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Joan Wasser

Sometimes the artist knows best.
Influences: “Life”
Sounds Like: “The wind rushing through the forest.”
...and the additional observation: “Beauty is the new punk rock”
“The general feeling these days,” Joan claims, “is trust no-one, all the media is lying to you...there’s such a
sense of distrust in the air. For me, the most subversive you can be these days is to be totally honest, and to
really laud beauty”.
Joan’s REAL LIFE album goes a long way to laud
honesty, trust and beauty, and in doing so lauds her
own beauty. You might know Joan from her loud
serrated bands The Dambuilders, Black Beetle and
Those Bastard Souls. Or playing more subtly and
quietly in Antony’s Johnsons or Rufus Wainwright’s
band. Some influences pervade, but this is all togeth-
er different. It’s music that shimmers, torch-song-
like, between categories. It feels adjacent to jazz
while being deeply soulful. The voice and delivery
has raised comparisons to Dusty Springfield, Annette
Peacock and Chrissie Hynde. Like Antony, Joan’s
music seems to have come out of nowhere, and yet
feels fully-formed, idiosyncratically individual, all
on, and of, it’s own. Simply, Joan As Police Woman
feels very Joan.
“I’ve called it Punk Rock R&B but American Soul Music is better, I feel like my music is the melding of the
two styles I love most - Soul, that whole encompassing Al Green, Nina Simone and Isaac Hayes, and then all
the stuff that came from Punk like The Smiths, the Grifters and Siouxsie Sioux...”
“...rock moved very easily into punk for me. I loved X, the Stooges, the Minutemen. In town there was an
all-ages punk rock club, The Anthrax: thank god for this club! It changed my life.” Here Joan witnessed the
likes of Sonic Youth, Black Flag and Bad Brains, “who all blew my mind”.
Joan’s musical career, even in a nutshell, can send you weak at the knees. Her glitter-covered, five-string
violin-cum-viola provided the rhythmic thrust alongside the guitars in The Dambuilders. Those Bastard
Souls (fronted by Grifters guitarist David Shouse with Joan, Steven Drozd from The Flaming Lips and Fred
Armisen of Trenchmouth) and Black
Beetle (which included Michael Tighe
and Parker Kindred from Jeff Buckley’s
band) followed before Joan decided to
go it alone. But her pal Antony asked
her to join his fledgling Johnsons, and
she stayed for years, right up until Rufus
Wainwright asked her to join his band
and be the support act: “I kept trying to
make my music a priority but I loved
playing in other people’s bands.”
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Listening to the album, you’ll notice she’s not hiding
behind that glittery violin or sheltering in the storm of
rock’s typical form of expression. “Anger is so easy
and I have been angry for so long. But anger only
arises from other feelings you’re not dealing with. I’m
trying to get deeper.”
“Because I don’t have to deal with basic everyday sur-
vival, like killing for food and not freezing to death my
music is about [laughs] love and loss. Beyond that, it’s
about finding a way to be truthful with myself, after
a really long time running away from myself. From
becoming an adult, facing fears without fear, or with fear but being fine with it. To trust yourself enough to
admit how you’re feeling, which takes a lot of patience. This record is about learning to be real. Real clear.”
Sure, you might want to ask Joan about Antony, Rufus or her
contributions to The Scissor Sisters, Lou Reed, Nick Cave,
Sheryl Crow, Sparklehorse and Depeche Mode’s David
Gahan. Or about putting together the house band for the New
York segment of producer Hal Wilner’s Sea Shanties project.
Or about the one-off album (“one of my favourite records
I’ve ever been part of”) that she made alongside Shudder To
Think’s Nathan Larson, Dambuilders drummer Kevin March
and Helium’s Mary Timony under the band name Mind
Science Of The Mind. Or her contribution to Steven
Bernstein’s cracking jazz covers band Sex Mob (“I played a
wild violin solo on Nirvana’s About A Girl”), or the album
she recorded in August 2004 with ex-Throwing Muses/Belly
founder Tanya Donelly. But really, this is Joan’s story. Her
music. Her beauty. Her brilliance. As she sings on The Ride,
“starting now, the wait is over.”


Media Player Still: Evy Ottermans

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