Joan as Police Woman Interview
Considering she'll be flashing her badge to those lucky enough to have tickets to next week's UK tour, I thought it timely that Joan as Police Woman (aka, voice-to-beat-a-thousand-Leonas Joan Wasser) be interrogated herself. Below, she discusses her new cover version project and the inspirations that transformed her from violin-toting sprog into one of the hidden treasures of today's feminine-shaped musical landscape...
Can you tell me a little bit more about the recent ‘Cover’ project and how it came about?
I was asked to do a show in January 2008 at the Stone, John Zorn's venue that features a lot of experimental music. It was specified that it not be the standard Joan as Police Woman show. I wrote a bunch of new songs and did some covers. My friend Shahzad Ismaily had seen the show advertised in the paper and called to ask if i wanted a conspirator for the show, which i took him up on. This was the start. We recorded Fire by Hendrix and Baby by Iggy Pop shortly afterwards; they were two songs I had considered covering for a while, both musically and lyrically thrilling to me. More recently, I have been writing for my third album and have been desiring a positive distraction, so i decided i would do an entire album of covers.
Were there any songs that you considered covering but thought were too ‘sacred’ to touch?
I thought about doing She's Out of My Life by MJ (this was pre-mortem) but I soon realised that I wanted to sound exactly like him and certainly did not want to make a karaoke album!
Do you have a favourite song off the record or a favourite to play live?
Sacred Trickster is probably the most fun to play live because it's only vocals and handclaps.
Have you heard any covers of your own songs and what did you think?
I have. People send me YouTube videos of covers of my songs. I always just feel flattered that anyone takes the time to work out the chords!
The gay/lesbian community seem to have embraced you especially; what do you make of continued support from these fans?
My open mindedness in every way... please use your imagination.
When did you discover your voice? Were you always interested in becoming a musician when growing up?
I began playing violin when they offered it in third grade at my school. I ended up studying it classically through college but was subsequently seeing Siouxsie and X and the Bad Brains and Public Enemy. Music has always been the thing that allowed me to feel; that forced me to feel even when I didn't want to but knew i had to. I didn't start singing until years of playing only violin in bands. I had gotten to the point where I wanted to see what music existed in me other than playing the violin, so i picked up the guitar and began learning how to write songs by writing songs. I was at a turning point in my life and my voice emerged out of the dark clouds.
You’ve sung with a host of revered male singers – Rufus Wainwright, Joseph Arthur, Antony, etc. Describe the process of collaboration, and can you tell us if you have any future duets in the works?
Collaboration is all about listening for me. Even when I've written the song, I just want to have the other singer be featured in the most beautiful way and attempt to write it with their voice in mind. Each collaboration brings something different out in me or forces me to pull out something that has been laying dormant for a while. In this way, collaborations feel like a rejuvenation process.
There seems to have been a resurgence in the popularity of female singer/songwriters in the UK this year, yet you’ve been plugging away as a solo artist over the past few years. What do you make of the current female musical landscape, and the opportunities afforded by the industry for burgeoning female musicians?
I guess I have to admit I am a bit out of touch! Any woman who is writing her own songs and is singing them will be a role model for other women, as Kim Deal, Carol King, Kim Gordon, Joni Mitchell and Tanya Donnelly were for me. The more empowered women that emerge in music, the arts and the world in general allow more room for the next generation of women. I feel like the good stuff always gets noticed, with or without the industry. Wait - what industry?! Ha!
Who were your musical inspirations growing up, and what current artists do you admire?
Prince, Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Roberta Flack, Black Flag, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Judy Garland, Gang of Four, Maurice Ravel, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Eric Dolphy, the Jesus Lizard, Jean Sibelius, T Rex, Neil Young, David Bowie, Sly and the Family Stone, Grifters, the Minutemen, Big Star, Iggy Pop, Nina Simone, the Smiths, Duke Ellington, the Pixies.
Currently, I like Cass McCombs, the Dirty Projectors, Gnarls Barkley, Amy Winehouse, the Knife, Hot Chip, Dan Auerbach, Secret Chiefs, David Sylvian, Nas, Emily Haines and Radiohead.
Your choice of moniker – ‘as Policewoman’- is unique but unusual. If you were genuinely an officer of the law, what current law would you ban and what new law would you reinstate?
I would ban the law that makes it illegal to use drugs - and maybe also to be naked in public - not so I can be nude in public and use drugs (I have done enough of that for this lifetime thank you!) but just so that these practices are not mistaken as being morally wrong.
My new law would allow any two people that wanted to to get married - either that or no one is allowed to marry. I would also love to underline the law that requires division of church and state.
Hear hear! Joan's 'Cover' CD - featuring, of all things, a take on Britney's Overprotected - is available at the UK shows, which kick off on Sunday in Leeds. More info here.