Joan Wasser (born July 26, 1970) is an American violinist, guitarist and singer-songwriter who since 2002 performs under the name Joan As Police Woman. She began her career playing violin with the Dambuilders. She has released four albums as a singer songwriter, the 2006 Real Life the 2008 To Survive the 2011 The Deep Field and the 2014 The Classic. Throughout her career, she has regularly collaborated with other artists as a writer, performer and arranger.
Born at the in Biddeford, Maine, to an unmarried teenage mother, Wasser was given up for adoption at infancy. She was raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, with her adoptive younger brother, Dan who is an artist. She credits her background as an adoptive child with her 'very extroverted' personality and dressing up a lot. She explained that 'when you are in a situation where you're not blood-related to your family, it does become extremely obvious that you're born with your personality'.
Wasser began piano lessons at age six, before starting her first violin lessons at age eight. She played violin in school and community orchestras before leaving Norwalk for her college studies. At the age of 18, Wasser began her career during her studies at the College of Fine Arts, Boston University where she was an early admittance student. She studied music under among others Yuri Mazurkevich and played with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. Wasser soon grew disillusioned with classical music and found she 'didn't want to make classical music my life, the Beethoven symphonies have already been played a million times and I am not going to do it any better'.
Instead she joined a number of local punk bands trying 'to bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud'.
By 1992, she had joined The Dambuilders who were signed to Elektra Records in 1994 and released three albums. The band played a number of shows on the East Coast and found admirers in Colin Greenwood of Radiohead. Wasser had a striking appearance on stage, with dreadlocked hair and blond streaks and colourful costumes. In the late 1990s, Wasser began to explore more musical paths than those limited only to violin playing, adding guitar and keyboard parts to the Dambuilders recordings, singing vocals, as well as co-writing several songs. Some of these new explorations can be heard on the Dambuilders' album Against the Stars; on the songs Luster and Itch It where Wasser wrote the lyrics and handled the lead vocals.
During her time in the Dambuilders, Wasser first began to make a name for herself in the indie rock world as she developed her aggressive style of playing, which led to work outside of the group. Due to disillusionment, creative malaise, and a need to expand their respective musical horizons, the Dambuilders disbanded in October 1997.
In May 1997, her boyfriend, musician Jeff Buckley, drowned accidentally, in Memphis, Tennessee. She found it 'such a traumatic experience of loss. I needed to grieve but I didn't know how'. She continued to play with Those Bastard Souls, a solo project started in 1995 by a close friend of the couple, Dave Shouse of The Grifters. They made a record entitled Debt and Departure attempting to respond to Buckley's death. In late 1997 she created a band with the remaining members of Buckley's band called Black Beetle and finished an eponymous album which was never released. This was the first project where she was writing as well as fronting a band. A daunting task, she 'found singing terrifying at first, I didn't know about the boundaries of my voice and I had no idea what words I wanted to say. The violin had been my voice for so long'.
In 1999, Joan joined Antony and the Johnsons initially as a violinist eventually as a full-time member. She contributed to their Mercury Prize-winning album, I Am a Bird Now. Joan has stated I was called up to stand in for another violinist but by the end of the rehearsal I was in the band. The experience was 'like a renaissance for me. I was surrounded by gentle people and quiet music, [...] I had a space to let go. Antony creates a stillness in his music that takes people out of their situation'.
Joan As Police Woman
While working with others, Wasser began to develop her own material which she described as sounding 'like old Al Green records'. She focussed on guitar and singing as '"for a long time, I was really content with playing violin, [..] and then all of a sudden it wasn't enough. The end of Black Beetle in June 2002 brought the beginning of Wasser's work as a solo artist and the creation of a new band, Joan as Police Woman. The name was a reference to the TV-series Police Woman featuring Angie Dickinson. Wasser found the actress inspirational as 'she was really powerful but sexy at the same time' in the role. She also preferred 'the name to be funny because, although my music is serious, I like to laugh at tragedy'. She formed a new trio in New York City together with Ben Perowsky on drums, percussion and backing vocals; Rainy Orteca on bass and backing vocals. Other musicians working with the group have included Maxim Moston, Charlie Burnham and Andrew Wyatt. The group self-released a five-track eponymous EP in 2004, as Wasser had 'decided to do it without a record deal because I wanted to make music on my own terms'.
