Joan As Police Woman
Her stage name is arresting, but for those unfamiliar with the gorgeous intimacy of her music, it is slightly misleading. When Joan Wasser re-invented herself as a solo artist, after a life spent playing in bands or on the records of more famous people, she listened to a friend who said she looked like Angie Dickinson, the star of the American 70’s TV cop show Policewoman. “Like Charlie’s Angels, but grittier, less pink fluff” Wasser explains. “..And yeah, at a certain point, when I challenged myself do music on my own, I felt ready to take on anything.”
Tough cop in spirit maybe, but not in the way she sounds. The multi-skilled musical phenomenon that is Joan Wasser – classically trained violin player, street taught punk rocker, old soul aficionado, vocal diva – does not play the conventional tough guy. Or conventional anything for that matter. Like the slogan on her website says, ‘Beauty is the new punk rock.’ Policewoman Joan’s mission is to find original and ever more striking ways into our collective heart. “ I am always trying to dig deeper into the emotional experience,” she says, “I want to access the most honest place I can, distill it and present it in a way that makes sense musically.”
Wasser had acquired a considerable reputation on the East Coast alternative rock scene as a first-call side player. She worked with Lou Reed on his album The Raven, played in the band Hal Willner assembled for his Leonard Cohen tribute concert, was the musical director for Hal Willner’s Neil Young tribute and was an integral part of the inception of Anthony and The Johnsons – another step on the learning curve.
In the early 2000’s, Wasser became a full time member of Rufus Wainwright’s band. “He forced me to use my voice in so many different ways because he was always very specific about the timbre of backing vocals he wanted. Performing with Rufus was like a 2 and a half hour work out. Really intense. It pushed me to pay attention to detail.” Crucially for what was to come, Wainwright invited Wasser to open his shows with a solo spot. She recorded her first album intermittently during this touring with Rufus.
When Tom Rose, who was considering starting a label (now REVEAL records) saw Joan play at Birmingham Symphony Hall, opening for Rufus, her solo career took off. Soon after the release of her first single, the Ride, Wasser had the critics swooning all over Europe. Where British audiences led, others swiftly followed.
Because of her European classical roots, but mainly because she is irresistibly drawn to do things differently, Wasser is quite happy to be a cult star over here while remaining a comparative unknown back in the States. “I love New York City, and I love Brooklyn, which is why I still live there” she says, “But I don’t love ALL of the USA.”
The title track catches the overall tone of the record best. A haunting piano ballad with a melody that refuses to settle, To Survive was inspired by a lullaby her mother used to sing to her as a child to allay her recurrent fear that was about to be burned at the stake, like the other Joan. “I still feel like that as an adult sometimes,” Wasser says cryptically. “ And I don’t edit out or water down those feelings. Why should I? Everything I do comes from my heart.”
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