For your pleasure #2: Joan As Police Woman

Tomorrow night (Sunday) Leeds’ burgeoning live music venue the  Brudenell Social Club will be graced – for the second time within a year – with the presence of Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Police Woman.

I don’t expect this to cause huge ripples among the majority of readers here, but if my words here have any weight whatsoever then I shall see you amongst the crowd there tomorrow, as this is an artist who should not be missed when she swoops into town.

Beginning her musical career as an undergraduate at Boston University – where she was taken on as an early admittance student – Wasser played with various Boston bands whilst holding a place as violinist with the university’s symphony orchestra.

Whilst playing violin with the band The Dambuilders, who gained a little limited success Wasser developed her singing voice and added guitar to her previous instruments of violin and piano.  Her skill and range of playing garnered her something of a reputation, which led to her playing with a number of bands and would later place her good stead for her solo career.

One man who clearly noticed Wasser during this period – and I have to confess this is something which I was not even aware of before I came to check my facts for this post – was Jeff Buckley.  Wasser was Buckey’s girlfriend when Buckley sadly drowned in Wolf River Harbor [sic.] in May 1997.  Following the tragedy Wasser formed Black Beetle with the now redundant members of Buckley’s band – her first experience of fronting an act and writing material.

Joan Wasser talks about singing

After a spell in Antony & The Johnson, and the demise of Black Beetle in 2002, Wasser began to focus on her solo career, releasing the eponymous EP Joan As Police Woman in 2004.  Even at this early stage the range and scope of Wasser’s songwriting was in evidence – My Gurl and How Come You’re So Solid? showcasing her vocal style with aplomb, whilst Prime Mover growls with lovely dirty guitars yet never becomes irksomely raucous.

2006 saw the release of Joan As Police Woman’s first long player Real Life.  Released through British label Reveal Records, it features the delightful lilting single I Defy, co-written with friend and former bandmate Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons, whose Mercury Award winning album I Am A Bird Now includes Wasser on viola.

Follow-up album To Survive, released in June last year is quite simply a masterpiece of understated pop heart-wrenching wonderment.  Album opener Honour My Wishes demonstrates the fragility inherent in Wasser’s vocal timbre, all based around a basic four-note keyboard structure, whilst To America goes from gentle beginnings and flourishes into fully rounded brass-and-all oomph piece with chum Rufus Wainwright on backing vocals. 

The highlight for me, however, is the achingly lovely vocal and piano piece To Be Lonely, in which Wasser explores a romantic union in it’s own perfect oxymoronic isolation (“This is the one I will try/To be lonely with”).  It’s simply one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and when she played it live a few feet in front of me at the Brudenell last December I was visibly moved to tears.

As I stated at the start of this posting, the opportunity to see Joan As Police Woman should not be missed.  It’s a very special thing to watch an artist seemingly fill a room with sound whilst making the minimum of noise, yet this is what she does.  It’s a demonstration of a wilful and gentle tearing out of a performer’s heart and laying it bare for an audience.  It’s a sharing of the heart, however, rather than a gruesome act.  It’s really an extraordinary experience.

Doors open at 8pm tomorrow.  I’ll see you there.

Joan As Police Woman discography:

  • Real Life (2006), Reveal Records.  Produced by Bryce Goggin and Joan Wasser
  • To Survive (2008), Reveal Records.  Produced by Bryce Goggin and Joan Wasser

Selected other listening:

  • Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994), Colombia.  Produced by Jeff Buckley and Andy Wallace
  • Antony & The Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now (2005), Secret Canadian.  Produced by Antony Hegarty
  • Rufus Wainwright – Want Two (2004), Geffen.  Produced by Marius De Vries and Rufus Wainwright

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