Artist Interviews

Q&A: Joan As Policewoman

By | Published on Wednesday 19 January 2011

Joan As Policewoman

From violin virtuoso to eclectic alt-rock heroine, Joan Wasser has proved herself to be everything but predictable. In recent years she has lent her talents to a number of diverse projects; including a stint in Rufus Wainwright’s live band and a noteworthy contribution to Anthony & The Johnsons 2005 Mercury-winning ‘I Am A Bird Now’. Following two acclaimed solo albums under her Joan As Police Woman moniker, her latest LP, ‘The Deep Field’, is released on 24 Jan via the recently relaunched Play It Again Sam label. Ahead of an eleven date UK tour, which kicks off on 1 Feb, Joan found some time to answer our Same Six Questions.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
I started playing the violin in the third grade when my school offered the opportunity to get hold of string instruments. The kids could rent an instrument for $10 a year. For some reason I kept doing it. I know my teacher told me I had talent and that kept me working at it because I wanted to be good at everything I did. And I liked the fact that it looked like I was carrying around a tommy gun.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
Mind expansion, Nina Simone, every human being’s imminent death, and the vulnerability and total freedom that holds each of death’s hands, Curtis And The Impressions, Buffy St Marie, red, purple, gold, turquoise, Joni Mitchell, Cee-Lo, Ethiopia, the magnificence of dreams, forgiveness, fur, New York City, women and men and everything in between and on the periphery, the ocean, the varying ideas and manifestations of God, Cass Mccombs, the kindness of strangers, the constant ability to renew, fucking, joy, sadness, longing and love.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?

I start on either the piano or the guitar. Typically, the music comes first, then a melody and then words.
The melody rises out of the chords. There are usually some words that come along with the melody. I find the rest of the words by writing almost anything down to act as place-holders and then revise them over and over.

Then I bring the song to my band. I try to not say much about what I want from the drums and bass. Before I insert my ideas, I want to hear what my genius rhythm section has to contribute. The rhythm usually turns out to be a combination of their ideas and a little shaping from me. They’ve got the hair and I just do a little styling. For this record, Parker Kindred played all the drum tracks. I used five different bass players, one of them being the Moog bass player who I tour with, Tyler Wood.

Then we go into the studio (Trout Recording in Brooklyn owned and run by Bryce Goggin, assisted by Adam Sachs) and do the basics. We (drums, bass, and me on either keys or guitar and voice) record the basics live, all in one room with some separation of the amps but no separation between the players. I sing live and we record it until the feel is right. Sometimes the run-through has the best feel; Bryce always has the tape machine running so we might catch it on the rehearsal; which has the potential to feel the most relaxed and free. Sometimes we record the basic five or ten times.

Then I do keyboards, guitars, lead vocals, backup vocals and call in any number of my favourite musicians from this fine city. Doug Wieselman has played on all my records. He plays saxes, clarinets and guitar. He is one of the deepest players I have ever heard. He is always in the moment. He played some bass clarinet on this record that is painfully gorgeous.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?

As well as those mentioned in Q2, Stevie Wonder, Sly And The Family Stone, Talk Talk, Bowie, Prince, plus all the magnificent musicians that contributed to my record.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?

I would attempt to say nothing.

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?

To continue to make music, play live and move closer and closer to total freedom.