GETTING TO KNOW: JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN

Brooklyn-based, world renowned recording artist, live concert performer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Joan As Police Woman, born Joan Wasser, started her musical career as a classically trained violinist in her early teens.

Struck by the music of Hendrix, Siouxie and the Banshees, Nina Simone, Bad Brains and Black Flag, Wasser left her classical roots behind to play with a number of ’90’s alt. rock bands including Boston’s The Dambuilders, Those Bastard Souls and Helium.

In 2002, Wasser formed Joan As Police Woman and her debut album “Real Life” was released in June 2006 to wild acclaim.

Originally self-described by Wasser as ‘Punk Rock R&B’ her sound has naturally evolved through 6 acclaimed studio albums, hundreds of collaborations and over a thousand live concert performances.

Joan has collaborated and performed with a host of incredible artists including John Cale, Lou Reed, David Sylvian, Antony & The Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright, the last three also all feature on her own records.

Photo Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein

The Street talked to Joan before her much anticipated performance in Canberra.

WHY JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN?

I’m named after a character played by Angie Dickinson on a cop show called “Police Woman” that ran from 1974-76. I saw a friend on the street while wearing a baby blue polyester 3 piece suit who pointed out that I was channelling that character and the name just stuck. 

WHAT WAS THE GENESIS FOR “DAMNED DEVOTION”?

I love a state of devotion. Whether it be music or a person or a place… I like to focus all my energy on a single point. The byproduct of that is missing a lot of what’s happening around me, I lose my peripheral vision, in a sense. When I come out of the devotional state, there is a rebalancing that needs to happen. Often, I’ve missed some information I could have used. This record is about detangling all this content I missed. Warning signs, foreshadowing, explanations I’ll only understand later, in retrospect. 

YOU TRAINED AS A CLASSICAL MUSICIAN. HOW HAS THIS INFORMED YOUR MUSIC-MAKING?

Most obviously, it taught me that practice and time with your instrument always makes you better. I know this sounds obvious, but I practiced as much as I needed to get by (which wasn’t much) before I got to conservatory. Then I realised I was so far behind and began to practice like others had been for years. I advanced quickly. I also learned I didn’t care about being technically wizardly but it was necessary to experience putting my energy heavy into one thing and seeing a marked difference. Practice, even if it doesn’t look like regular “practice” to others, just a focus on one thing will bring results in that place. 

HOW HAVE YOU DEALT WITH SUCCESS AND FAILURE AS AN ARTIST?

Thankfully I wasn’t trying to write songs when I was a teenager. I released my first record when I was 36, when I actually had something to say.  By that time, I had lived through being in a numbers of orchestras, chamber ensembles, being in a number of bands, on major labels and on small labels, played in many different situations with different kinds of players, playing and recording many kinds of music. 

Feeling failure is always rough. I am very hard on myself. This has also created a toughness that has helped me survive. I have a fearlessness that’s pushed me towards situations where I may not have any experience. The vast majority of those experiences have been absolutely worth it no matter how I felt at the time. I have a deep lust for music and making it with people who share that feeling.  I will do almost anything to feel the freedom of making music. 

In general, I do feel like critics shouldn’t review music they don’t like. I’ve watched incredible artists slip into terrible depressions because one person, who clearly didn’t care to listen more than once, wrote a review that was ruinous. If you don’t like it, don’t talk about it. Personally, I’ll remember the one negative thing in an otherwise glowing review. This tendency in myself has prompted me to never read reviews. I don’t need those thoughts in my head. 

AFTER OVER 1000 PERFORMANCES, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE MUSIC SCENE THAT STILL MOTIVATES YOU?

The music scene? I have no idea.   Playing music? Music is where god exists for me. 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE MUSIC SCENE THAT IS JUST NOT RIGHT?

The fact that music and musicians have been completely devalued is appalling. I would love to see how the population would respond if all music was erased for a month. Wouldn’t we have a better understanding of the way music enhances and massively deepens the quality of our lives. Support for music and musicians has got to shift soon. 

YOUR CAREER HAS TAKEN YOU ACROSS CONTINENTS AND MUSIC GENRES. WHAT IS YOUR OBSERVATION ON THE RECOGNITION OF FEMALE COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?

In my lifetime, it’s gotten more inclusive, that’s for sure. I feel lucky to have lived through such an incredibly turbulent time. More and more light bulbs get lit. Many layers of soot have been removed. The Western world has made progress because of women’s rights over their bodies, their movements and access to birth control. Most of the women on this planet do not have access to the rights we have. As is said, none of us are free until we are all free. Fast fast faster I pray. 

HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND HANDLE TOUR AFTER TOUR AND THE LONG HAULS OF A TOUR TO AUSTRALIA.

I don’t drink or use drugs. I used to, in excess. But I would never be able to handle any of it if I had continued. I try to eat well and I exercise, it’s all I’ve got, my health. Admittedly, I always need more sleep… I would prefer a 30 hour day. 

THIS IS YOUR FOURTH VISIT TO AUSTRALIA. PLEASE SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE.

This is my 6th actually, I originally visited on a tour in 1995 with my band The Dambuilders. We toured with Jeff Buckley and The Grifters. In 2004 I performed in the Leonard Cohen Tribute- “Came So Far For Beauty” at the Sydney Opera House. But you are right, this will be my 4th tour as Joan As Police Woman. The folks in Australia have a deep appreciation for the brutal travel that musicians have to endure and show their gratitude through enthusiasm. I feel the support and deep love and honor for music and music makers. 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING MUSICIANS?

Keep going, Don’t stop. When you feel like stopping, keep going.  To distract yourself from how you want to stop, go hear some music made by Argentines/ Cape Verdeans/ anyone “over the hill”, etc.  you didn’t think you’d be interested in. 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

I am releasing a compilation called JOANTHOLOGY and doing an 8 month solo tour that starts in Norway in late May and travels all over the world. Hope to see you for that too… 

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Kalajula band, The Malian women I played with at a recent Africa Express event in London, Tony Allen, everything Damon Albarn’s ever done, Meshell Ndegeocello, Alwyn Robinson’s first solo record, Benjamin Lazar Davis, anything Thomas Bartlett plays, etc. 

Joan as Police Woman is at The Street Theatre on Wednesday, the 8th of May following her show in Sydney at The Metro on Tuesday 7th of May.

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