Joan As Police Woman: “The Solutions is Restless” (2021) – by Cinzia Milite

Joan Wasser, the eclectic American musician, songwriter and producer, known to the public as Joan As Police Woman, was born on July 26, 1970 in Maine and grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut. She has been studying classical music, piano and violin since childhood with, among others, Yuri Mazurkevich and has performed with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. She has begun her career as an international artist by deviating from her musical career of classical studies in 1991 playing with the indie rock band The Dambluilders who, in 1994, signed a contract with the Elektra Records label. She participates in the band’s tours on the east coast and appears on albums playing first as a violinist and gradually increasing her role within the band, adding guitar and keyboard parts, singing and co-writing several songs as evidenced by the album “Against the Stars“. In 1996, a year before the Dambuilders disbanded, Joan moved to Brooklyn. Her exceptional talents and her quirky and enterprising style draws the attention of some New York musicians who offer her several opportunities as a session player with the likes of Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Sparklehorse and Scissor Sisters. During her career Joan Wasser has also collaborated with other great artists including: Beck, Laurie Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, John Cale, Aldous Harding, Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright, Daniel Johnston, and John Zorn. Her life took a dramatic turn in 1997 when her boyfriend, Jeff Buckley, accidentally died by drowning in a Mississippi tributary in Memphis.
The pain of the death of her beloved prompts her to form a band, the Black Beetle, with the remaining members of the Burkley group. Although Black Beetle‘s debut album never saw the light of day due to the creative differences between her lead writers, her experience with the band provides her with material and enough determination to fully begin the process. Joan Wasser‘s debut in her new role: Joan as Police Woman, name inspired by a crime TV series with Angie Dickinson, takes place in 2004, when she releases a self-titled album without a record contract. Her debut album will be re-released in 2005 with the British record label Reveal Records which will later release “Real life” (2006). At the beginning of 2008 the EP won the seventh edition of the Independent Music Awards for best pop/rock album. To date, Joan, prolific artist and multi-instrumentalist has explored and experimented with different sounds: from soul, to pop and R&B, Indie Rock to Synth, has undertaken tours all over the world and has 11 albums plus collaborations, productions and far-reaching projects including Brian Crano‘s “Permission soundtrack. Magazzini Inesistenti asked her a few questions about her personal and artistic experience and about the release of the new album “The solutions is restless” (2021).
Joan, “Damned Devotion” released in 2018 is an album of unreleased songs, after which you released the best-of “Joanthology” (2019) collection, the three discs that make up the collection include pieces that the public has listened to in the last 15 years, in the meantime you have released a cover album (“Cover Two2020) and Live. It almost seems that at some point in your artistic career you wanted to take stock of the situation and that “The solutions is restless”, the new album of unreleased songs, represents a new beginning, is that it?
I feel like every album is a new beginning. The reason I put out “Joanthology” was for ease when folks ask me “what album should I listen to?”. I didn’t put out this album to act as punctuation between recordings”.
In “The solutions is restless” we see the great Tony Allen born in 1940, a recently deceased Nigerian drummer, acclaimed protagonist of the afrobeat scene of the 70s who reinvented his music, brought dub, electronics, avant-garde rap and R&B in his afrobeat style to create what will later be called afro-funk. How did the collaboration with him start?
I first learned of Tony when finding Fela Kuti in my early 20s. I became consumed with afrobeat and, therefore the fuel of afrobeat, Tony. Joan As Police Woman played a festival with The Good The Bad and The Queen in 2007 and it was then I realized that Damon had gotten Tony to play in his band. I was thrilled to watch him play that night. I had to wait 12 more years to actually meet him. It was at an Africa Express event in early 2019. Damon introduced us and we hit it off. We played a cover of Nina Simone’s, I Wish I Could Know How It Feels To Be Free, and our future recording plans were settled. Next time I was on tour in Paris, I had my friend Dave Okumu come over from London to meet us in the studio to play bass and guitar. We had a night of jamming that went very well. I left with the files, not knowing when I’d be able to listen to them. I did know we had a great time. It was when the pandemic hit, all my tour dates got cancelled and I was in my apt for months that I began to write the record. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to write any songs, one song, three songs? I listened for a long time before I began months of editing. I created rough song forms from which to write songs over. Because I had this extra time, I wrote ten songs from our jam”.
