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:: Spotlight :: An interview with Joan Wasser - Joan As Policewoman

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Joan Wasser is the creative force behind New York act Joan As Policewoman. The band's debut album “Real Life” has recently been released in Australia, through Pias/Creative Vibes, and is one of the bst you'll hear in 2006. Joan has a love of classical music; such is her prowess as a violinist. Those who remember her exploits from the 90s, would agree that her violin playing was sublime, yet charismatic. Audiences will now relish her role as a singer on her short Australian tour and she continues to build her classic indie repertoire.

I fondly remember Joan from ten years ago when she toured Australia with The Dambuilders, as support to the late Jeff Buckley. That particular memory will never be forgotten as one of the best all-round concert nights I’ve experienced. Those were, indeed, great days and she later took up a position in Those Bastard Souls and then guest roles with Antony’s Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright. It was a pleasant surprise when her solo CD landed in my hands recently. Joan Wasser signals that she is back. She can’t wait for her Australian shows and it is part of a very big international tour. Already, the song “Eternal Flame” is getting some good airplay.

Her flight into London was delayed but she was most accommodating in proceeding with our interview when she could have been justified in cancelling all her commitments that day until her BBC Radio show appointment. It further emphasised to me how friendly and amenable she is.

Tell us about adopting the title Joan as Policewoman?

It is in reference to a 1970s cop show called Policewoman, which starred Angie Dickinson as Pepper. I used to have a big tangle of blonde hair, at one point, and my friend told me that I was channelling Angie from Policewoman.

So I can call you Pepper now…

You sure can.

It is a revelation to hear you sing. I hadn’t heard you sing in this way before…

Me neither.

Was it a big step for you to sing solo?

I never really considered singing. I did try to take the violin out and make it something new for myself. I was satisfied playing violin for a long time. I wasn’t a singer until pretty recently. I picked up the guitar about 9-10 years ago and then naturally started to sing. It took a long time for me to like my voice and learn what to do with it and be comfortable with it. It was a long road to arrive at a comfort level. I love singing solo as I can really stress out and not worry about embarrassing my band. I can talk endlessly about the mundane and ridiculous details of my day.

How have the live shows been going with this new record?

The live shows have been really great. I’m doing this short Australian tour solo before going back to New York in October and pick up my band to do about two months’ worth of shows with them.

How were the recent shows and festivals?

These last shows, including the festivals, were fantastic. It was great seeing a lot of my friends on these shows too. Scissor Sisters played there and I play on their new record.

I know that you are a hard worker. How important is playing live to you and to any budding performer?

Playing live is where you make the direct connection to the people. There isn’t anything of greater value. You can make a record, but playing it live is the main game. Still, you must have the songs. Craft your songs and then play them live. Play live as much as you can because the experience you get is something you can’t get from anything else. You soon learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a thrilling experience.

What have you learned from all your experiences?

I’ve learned to do things in exactly the way I want to do them. If people tell you that you’re wrong, then you move away from those people. That’s a general life situation. I finished this record on my own with no input from any record company; so that I could finish it and tell them that here it is “done”. Do you like it? Otherwise, I’ll take it somewhere else.

I’m taking things as they come, day by day. You’re never disappointed. I never have any pre-conceived notions about what’s going to happen. Honestly, I would never have expected what’s happening now. It’s nice to be gently surprised.

What other music have you been listening to?

A couple of months ago, one record stood out for me. I couldn’t stop listening to “The Trials of Van Occupanther” by Midlake. It’s a beautiful record. I still love listening to classical music and old pop/rock music.

What are your thoughts on MySpace as another outlet for your music?

MySpace is absolutely unbelievable because you can put your music up there immediately and then have direct contact with people. It’s an exceptional thing.

The last song on the album has a special significance…

Yes, I dedicated it to the late Elliot Smith. I did a couple of tours with him. He was a very gentle, kind person. His death was a terrible tragedy. He is sorely missed.

"Real Life" is out now through Pias/Creative Vibes.

See Joan in the following solo performances in Melbourne:

Friday, September 29 and Saturday, September 30, both at the Northcote Social Club.