-speaking, I listen to the music for the story the song tells me. When I write, I want to tell a story with the music, not just the words. I want to convey this kind of journey, with motions and often times my songs will take a similar arc where they’ll start really intimate and close. Then things will be added, and the song will build to this thesis statement. Where like the “closing chapter” of the song happens 2/3rds of the way through and there’s this release and outro. So yeah, I’ve picked up on that with my songwriting. Not only a catharsis while listening, but a catharsis while writing it, too.
Awesome, well thanks for taking the time to answer our questions about the new album, Ryan, and good luck with the residency at the Bootleg Theater!