Gay Times June 08 - Issue 357
Joan As Police Woman
Joan Wasser cut her musical teeth with, among others, the cream of the gay crop, including Rufus Wainwright and Antony and The Johnsons. But she has now forged a brilliant solo career under the name of Joan As Police Woman.
Her stunning second album, To Survive, is out in June. She talks to GT’s Joe Heaney about pink shoes, horny Pop stars and what she does to survive.
You’re good friends with Rufus, Anthony, Jake Shears… do you all hang out together?
We’re all making music and so the musicians tend to find each other. But, yeah, we all hang out together. It’s a – you know – “why not?” We’re all like-minded, so you find your people wherever you are.
What drew you to them?
Well, they’re all geniuses, right? [laughs] They all follow their own very special and unique creative paths. I like unique people. Individualism is beautiful. And also they’re all kind-hearted, sensitive and just hilarious.
I guess I started playing with Antony in 2000, or something. I joined his band, and being around his energy was really good for my mental state.
You’ve said before that Antony saved you at that point.
Oh yeah, I was in a… rough place [Joan was hit hard by the death of Jeff Buckley, who was her boyfriend at the time of his early death from drowning]. Anyone who listens to Antony’s music and likes it sees that he’s got an innate nurturing quality. It’s in his voice and his person. I feel safe with him. And it’s hard to feel safe with anyone – but he allows that space to happen. He’s also very… supportive. He isn’t trying to be, but that’s just the way he is.
How honest are you in your songs?
Really honest. I mean, especially on this record [the album To survive]. There were times where I’d write something and think, “Ooo – that’s way too much, I can’t reveal that.” And then shortly afterwards, on returning to the song, it would be like, “Ugh, great. If it makes me that uncomfortable, it’s probably the most important thing to leave in the song.” Admitting that I’m fallible is the most difficult thing for me but, you know, it will save my life! I know that when I feel the most hopeless in my emotions, I feel better when I communicate with other people, so I’m trying to do that.
Obviously love is a big theme in the album, and one of the lyrics is you’re “through with sharing love”.
I’m very caring, you know? I have the disastrous potential of always trying to take care of everyone and, at times, really forget that I exist. That’s not healthy and I’ve learnt that. I’m still not always able to act on it – I still do it. I’m learning that’s not a healthy way to be. You have to make boundaries.
The song To Survive obviously gives the album its title. What’s it about?
That was written from the voice of my mum. It’s about her singing me a lullaby to send me to sleep when I’m young and scared of the dark. Then her leaving the room and being in her own thoughts, and thinking that she has the same fears as me. Fears don’t change, and you just learn to dance with them as an adult, in whatever way you do – whether that’s turning your back on them, or facing them. And you know, I’m coming up to the age she was when I was young. I’m not interested in having kids, but I’m just thinking about that time for her. And she passed away last year. It makes you really think about how thankful you are for what you had.
Is it cathartic to sing it, or does it make sad?
It depends – it’s both. It depends how I’m feeling that day. But ultimately it’s good to sing, even if it is sad.
As a society we tend to shy away from sadness and death. It would probably do us good to discuss it a bit more.
I agree. Being afraid doesn’t work; it just makes you incapable of experiencing joy. That’s why I’m so confessional. First of all, I’m trying to save my soul [laughs]. And second, I’m trying to just, you know, be as open as possible so I can experience life.
Can I just say, I loved the pink shoes you wore last night during your gig. How big were the heels?!
Thank you! They’re fun aren’t they?
Where did you get them?
There’s this designer called Michel Perry – a French dude. And he [whispers conspiratorially] loved my music and contacted me. I did a show last year at one of his… shoe parties, or whatever, and he gave me these.
I was impressed by how you managed to play keyboards standing up while wearing them and remain glamorous…
Oh yeah, they’re fun…. You know, I guess all the women like Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone and Carol King… they were just being themselves – and they were sexy, and they didn’t try.
I’m so bored with the fact female Pop stars currently feel they have to look permanently horny. That’s the only way they feel they’re going to be taken seriously.
Tell me about it! It’s not real, is it!? I mean, the way Nina Simone performs just drives me crazy. She’s just in the moment. She sings that song like it’s the last time.
Do you approach your own performance like that?
I do enter a space. I don’t really understand how it happens, but I really care about the songs having life, so I just… go there with reckless abandon. And, you know, I also did a lot of work learning who I was outside of singing. I ripped through stuff that wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun or attractive, either! [laughs] It was hard. But I was relentless because I really wanted to be happy.
Are you happy now?
Yeah – I really am! Thanks for asking [laughs].
More from Gay Times June 08 - Issue 357
To Survive is out Reveal Records from June 8th, preceded by the single To Be Loved on June 2nd. www.myspace.com/joanaspolicewoman