In February 2004, Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band, tour extensively and open the shows with her new project. Her intimate songs and relaxed stage presence gained her recognition and new fans.
In December 2005, Wasser signed a distribution deal with Reveal Records, a British indie label, which subsequently re-released the self-titled debut EP. Joan as Police Woman's full-length debut, Real Life, appeared in the UK on June 12, 2006 and through PIAS in Europe and elsewhere. It was released in the USA on June 12, 2007 on Cheap Lullaby Records based in Los Angeles. The album featured a duet with Antony Hegarty while she began to tour as support of among others Beth Orton. In early 2008, Real Life won in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Pop/Rock Album. The music video for the single Eternal Flame, directed by Leah Meyerhoff, was in rotation airing on MTV Europe. In 2006, Wasser supported the Guillemots on their spring tour.
Her second album, To Survive, was released in June 2008. It was recorded with Rainy Orteca and Parker Kindred, old friend and drummer of her previous band, Black Beetle. The album reached No. 43 in Uncut's review of the year 2008, same as in Q Magazine's top 50.
Joan appeared as an advocate for Shostakovich on BBC World News classical music programme Visionaries in August 2008.
With Rainy Orteca departing to pursue her own projects, Wasser and Kindred were joined by Timo Ellis on bass guitar for touring in 2008.
At the end of her 2009 European tour, Wasser returned to New York to play a show and release a new album of cover songs, entitled Cover.
On March 10, 2014, Joan released her fourth album, The Classic, featuring the single "Holy City."
with/as Joan As Police Woman
- Real Life (June 12, 2006 – CD, Ltd. CD & LP) 'UK #169
- To Survive (June 9, 2008 – CD, LP, digital download) UK #56
- Cover (available at live shows and exclusively from Reveal Records – 2009)
- The Deep Field (January 25, 2011) UK #40
- The Classic (March 10, 2014) UK #44
- Joan as Police Woman (self-released 2004 – CD; re-released February 27, 2006 )
- "My Gurl" (January 23, 2006 – 7")
- "The Ride" (May 29, 2006 – CD and 7")
- "Eternal Flame" – (August 7, 2006 – CD and 7")
- "Christobel" (October 23, 2006 – limited edition CD (1000 copies) and 7")
- "Flushed Chest" (April 16, 2007 – limited edition 7" vinyl, digital download)
- "Real Life" (July 16, 2007 – limited edition CD (1000 copies)
- "To Be Loved" (June 2, 2008 – limited edition 7" vinyl, digital download)
- "Holiday" September 22, 2008 – limited edition 7" vinyl, digital download
- "To America" (with Rufus Wainwright) – (December 1, 2008) – digital download
- "Start of My Heart" – February 14, 2009 – video single, digital download
- "The Magic" – January 18, 2011
- "Nervous" – April 10, 2011
- "Holy City" - February 27, 2014
Wasser did considerable session work providing strings and vocals for a number of artists throughout her career. Her resume includes live performances and studio work with Lou Reed, John Cale, Tanya Donelly, Sheryl Crow, Sparklehorse, Dave Gahan, Elton John, the Scissor Sisters, Antony and the Johnsons, Joseph Arthur, Rufus Wainwright, Fan Modine and Lloyd Cole.
She has worked with Nathan Larson on his side-project, Mind Science of the Mind and ex-Fishbone member Chris Dowd's Seedy Arkhestra. In the liner notes to an album by the latter, Dowd praised her as a "soulful mothafucka."
In 2006, Wasser contributed backing vocals and violin to the track "Redwings" on the Guillemots debut album Through the Windowpane. She provided vocals and plays the violin on the song "Ballad of a Deadman" alongside David Sylvian on Steve Jansen's album Slope which was released in 2007. Wasser was credited for playing piano, violin, and guitar, as well as contributing vocals on Lloyd Cole's 2010 release, Broken Record.
- 2003: Jane Magazine compilation
- 2007: Back to Mine: Guillemots ("The Ride")
- 2008: Mojo Presents The White Album Recovered Vol. 1 ("I Will")
- 2012: Spirit of Talk Talk (Myrrhman)
- 2012: The Separate - Orchestral Variations V.01 (This Night Has Opened My Eyes)
- Brick, Tricia (Fall 2004). Bostonia. Retrieved Jan 29, 2006.
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