Joan As Police Woman (Joan Wasser) has taken a decidedly uplifting and soulful turn on her brand new album The Classic, which she’ll be touring in Australia in June and July. Les Thomas asked her about the challenges and inspiration behind her latest work, finding her voice in collaboration with other artists and the loss of her friend and mentor Lou Reed.
I hear you’ve been playing some shows in England this week. Can you give us an idea where you’re at with the new album and touring?
I’m back in Brooklyn. We did an eight week tour of Europe and the UK and it went fabulously. And I’m coming to you next.
And how has the album been translating to that live setting?
I’ve got an incredible band, so that really helps and we just did 50 shows, so we’re well oiled and people have been loving the shows. Everyone sings in the band. I’ve always had a trio; this time it’s a quartet, and having that extra person makes me feel like I’m playing with a symphony orchestra.
The album’s very uplifting and there’s a definite groove on all of the tracks. What would you say brought you to this point musically for The Classic?
Well, with the last record people were really enthusiastic about how powerful and immediate the live shows were and I wanted to get that to translate onto a record. I’d made fairly polished records and I wanted to get a more in your face, kind of blammo, live sound. So we produced it within the band ourselves. That was a new and different setup and we’d been playing together so much that Tyler the keyboard player, he’s a brilliant engineer, and he knew exactly what we sounded like so he captured that sound we’d been performing live. All the recording was done so that it didn’t have to be processed in the mix, like the backing vocals were recorded all at once with close [?] mics and overheads and put right in front of the mix so that it sounds very present.
I wanted to ask about the emotional place that you’re in because you sound genuinely happy, which could be difficult for a lot of songwriters who tend to rely on more pessimistic grist for the mill. How was it to explore a happier state of being?
On the last record I’d become interested in figuring how to write a song that ultimately had an up feeling but didn’t sound light or cheesy or twee. It is a more difficult song to write. Writing about how sad everything is and just writing about emotions that are very difficult is pretty easy, but writing a song about the joys of living . . . taking into consideration that you’ve gotta live life on life’s terms. Life is hard, you know? There’s a lot of challenges. So having all that feeling within that, that’s what I’m trying to do.
It’s no small feat. And you’ve obviously lived through more of your share of loss and suffering, including recently the loss of Lou Reed. Can you perhaps share a bit about the creative relationship and friendship you had?
Lou was someone who I got to know over a long period of time. For a long time I would meet him and he wouldn’t necessarily remember me or remember where he’d met me last. And then I did enough working with him that all of a sudden he knew my name and was very friendly, just sort of comfortable. I think once you’re in with him, you’re in. Of course, that’s a nice place to be, especially with someone like that who I don’t know if he let so many people in.
He was really quite a mentor for me. He really gently, but firmly pushed me to be a better musician. On the last touring he did, I was opening and then I sang in his band and he knows exactly what he wants, and it’s incredible. He knows what he wants and you just have to figure out how to get it to him: he’s a great. And he helps you get there, you know? He was an incredibly sensitive person and very gracious to people who he saw potential in.
Were you always as free in your own musical expression, especially melodically with that violin playing background?
Playing classically, and playing a melodic instrument and tons of melodies from all different centuries and all different styles, I definitely love a good melody, partially because of that. For me, every song that I sit down to write feels like the first song I’ve ever written because it’s not there yet, it doesn’t exist yet!
Is the blank page daunting or is it an invitation to run riot?
It feels more like an invitation. It feels like there’s always something there. It’s not as if you’re going to write most of the song, but there’s always something that’s ready to be expressed. Even playing for playing’s sake can trick something in you. Often I only know what I’m feeling when I sit down to write a song. I start singing and words come out that have to do with what I’m feeling and I’m like “Oh!”. Somewhere subconsciously, it’s like dreaming or something.
And another aspect of your work is that so much of it’s been collaborative. Do you find working with other people builds up a need for you to express your own feelings?
It’s interesting because I didn’t write songs myself for a long time. I was in bands where we wrote stuff together, but I didn’t play an accompanying instrument. So I didn’t pick up a guitar and write a song. I was always trying to add something to the music that would make it better or bring out some subtelty that I thought was beautiful. So when I actually did pick up the guitar in my mid-20s and started strumming and singing I thought ‘Shit! This is how people write songs!’ [laughs]
I came up collaborating, so it’s what I love to do. You never lose with a collaboration. Even if it doesn’t go well, you learn something and actually I don’t think I’ve ever had a collaboration that hasn’t done well. There’s always something to find, especially in the combination of two whole human beings experiences that have never made anything together before. There’s always something there.
Can you fill us in on the people you’ll be collaborating with on your upcoming visit?
My band is incredible. We’ve got Parker Kindred playing drums. I’ve been playing with him for maybe 17-18 years in some way, an extraordinary drummer and musician and singer. TheN I’ve got two new members. There’s Matt Whyte. He plays guitar but he also plays drums, plays keys and sings. He’s just a beast. So sensitive. Then on the Moog Bass and keys and sax, his name is Eric Lane. There’s a lot of backup singing, harmonies. That’s really fun. It’s a good time!
JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Tuesday 24th June HIFI BAR, Brisbane, QLD
Bookings: www.thehifi.com.au Phone: 1300 762 545
Friday 27th June Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne VIC
Bookings: www.melbournerecital.com.au Phone: 03 9699 3333
Saturday 28th June Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
Bookings: www.lyrebirdartscouncil.com.au Phone: 03 5664 9239
Tuesday 1st July Lizottes, Newcastle, NSW
Bookings: www.lizottes.com.au Phone: 02 4956 2066
Wednesday 2nd July The Basement, Sydney NSW
Bookings: www.thebasement.com.au Phone: 1300 438 849
Thursday 3rd July The Basement , Sydney NSW
Bookings: www.thebasement.com.au Phone: 1300 438 849