Joan As Police Woman

Joan As Police Woman

Joan Wasser is about as close as you can get to an interviewer’s dream. Perhaps better known as Joan As Police Woman, the moniker she has performed under since 2002, Wasser is candid, funny and thoughtful, with a great booming laugh that crackles down the phone line often. Phoning in from her apartment in Brooklyn, the 43 year old chats openly about her fourth studio album The Classic which was released earlier this year, sexuality in pop music and, her last evening with friend and collaborator, Lou Reed.

Once referred to by The Times as ‘the coolest woman in pop’, Wasser indeed fits the role as the hip older sister with the great record collection, or the girl in the year above with the enviable vintage wardrobe (when I mention her spectacular “Joan” belt buckle as seen in the video for “The Classic”, she roars with laughter and declares ‘Oh my god, that’s from a thrift store! Now I’m going to be on the search for a belt buckle that says Madison! I’m gonna find it goddammit!). When asked how the ‘cool’ title sits with her, the singer answers modestly “I guess I always thought I was pretty cool but wasn’t sure that anyone else thought so, but as long as that one person who wrote that one line agrees with me I think I’m doing pretty well.”

As the conversation turns towards The Classic and its lead single of the same name, Wasser explains “I made promise to myself on this record that I would finish the song that I was writing, even if it felt that it wasn’t going to fit on the record. I was doing a month long song writing show in a tiny venue just to try the songs out to see how they sounded outside of my apartment. I played that song and everybody loved it and it was like ‘alright! I’m going to keep it then!’ ”.

Having chronicled her experiences with death and depression extensively through her back catalogue, The Classic sees Wasser kiss her demons goodbye and embrace the happiness that she has found within her own life, “I think I was finally reaching the stage where I thought being happy was cool. For so long I thought being miserable was where it’s at” she says through peals of laughter, “I felt like if I wasn’t miserably suffering I wouldn’t be able to make good art and really, really honestly thought that. I started to realise the happier I got, that that wasn’t true, I would make different art but not necessarily of lesser quality so I think I just, for lack of a better way of saying it, grew up a little bit.” And what would Joan say to her melancholic 23 year old self? “I would have told myself to fuck off. I had such an attitude but I’m glad that I made all of the mistakes that I did because I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t. I would have said ‘Joan, you’re going to find happiness and everything is going to be alright’, because those are two things that I was not positive of. I was not sure everything was going to be alright.”
We rattle on about what each of us would say to our younger selves for some time, and somehow end up discussing the sexualisation of female pop artists. “It’s amazing what is going on” muses Joan, “I mean, it’s such a strange combination of ‘well women should be able to wear whatever they want and show any part of their body that they want’ but at the same time there isn’t the other side of that being shown, well there is, (Janelle) Monet is wearing a full tuxedo and she is not where Rihanna and Beyoncé are.” But it isn’t so much the lack of clothing as much as it is the mixed messages that are sent that confounds Wasser as she continues “what I really have a problem with is the confusing message of ‘if you like then you got to put a ring on it’ while they’re prancing around in no clothes. That is confusing for any very young woman to understand- it’s confusing for me to understand! For any young woman or man, any young person who is trying to make sense of that- you can’t! I appreciate Rihanna more because she is like ‘yeah, I’m selling my ass- fuck you!’”

Sadly, our chat is given the five minute wind up and I decide to ask Joan about the passing of her friend and collaborator Lou Reed in October of 2013. She pauses and for a moment I think I have overstepped the boundary between relative interest and personal prying, but the singer begins to speak. “I wasn’t surprised because I knew that he was nearing the end.” She continues “I was lucky enough to have a dinner with him about a month before and he was so unbelievably lucid, and quoting from all these books verbatim, and making all these incredible connections. I mean Lou was incredibly brilliant but this was other level stuff that he was putting together and I felt like it was probably going to be the last time I saw him because I feel the closer you get sometimes, the more life you get in and he was trying to fit it in.”

Pausing again Wasser speaks warmly as she confides “I feel like there is an enormous hole in New York City, but I feel like we were really lucky to have him here, singing here in New York for his wonderful life. I feel really grateful to have been able to get close to him.”
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