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  • Interview: Joan as Police Woman

    Wed, 15 Oct 2008 10:53:27

    Interview: Joan as Police Woman - We talk populist politics, catharsis and European takeovers with the classically trained singer

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    Prior to heading up Joan As Police Woman, Joan Wasser was most remarkable because of her close proximity to top-tier singers and songwriters. The classically trained singer and violinist was one of Antony’s Johnsons, played in Rufus Wainwright’s band, and, in her own personal life, was dating Jeff Buckley at the time of the singer’s tragic death (she is reportedly the subject of Buckley’s scorching “Everybody Here Wants You”).

    With two lushly written and personally revealing albums under her belt–Real Life (2006) and To Survive (earlier this year)–Wasser has stepped out into the spotlight in her own right. Yet despite a commercially accessible sound, she has yet to gain the sort of traction Stateside that she has overseas. She spoke to ARTISTdirect about the differences between countries, the catharsis of painful songwriting, and the best albums to crank when you need a speed fix.

    The new album came out and you were right off to Europe. Your first album came out overseas well in advance of its release here. Is it just happenstance that you’ve found a bigger and more receptive audience in Europe–or was it a deliberate plan to cultivate an audience there? Or, as my wife puts it, why doesn’t Joan play L.A. more often?

    Well, first of all, I’d love to play L.A. more often, and it’s nice to hear that at least one person who lives in L.A. would like it also. Regarding overseas, I would love to say that I had some master plan to conquer Europe, so that I could remain anonymous in my own country–but I would be lying. In 2004, I made an EP with a small grant and my own money, manufactured it myself and began opening for Rufus Wainwright and playing in his band. In 2005, a man by the name of Tom Rose saw me at Birmingham Symphony Hall supporting Rufus. He bought my EP and contacted me about selling it in his record store, Reveal Records. After selling more EPs in his store than I had in a month on the road, he asked if I would be interested in making it the first release on the record label he had been thinking about starting. This was the beginning of my European career.

    I had already begun recording Real Life in pieces when I was on break from the Rufus tour, and now I began playing my own shows in England and gaining steam. A European record label, PIAS, learned about me from Tom, and they and Reveal released my first full length, Real Life, in June ’06. I had to stop playing with all other projects and began touring full time for Joan As Police Woman. From there, it really hasn’t stopped. I have mostly been on the road. I didn’t have an American label in place and had no manager or time to look for one. I just concentrated on playing good shows. A label did come forth that I liked, Cheap Lullaby (out of L.A.!) and we released in the U.S. a year later, June ’08. I will be playing shows in America in September of this year, but I sustain myself by playing in Europe.

    I’ve talked to a lot of songwriters over the years and, while there is certainly some variation, I hear a lot of times about how it’s difficult to work and write on the road–that it’s hard to be in the right headspace. How did you manage to focus and write the bulk of To Survive on the road?

    Honestly, I was going through some hard times. Writing songs actually kept me focused and sane. I think part of my survival mechanism kicked in. Strife can really create an extra ability to make art, in my experience. Too much comfort can, at times, create sloth. I think, more than this, I love working. There are only so many days in one’s life!

    I know from my own writing experience that it can be very cathartic to write about personal loss–that probably goes without saying. But I’m not a musician, let alone a touring musician, so I wonder what it’s like to play these songs night after night–and revisit emotions that you may not otherwise revisit so frequently?

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