As Los Angeles Police Department, 28-year-old songwriter Ryan Pollie makes music that hinges on its naked honesty. In 2014, the Philly-born, L.A.-based Pollie debuted the project via a quiet collection of guitar-driven songs that were written and recorded mostly in his Los Angeles home. On LAPD’s self-titled second album, Pollie gravitates back to his piano lesson-filled childhood, pairing up with producer Jonathan Rado (Foxygen, The Lemon Twigs) for 10 beautifully composed, contemplative songs about fear, anxiety, growing up, and that nagging sense of dread that comes when everything starts to go right.
Leading up to LAPD’s latest release, we sat down with Pollie at a diner in West L.A. for a chat about love, insecurity, and chasing the new American Dream.
Photos by Cara Robbins
Words by Aly Comingore
When did you first start writing songs?
My mom really wanted her kids to play music. I don’t know why she decided that was super important to her, but she made us all take piano lessons. I was a really ADD kid, and also pretty rebellious—I didn’t like authority figures or being told what to do. My mom used to make us practice for 30 minutes a day, but she wasn’t a student of classical music, so I’d sit at the piano and write my own songs because I didn’t want to practice what was being given to me. That was my form of rebellion. The songs sounded good enough that my mom would be like, “Nice! Good job!” But the piano teacher thought that I sucked.
Did you ever entertain the idea of performing under your own name?
Not really. I got teased a lot about my last name growing up, and maybe that stopped me [from performing under my own name]. I also just wanted it to sound like a band name. I was inspired by ‘60s band names like The Jimi Hendrix Experience or The Mothers of Invention. I thought all those long band names were so cool, and Los Angeles Police Department kind of sounded like that.
What made you want to move out to L.A.?
I think there was some understanding that if I moved to Los Angeles and surrounded myself with all these people trying to do something would make me really go after it in a big way. It’s hard to say how it would have worked out, but I’ve met a lot of special people in the music industry by moving out here.
When did the songs on this new record first start to come together?
About two years ago. I would write and record a song a day—that’s usually what I do—so I’d be able to finish about a song a week. Right up until the end I was still figuring out what songs were going to go on there. But it was a lot of waiting—waiting to see if anyone could fund it, waiting to see if a label would put it out. In that way, the music industry can be really mentally tiring.
I imagine it’s tough to stay present in the songs. It sounds like by the time they’re done you could feasibly have a whole other album written.
And I have. There were three LAPD records that I was convinced I was going to make, and they were all recorded, but only as demos. With these songs, though, there was something about the emotion and the subject matter that made me think this was the one that needed to get made. They’re still my favorite group of songs that I’ve ever done.
You had Jonathan Rado produce the album. What was that experience like?
I don’t know how many recording studios you’ve been to, but a lot of time there’s the control room and the band room, and you’re sitting there with a microphone and there are these guys staring at you through the window. It worked out so well with Jonathan because [the studio] was at his house. If I needed to another take I could just sit in the corner on the couch and get in the zone. It felt easier to access the emotion then if I had been in a big studio. And he had above and beyond the skill and equipment that any studio would have. It was just more casual.
Did you two discuss the lyrics and the subject matter of the songs as you worked?
Not really. The writing kind of stayed the way it was, but the parts and the instruments we used and the way the dynamics changed, he added a lot. Collaboration is beautiful in that way. He had ideas that really pushed the songs forward and still fir within my vision. As far as taste—not good or bad taste, but the way your taste can align with someone else’s—we just had a lot of the same milestone records and spoke the same language, and we both really value honesty in music. Going into it, it was definitely more about the songs than the playing, but we had a lot of fun adding solos and crazy parts. And he’s the best bassist I’ve ever met in my life.
I’m curious to know how your girlfriend reacted to hearing some of these songs. A lot of them are brutally honest.
[Laughs] It’s weird to be writing songs about a girl you’re in a relationship with and not have them be all, ‘You’re my moon and my stars and I love you.’ Instead it’s all about the insecurities and anxiety I’ve had about our relationship, and learning to get over this idea of how you think everything should be going. It was really tough to be like, ‘Hey, check out this song I wrote today. It’s about you leaving me.’ But it was also really cool because she’s amazingly supportive. The songs became these conversation starters. But I feel bad sometimes that she doesn’t have anything like, ‘Look at this amazing love song that he wrote for me.’ There’s no straightforward, ‘I love you.’ It’s always, ‘I’m terrified, and I love you.’
I feel like most people, at some point or another, feel that way in every relationship.
Yeah, and I hope people connect with that. I feel like we’re all trying to put on this air of confidence—especially men. I can probably count on one hand the number of male friends that I feel like I could cry in front of. But crying is important, and vulnerability is important. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for a lot of male writers, accessing that vulnerability is discouraged. But I think it’s always worth it to be honest in a relationship, and it’s always worth it to be vulnerable.
How do you rationalize performing and sharing songs about your own social anxiety?
I feel like I don’t really have to rationalize it because anxiety is completely irrational. Like, I can’t get on a plane, but I have no problem speaking in public. Certain people have anxieties about all sorts of things that I don’t, and if I had those I wouldn’t be able to be here talking about any of this stuff or releasing music or putting myself in a position to face all sorts of rejection. It doesn’t make much sense. I do this, but I can’t sleep at night because I’m pacing around worrying about whether or not there’s going to be an earthquake. But there was never a point where I felt like I had to get over my stage fright; I always loved performing. Fear is weird like that. I don’t feel like I’m going to die of fright onstage, but I do think about something getting wet and electrocuting me while I’m playing.
A lot of these songs also talk about the idea of growing up.
The idea of being an adult is so strange. Like, if I met someone my age when I was a kid I would have thought, ‘Man, that person is old.’ But I feel like I’m still 21. I don’t think we ever feel like we’re adults, and now I feel so funny about treating my parents like they were these old people, like they were way different from me, because we’re all the same. Growing up is so strange, but I feel like music is a way for me to hang on to this nebulous energy that exists without age. It feels young to play music. When I go to band practice or I go to a show, there’s something about it that still makes me feel like a kid. But the flip side is that the world doesn’t really reward musicians for being adults. There are no grants, no health insurance, there’s not really any money. The consensus is that if you want to do music you should probably just party and get wasted and throw your life away.
So, as someone with a good, full-time job, do you have a goal when it comes to pursuing music as a career?There’s always a goal, and then you get the goal and there’s another goal. I want to go out and do it for real, but I’ve never really toured for a month, so it’s hard to know if that’s what I want. Do I want the validation? Yeah. Do I want to be able to keep creating music? I mean, I’ll do that anyway. It’s really nebulous and strange. If I end up making money for doing what I love, that’s the new American Dream, so I guess I’m chasing that. But I also think that money complicates it all because it recontextualizes this thing that I love to do, and sometimes it can destroy it. I’m trying to be really careful about the things that I care about related to the music. The actual recording of it is me in a room, where no one else exists and it’s pure and beautiful. But after that part is over you’re wondering if people like it and your ego gets involved and it all gets really confusing. Whether or not that second part pans out, the first part still exists, but sometimes when I go back into my room to write I’m already thinking about the second part, and that’s where it gets really dangerous. I do want the validation—I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t—but I also don’t want to sacrifice the purely creative first part, where you don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about it.