In the past I’ve often felt alone in my admiration for Joan as Police Woman. It seems like a weird thing to say but it’s probably because Joan Wasser often seems to fly under the radar doing her own thing without too much fuss. But every few years she digs deep into her emotional well and creates something musically spectacular. She also tours, rinse and repeats that cycle, accumulating universal acclaim as she continually keeps moving forward. Talking about moving forward, Joan it seems has no intention of slowing down. On her sixth full-length album Damned Devotion, she sets the bar higher than ever before. Last year I said here on this site that “it stands as an incredible achievement set against synth beats and hip hop inspired sounds and Wasser’s trademark honesty.” In a lot of ways it was the catalyst for me reaching out to Joan to talk about Damned Devotion and some of the things I’ve always wanted to ask her. In truth it’s not often that you get the chance to connect with your favourite musicians. It’s almost always impossible, but sometimes the strangest things happen! Interestingly, Joan’s upcoming tour of Australia is almost upon us, and I couldn’t think of a better time to chat with Joan and remind Australian audiences of her brilliance. Here is some of what we talked about.
Joan As Police Woman has been a project (forgive me, if I can call it that) that has been something you have always wanted to do on your own terms. How proud are you of what you have achieved thus far?
Joan As Police Woman is all the music I make… so it’s actually more than a project, it’s my life!
The idea of having pride for my achievements is a strange one. I feel thankful I’ve gotten to make music on my own terms. I am glad I’ve constantly said yes to pretty much everything without hitting exhaustion. I am.
Is there a point in time that you can still recall that defined or set up who you wanted to be as a musician? And why?
I played Mahler’s 2nd “Resurrection” Symphony when I was 14. Until that point, I didn’t know what people meant when they talked about “god” but when I felt the group of us recreate that piece of music, I felt it. I knew, then, that I wanted to make music forever. I didn’t know how I’d do it but just that it would be my guiding light.
It seems so much has changed since your early days as a musician. The violin for instant was your voice for almost forever. Do you still play it in those quiet moments away from it all?
I still play violin, yes. I use it quite a bit for recording but I also play it when I am in a situation where I am playing in a context I don’t have much experience in- for instance- Recently, I did an event for Africa Express in London and got the chance to play with a group of Malian women singers and musicians- I played the violin with them because I know I’ll be able to keep up on that instrument.
You latest album Damned Devotion (released last year) seems more angst-ridden and personal than some of your previous records? Was that a deliberate thing on your part? It has very much a soul of its own.
Each record is a reflection of my life since the release of my previous record. I recorded a lot of it at my home studio between midnight and 6am. This gives it a very intimate and personal quality. This record was different for me because I had learned so much more about recording and producing myself and could take my time. I also never once considered if this was the record anyone outside of me would want- I completely made the record I wanted to make without thinking about radio, about exceptions. Very freeing.
Do you have a favourite track from the album? And why?
I could tell you how each track could be my favorite. The Silence definitely packs a punch. Valid Jagger is executed in a way I feel really good about. I Don’t Mind is extremely personal and therefore liberating.
Would you say Damned Devotion is the closest thing you’ve done to it being a synth pop or even a devilishly hip hop inspired album?
I don’t know what devilishly hip hop is but I’ll take it. I love synths, I love pop, I love hip hop and I love the idea of the devil even though I don’t believe in a devil per say… Damned Devotion reveals a wider range of the music I listen through the way I produced it, the writing, the instrumentation.
Music can sometimes easily stagnate into being a dull affair or routine. I think you have succeeded considerable well by producing an eclectic back catalogue. Is there a secret how you’ve gone about it?
Thank you. Every time I begin writing a song, it feels like the first time. This is because I follow no formula or plan. I allow the music to take me where it wants to go- that’s really what it feels like.
To live a life on the road as a musician, I guess you have to be a very adaptable person, but also a person who needs to understand how to ground yourself. How tricky is that balance for you?
I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself from being on the road. It’s the great equalizer. If my mood is off, the conditions of the road will not help so I have to constantly bring myself back to equilibrium. Having humility is a huge help. And plenty of gratitude when I realize I’m obsessing on things I don’t need to.
Joan, if you would indulge me for a moment as a fan, I still love playing Real Life (2006) from beginning to end at least once a year. What do you think it is about that album and those collections of songs as to why fans still love it so much?
This is so kind.
I feel like it’s probably because I had lived 36 years before I released that record and had a lot to say at that point, having never released a solo record previously. My focus for that recording was to make an album that sounded like the classic Al Green records. It was a great format to follow.
Finally, what do you see yourself doing musically speaking for the rest of the year? I hope you might have Melbourne somewhere in your sights!?
This entire year I am touring. Of course I play Melbourne twice in May- once with the band and a solo show – with many more Australian band dates. I start a (new) solo tour in Late May in Norway that runs through November. If I’m lucky, I may even make it back to Australia in October… no matter- I’ll definitely see you next month! I’ve been working on a second Cover’s record, a second JAPW/Benjamin Lazar Davis collaboration and a number of other projects. Stay tuned!
She has an arresting vocal style, along with an intriguing performance art persona that reminds me a bit of photographic artist Cindy Sherman.
What a scoop, bro! I saw her live a few years ago, was great. Who are you interviewing next – Eddie Vedder?
Big thanks must go out to Joan’s management at Reveal Music for helping organise this incredible opportunity which is something I initiated back in October last year. In fact, Joan herself was terrific throughout the whole process given her busy touring schedule. Really looking forward to her Australian arrival. Ha, Eddie is one of my heroes. That would be something if that happened. Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely and I don’t think I would ever dare to ask.