The tracks on the album also make use of the collaboration of David Jairus Ochieng Okumu, frontman of The Invisible, what can you tell us about it?
He had introduced himself to me at a show JAPW played at Scala back in 2007. That’s when our friendship began. I ended up working with him on the Gil Scott Heron project “Pieces Of A Man” in 2014 at the Roundhouse in London. We agreed we would figure out a way to work together. After Tony agreed to record with me, I realized Dave was the person to round out the trio”.
You recently claimed that the first single Take me your leader is a very provocative song, can you explain to us in what sense?
It’s about Jacinda Ardern, the president of New Zealand. I first noticed her when she banned certain guns after that mass shooting in Christ Church. She was inspiring. She behaved rationally and kindly through this tragedy, a style rarely seen in leaders. Watching her navigate the pandemic inspired me to imagine what it would be like if the leader of my country (and any of the rest of them as well) would go to her and ask her how to better run their countries. Imagine that? Leaders helping each other, rather than behaving like they already know it all. It’s a dream. I hope it will someday become commonplace”.
The title of the single Geometry of you, brings to mind the philosophical conception of Pythagoras who considered numbers as the essence and minimum component of everything, is that what you were thinking about when you wrote the song?
I like that interpretation. It’s certainly part of it. The song meaning includes the idea the math and science are flexible, even sensual. I grew up thinking that these were fixed ideas. Just learning the basics of quantum theory – that an atom is both a particle and a wave at the same time – was comforting for me. Fixed thinking is something I’m always trying to get away from. It gets me nowhere. There is no room for learning when there is only one solution to a problem. If there are potentially many solutions, there is room for communication, collaboration, innovation, better understanding, listening, ultimately more love”.
At this point of your artistic career, considering the countless experiences in the most disparate sounds, would you be able to say in which direction your music is going?
No. I would never want to limit myself by imagining where I might be going. Fact is I have no control over so much of what I experience. What I do know is that I will find more inspiration to make more music and I trust this process for finding it”.
Your personal history has seen you face the pain of major losses, like the Phoenix you were reborn from your ashes several times, do you believe that the resilience you have shown is a prerogative of women?
I’m not sure I understand the question but I will answer the best I can: I feel like anyone regardless of sex can smelt compassion, strength, power and kindness from living through great loss. I believe it’s what we’re meant to do as human beings. Staying alive always includes great difficulties but to navigate them with more grace each time is how we derive wisdom”.
You have collaborated with extraordinary artists, mostly men: have you had difficulties or let me say, the common passion for music equalizes genres and facilitates communication between them?
I have collaborated with a great variety of people, many of the more well-known ones are men so they get more attention. I do believe that musicians I end up working with are often interested in music first and are less interested in gender and other details. But this is also because these are the types of people who want to work with me. The open-minded ones work with similar minds”.
Together with your music you have traveled almost all over the world; from 17 to 20 March you will be present in four Italian cities, Pordenone, Rome, Galzignano Terme and Milan. What is your relationship with Italy and the Italian fans? “I think it’s well known i love Italy. I think it would be hard to find anyone who didn’t love Italy! I love the culture and the people and the land and the layout of the towns and the aesthetics and the enthusiasm and of course… the food. I cannot wait to get back“.

Tracklist: 1. The Barbarian. 2. Get My Bearings . 3. Take me to your leader.
4. Masquerader. 5. Dinner Date. 6. Enter The Dragon. 7. Geometry of you.
8. The Love Has Got Me. 9. Perfect Shade Of Blue. 10. Reaction.

Italian version:


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