written by Chris Familton
Joan Wasser has one of those careers so far that many musicians dream of. From her early days as a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and then The Dambuilders she had a solid grounding in the indie and classical worlds. The seeds of her solo career were planted when her boyfriend Jeff Buckley tragically died and she formed the short-lived group Black Beetle with the other members of his band. The strength she gained from that experience emboldened her to start a solo career as Joan As Police Woman that saw her stretching out into soul, funk and jazz territory with an expanded instrumental arsenal that included keyboards and guitar. She also found herself in demand as a live and session musician with the likes of Antony & The Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and most recently arranging the strings on the new Scissor Sisters album.
Her new album The Deep Field sees Wasser widen her sound and also take a more positive thematic approach with her songwriting. “I really wanted to make a record that was a bit more ass shakin’ and reflected the music I always come back to myself which is a lot of 70s soul stuff like Steve, Marvin, Sly & The Family Stone, Al Green. Just because I love that music so much. Obviously I’m not those guys but its just music that comes from a similar place. I also wanted to write from a more of a universal point of view rather than just go personal. I mean everything I write is personal but I wanted to make this a little more up, a little more sexy which reflects the place I’m in myself – which is a little more comfortable and fun,” she explains.
Wasser introduces some different elements on The Deep Field. The guitar solo at the end of Nervous and is rough and gritty while the gospel crescendo in I Was Everyone lifts the song to a more spiritually ethereal place than she has visited in the past. “I called in a lot of my favourite musicians – I always do – but this time I got in a bunch of women to sing backup which I’ve never done. I usually just do them all myself but this time I said “screw it” I’m going to get in my favourite voices to sing so that was just so fun and really did expand it a lot,” says Wasser.
Some bands stick to the recorded template of their song when they tour while others prefer to let them grow and develop in the live realm. Wasser takes the latter approach and so on her visit to Australia we’ll be treated with a multi-talented trio bringing their own perspective to the new and older songs. “The songs keep evolving. I’m touring with a three piece, me being one of those three pieces. We did a lot of work to arrange the songs so they make sense as a three piece. Since then they’ve really evolved a lot and its just been fantastic playing with the band. They keep changing which makes touring really fun. I’m touring with Parker Kindred on drums, he’s played on every track on the record and he is also a really beautiful singer. I’m also touring with a gentleman called Tyler Wood who plays Moog bass with his left hand, keys with his right hand and sings – so its pretty full for a three piece. I play mainly guitar and keys and sing obviously.”
Looking back at the Black Beetle project it is curious that the group never released an album to document their time together but Wasser explains that in the wake of Buckley’s death the process was more important than the resulting songs. “It was really important for us to be together at that time because we were really trying to figure out how to stay alive in a certain way, how to survive that time and music was the way we understood how to feel good, music helped us all feel connected so we made a band at the time. We were all learning how to write songs at that point so it was a nurturing experience and experiment. We did record an album then the band broke up. People don’t want an album that doesn’t get toured so we decided that it would be better to move on in our own separate ways.”
Though her solo career takes up nearly all of her time Wasser does still try to collaborate on external projects whenever possible. “Because it is so fun to do other stuff I do fit in as much other stuff as I possibly can. Last year the Vancouver Olympics picked up the Neil Young show we’d done. I was the musical director for that. It was great originally when we did it in Prospect Park. It was such a pleasure to do it again because we had proper time and other people participated like Lou Reed and Elvis Costello – that was just fantastic. I also went to Ethiopia with Africa Express, the Damon Albarn thing and that was life changing, that was one of the most incredible things,. I’m fine without ever sleeping so I’ll see how long I can keep that up.” she laughs in her distinctive Boston via New York accent.
this interview first appeared on FasterLouder