Joan Wasser, more commonly known as Joan as Police Woman, has had a diverse and interesting musical career so far, starting out as a classical violinist before segueing into rock and pop via some heavy-hitting friends, such as Anthony and the Johnsons, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright. Her new album, The Classic, is an instantly catchy collection of new soul and motown tracks, with plenty of oomph to have you dancing at the live shows across the UK and Europe over the next two months.
Electric Banana talked to Joan about her roots, her new album, and what kind of law enforcement officer she would most probably be.
When did you first decide that you wanted to venture away from your classical roots of music to play in rock groups and did you know straight away that it was going to be the start of something big?
First of all I love “the start of something big”. Thank you for that. When I moved out of the house to study classical violin, I moved to Boston where there was so much music being made of all kinds. I loved classical but loved music in general. I began playing with some of my guitarist friends and had to learn how to play by ear and trust my instincts, as I had always played off sheet music. I started doing shows with them and loved that I felt like I could be more myself in that setting. I began to take a lot of session gigs, really any opportunity I heard about, I took. In Boston, many people were learning to be recording engineers, needed a violinist for their demo, etc. I got a lot of experience playing on many styles of music with varied expectations for what they wanted from me. It was the start of my move out of the classical world although I continued to study. Studying taught me discipline and that is probably the most important aspect of doing anything well. I wasn’t sure it was the start of anything big but I did know that I loved it. I believe that if you love something like I loved playing music, then you’re going to figure out a way to do it.
Pretty soon after coming out as ‘Joan as Police Woman’ you were headhunted by Rufus Wainwright to play in his band an open up on his tour. Did you feel ready for this opportunity when it came?
Oh dear- I sure didn’t. I rushed to finish the EP I was working on so that I had them to sell on the road when I left in Feb 2004. My second show with Rufus was The Beacon Theater. I was opening solo at The Beacon Theater! I was unbelievably freaked out. I had seen Nina Simone there most recently and was beside myself that I would be on the same stage. But if I get an offer, I take it. If I can’t cut it, it will be clear later. But that has never happened. I think the accepting of opportunities is 92% of success. Leap first. Look later.
What have you been up to since your previous record, The Deep Field, in 2011? Have you been in hiding working on the latest record?
Hmmm… let’s see. I wrote a whole record with David Sylvian and recorded half of it, which will be finished at some unknown point. I toured opening for Lou Reed and singing in his band. I wrote a record with a new collaborative project with Benjamin Lazar Davis called 2001 which will be recorded in May. I played Antony’s Meltdown Festival. I did a group show tour in the UK on the music of Sandy Denny. And yes, I wrote this new record. The new record ‘The Classic’ has a really strong Motown vibe, opening confidently with “Witness”. There seems to be a bit of a revival scene at the moment, with artists like Plan B, Duffy and John Newman in the last decade. Do you think it is on its way back in? In my opinion, Motown didn’t ever leave. The influence of that music has always been such a part of my life. It’s what America calls home in many ways. From then on, music was never the same and the bar had been raised so high that it’s hardly ever been reached again.
The cover of the new record has a slight Goldfinger vibe. What was the idea behind the album artwork?
I didn’t intend any Bond reference but I get it- I’m gold, she’s gold. The difference is I stayed alive. I wish there was some grand story to go along with it but I just have a thing for gold… can you blame me?
Who are you listening to at the moment?
“Easy” by Son Lux Cass Mccombs new album Elysian Field’s new album Ghostpoet
This tour looks like a pretty intense one, covering most of Europe over a 2 month period. What sort of preparation do you have to do for a tour like that?
I rehearse a lot with the band, which is now 4 strong for the first time. There’s Parker Kindred on drums, Matt Whyte on guitar and Eric Lane on Moog bass and keys. They are amazing musicians and are easy to rehearse with. Otherwise, there isn’t all that much you can do to prepare to leave for 2 months; it’s just an unnatural act and will feel as such until at least a week in. I try to see all my favourite people and then get on the plane, knowing I won’t see my bed again for 8 weeks. If I think about it too much beforehand, it just gets freaky.
Finally, if you were a policewoman, which section do you think you would work in and what would you have a reputation for?
Ha! Oh Shezus. I do not think I would enjoy being a police woman….seems like living hell actually. I’ve got a good feeling that the TV interpretations are not in any way representative of the job itself. Do you think they’d let me be their musical guest? I bet cops could use more music in their lives.
Indeed. Cops can watch the title track from her new album below. The song features a street-corner doo-wop bass vocal from fellow singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, plus a human beat-box backing from none other than US comedian Reggie Watts.
Interviewed by Tom Sayer.