Interview: Joan as Police Woman
American violinist, guitarist and singer/songwriter Joan Wasser – aka Joan As Police Woman – talks to Courtney Dabb about her latest album and her upcoming tour of Australia:
Hi Joan. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to Something You Said. Can I begin by asking how your current album, The Classic, has taken a different direction from your previous work?
Well, to start with I decided that I would change my way of making this record. All my others were made with the same producer at the same studio. On this record I wanted to do it differently. We recorded the basic set-up phase in a number of studios. We would rent them for a day to do the basics, depending on the songs we were doing. We did three or four songs at a time, as opposed to having to prepare all 12 at once, so it was a really nice. I don’t want to say “relaxed,” – I don’t think I would be called a relaxed person while recording, because it’s too exciting – but we made it this way so that a lot of spreading-out could happen and a lot of time could be spent on detail. On top of that, I was hellbent on capturing more of the feeling of the live show on the record. That meant we recorded everything pretty much how it went down in the mix. We didn’t do a lot to alter the sounds after we recorded them, we pressed everything up front in the mix and also left all the outros of the songs there, you know, if it felt good. I didn’t fade down songs, I just developed the endings. So, that is a long answer. But that is the full answer (laughs).
So you said you were doing three or four songs at a time and didn’t feel pressured doing it that way, but was there a different sort of pressure in trying to create the live feel?
Not really. I’ve done so much touring together with Tyler Woods (who engineered and co-produced) and Parker Kindred (who plays drums), that we really felt like we knew what to do, which was pretty much play, capture the sound live and leave it alone. Any overdubs we did were post-mix. We used a lot of overheads, so that it really felt like you got that live feeling.
The album has a very eclectic mix of songs and styles. Was this something you set out to do from the beginning or did it just pan out that way?
I didn’t set out to do that. I did make a decision while writing this record that I was going to allow myself to finish every idea that I liked, even if I thought, “well this doesn’t fit with the record,” or, “I don’t know if I should try this thing like this,” or, “I don’t know if this is too much like this or not enough like this,” or whatever. I just finished the songs and told all this self-critiquing to take a hike. Since I started writing songs, I have been trying to get rid of the editing, the self-editing, the self-critiquing. I promised myself when I was writing this record that I would allow myself to go wherever I liked, so this is what happened.
In recording this album, you mentioned that you were “in the best place I’ve ever been in my life.” What do you mean by that?
I think I was. I have spent a long time trying to let go of a lot of stuff that was holding me back. One of those things being telling myself I couldn’t (like what I was talking about with the songwriting). It’s just about basic self-esteem and making a decision to be happy in a certain way, sometimes oversimplified because of course you have to have taken the 10,000 microsteps to the place where you can make the decision to be happy. It’s not like you just open the door and there it is. I wrote a lot of sad songs. I got them out of my system and I feel like, the more time we get to spend alive, the more time we get to figure out how to do it a little bit better. So I’m trying. Trying my best.
You have famously collaborated with the likes of Elton John, Scissor Sisters and Sheryl Crow. Have you collaborated with anyone on this album?
Ah yes. Well, I wrote the songs but I got Reggie Watts. It seems that Reggie Watts is well known in certain parts of the world and not as known in others. I’m not sure Australia has gotten super hip to Reggie Watts but you will hear about him and experience him. He is an incredibly free, inspired musician as well as being a comedian and philosopher. I got him to riff over the end of ‘Holy City’ and beatbox on ‘The Classic’, so that was a total joy.
Of the ten tracks on your new album, do you have a personal favourite?
I really like ‘New Year’s Day’ because, in a certain way, it was a difficult song to write. It’s about shedding the skin that is difficult to shed. We recorded that song a few times in different studios before we got it right. It did get there, so I feel like that was something of an achievement, to actually capture the song in the way I felt it should be.
As an artist evolving emotionally and musically from album to album, do you find it hard – or even redundant – performing some of your earlier material when the person you are today may be completely different from the person you were when you first put pen to paper?
Sometimes songs do feel a little bit outmoded. What I tend to do is make a new arrangement. I can always go back to the feeling of where the song came from but sometimes I like to change the focus… turn a little bit to the left just to reveal another side of the song. I’ve done that on some of my older songs. It’s really fun making my arrangements for Joan songs, but I love making really radically different arrangements of cover songs as well.
This year marks 20 years since the release of Grace by Jeff Buckley, who you were dating at the time of his passing. Will you be performing any tribute songs to Jeff during any performances on your upcoming tour?
Nope (laughs). I will not, but I pay tribute to him every day in my life, so I don’t need to do that (laughs).
What can we expect from the tour?
Well, I’ve only ever been in a trio but now I have a quartet. Adding that extra member makes me feel like I’m playing with a symphony orchestra, so that’s great. Parker Kindred, drummer extraordinaire, singer extraordinaire, has been with me for a while now and is an exceptional drummer and exceptional musician. Matt Whyte plays guitar but then also plays percussion and keyboards and sings gorgeously and Eric Lane plays keys and bass and sings as well. I play keys and guitar, violin and obviously sing, so we change up the instrumentation between songs and we do a lot different things, which makes it a nicely varied show. We just did two months in Europe and the response was really great. I’m looking forward to doing more shows, especially in Australia.
Do you find touring to be inspirational, whereby it helps you write and create more material, or are you so focused on the task at hand that writing and creating new material takes a back seat?
It really depends on my mood, on this last tour of Europe we had to do so much press that I really I didn’t have time to do anything besides that, the shows and sleep. It’s really fun writing on the road, so I’m hoping I’ll be given a little bit of time to do that. We will see.
Joan is hitting Australia and Europe from June-August. Here’s where you can catch her:
Jun 24 HiFi Bar Brisbane, Australia
Jun 27 Melbourne Recital Centre Melbourne, Australia
Jun 28 Meeniyan Town Hall Meeniyan, Australia
Jul 01 Lizottes Newcastle, Australia
Jul 02 The Basement Sydney, Australia
Jul 03 The Basement Sydney, Australia
Jul 10 Les Ardentes Festival Liege, Bel
Jul 16 Pistoia Blues Festival Pistoia, Italy
Jul 19 Curious Arts Festival Hampshire, United Kingdom
Jul 20 AUDITORIUM PARCO DELLA MUSICA – CAVEA Rome, Italy
Jul 24 La Mar de Musicas Cartagena, Spain
Aug 01 Midsummer Festival Leuven, Belgium
Aug 05 Liquid Rooms Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Aug 06 The Picturedrome West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Aug 07 Gorilla Manchester, United Kingdom
Aug 08 Beacons Festival Skipton, United Kingdom
Aug 09 Wilderness Festival Charlbury, United Kingdom
Interview by Courtney Dabb.