Shining through adversity: Joan As Police Woman
AN ILLUSTRIOUS 30-year career in music is scarcely marked by smooth sailing. The hard knocks can force band break-ups, long hiatuses or a departure from music altogether.
But for indie-rock institution Joan Wasser it’s hard work and being “a little nuts”, which allowed her to overcome her mother’s death four years ago and the accidental drowning of then-boyfriend, musician Jeff Buckley, in 1997.
Known in her solo musical incarnation as Joan as Police Woman, Wasser emerged stronger and more musically evolved from a very dark part of her life.
“It softened me up – which I needed – and made me figure out how I was really feeling… so I started to sing,” Wasser tells Pulse.
“You can’t sing without a vocabulary to express your feelings, so singing forced me to find one.”
That vocabulary materialised as Joan as Police Woman’s 2006 debut, Real Life, and attracted critical acclaim for the sheer honesty and intimacy of its softly sung ballads and fragile piano pieces.
Sophomore release To Survive, 2008, continued the uproarious applause from critics and audiences alike – Wasser’s songwriting spark never dimmed and she crafted a combination of ’70s soul, indie-rock and simple pop into her trademark sound.
“I wrote these songs and people responded to them – and of course I respond to positive feedback. I’m human,” she says.
This year, third album The Deep Field marked a shift toward a heavier indie-rock sound, with more synths and growling vocals but without a complete departure from the Wasser sound.
“The more time I spend on earth, the more comfortable I am with myself and the less I let my past tell me what to do,” she says.
“It’s nice to embrace that level of comfort on an album. I love making records and I really enjoyed making this one because I think that sense of joy is on there.”
With a star-studded list of collaborators including Elton John, Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed, Wasser’s transition from talented “background” musician to engaging front woman was not an easy one, especially coming from a classically trained background.
“I studied violin at Boston University and it suited me because I’m a perfectionist – always have been,” she says.
“Anyone who isn’t is not cut out to play music, especially classical music. Sitting in your basement practicing the same thing for five hours is definitely a little nuts.”
But it is the discipline she learned here that she has brought to every creative project since.
“In high school, I was this violinist with a blonde Mohawk, acting crazy and runnin’ around,” she says.
“But I’ve learned you don’t get good at music just ‘feeling it’ – you need discipline!”
Wasser’s Byron show will be the most intimate and smallest audience on this tour, and with such a mighty performance background, will this affect her?
“Oh, God, no!” she exclaims.
“I’ve played to two or three people and I’ve played to 2500 people – the fact is, it’s really just nice to play at all. I can’t wait.”
Today is your last day to win tickets to see Joan As Police Woman in Byron Bay. See P19 for details on how to enter.
Joan as Police Woman plays the Byron Bay Community Centre on Sunday night (June 5). Tickets $55.80.