Joan As Policewoman
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Joan As Policewoman

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Joan Wasser , who records as Joan As Police Woman has a new record out, and it’s a corker.

Joan Wasser , who records as Joan As Police Woman has a new record out, and it’s a corker. The Deep Field is her fourth solo record (including two of original material and one of covers) and it’s prove to be a long road for Joan, whose rise as a solo artist has taken a circuitous, sometimes faltering, sometimes tragic route.

It’s culminated in The Deep Field, a recording that takes the various threads of Joan’s considerable musical education and nails them to a wonderful collection of songs. The record is at once deeply personal and surprisingly universal, idiosyncratic but highly relatable.

"I named it after an area of outer-space," Joan explains. "The Deep Field is one of the furthest spaces they can see with the Hubble Telescope, and it helped scientists figure out that other galaxies – the universe – is more uniform than they thought; that things that occur in our galaxy occur again and again.

"That’s what this record is about, in a way," she muses. "I’ve written about stuff that happens to me, but is typical of the human experience. Everyone goes through shit. Sometimes that shit is typical of the human experience.

To lay down these tracks, Joan entered Trout Studio in Brooklyn NYC with long-time collaborator and producer Bryce Goggin, where they brought in a revolving cast of friends and musicians to flesh them out.

"Living in this city is the most inspirational thing. A lot that moves me happens in everyday life. I live in NYC and am constantly blown away that people of all different kinds and races and opinions live together in one city and generally get along. If you read the papers you would think that’s not the case, but here – in NYC – that is the case. If you keep your eyes open you see amazing things everyday.

"I’m fascinated by people," she adds. "I talk to people all the time that I don’t know. I think people are really very beautiful actually. That may come as a shock if you listen to some of my old songs, but there you go," she chuckles.

The Deep Field is a wildly eclectic record, fusing slow and funky soul with the art music reminiscent of Antony And The Johnsons – with whom she used to sing, and credits with ‘saving her life’. The different influences on her life are fully present on Field, and coalesce into a sound that is playful, brave and both sweet and dark at the same time. They’re instantly recognizable as JAPW songs, although considerably enhanced by the musicality of her shifting bandmates.

"I finish the songs completely at home, get them demo’d before I go into the studio. If the song is not done, I won’t feel right about it. Sometimes it takes forever for the words to come, but they always do in the end. Then I get in there and invite my favourite musicians up to join me.

"From there I shifted it up, tried different things. I had five different bass players, according to what I felt would work. I’d riff with them and we’d come up with backup vocals, guitar dubs. I don’t send them any music beforehand, that we I can bounce of their intuition. Some of the best ideas come out of imperfect takes."

 

Joan started her career at a formal conservatory, training as a classical violinist before going into indie rock. She played in bands around New York, playing in a handful of groups, developing and aggressive style of playing that earned her a reputation as an indie darling and dating the late musical legend Jeff Buckley.

She only started singing as a way of dealing with her grief in the dissolute period following his tragic death by drowning. Joan found herself fronting a group called Black Beetle cobbled together from the remaining members of Buckley’s old band, her first attempt at writing for and fronting a band. They finished one record, which was never released, and broke up in 2002.

Although Black Beetle weren’t the success she hoped for, her vocals attracted the attention of Anthony And The Johnsons, who asked her to join the band and record on the Mercury Award winning record I Am A Bird Now. She credits the nurturing environment in the band and Antony’s gentle encouragement (she describes him as her ‘spiritual guide’) with saving her life, and giving her the self-belief to sing again. "The violin had been my voice for ages," she explains. "You have to learn (singing) for yourself. You can’t be there until you’re there".

After that she toured with Rufus Wainright, before finally setting out on her own ‘Joan As Policewoman’ project. Two albums of original songs and a cover record later, she has fully come into her own with The Deep Field, with its smooth synthesis of the many elements that have defined her so far; from losing Buckley to the brittle hope of Antony’s music. "My whole life I’ve been trying to tie together all these different sounds," she admits. "I’m really happy with how it went on this album.

"I went to a conservatory and I was really shocked because all my life I’d gotten by not doing very much; going to punk rock clubs, playing that kind of music. I loved all that kind of music, it wasn’t all that different for me."

"I got to the conservatory and all the people there had started playing at three years old and practiced for many hours a day. I had to rethink what I was doing. I did do that for a while, the thing that I learnt – simplified – was that ‘If you practice, you get better’: it sounds so simple, but it’s a great lesson."

Nearly two decades later, Joan has got it right. She has married gently hopeful lyrics to balls-out soul riffs swimming in gorgeous dense harmonies that throw the full weight of a classical education behind the hook.

 

"I’m sure it has some influence. It’s my life. One thing the conservatory did for me, I got used to hearing complicated harmonies. I really like dense harmonies; that probably has something to do with it. The violin is often playing the melody. I am concerned with the melody being really dope," she grins.

Fans interested in seeing her imperfect art/soul live will have a chance later this year, with rumours circling about a tour later this year. "Yes, I’ll be touring Australia. But definitely, yes, soon."

JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN’s new album The Deep Field is out now through Liberation.