Joan As Police Woman

Joan As Police Woman

Joan performing at the Summer Sundae festival, 2006
Background information
Birth name Joan Wasser
Born (1970-07-26) July 26, 1970
Origin Norwalk, Connecticut
United States
Genres Jazz, rock, pop
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, violin, guitar, piano
Years active 1991–present
Labels Reveal Records
Associated acts The Dambuilders, Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, Joseph Arthur, 2001

Joan Wasser (born July 26, 1970), known by her stage name Joan As Police Woman, is an American musician, singer-songwriter and producer. She began her career playing violin with the Dambuilders and played with Black Beetle, Anthony and the Johnsons, and Those Bastard Souls. Since 2004 she has released her solo material as Joan As Police Woman. She has released five regular studio albums, one EP, a number of singles and a collection of covers.[1] Throughout her career, she has regularly collaborated with other artists as a writer, performer and arranger.[2]


Early life

Born at the Saint Andre Home in Biddeford, Maine,[3][4] to an unmarried teenage mother, Wasser was given up for adoption at infancy.[5] She was raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, with her adoptive younger brother Dan, who is a visual artist.[6] 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".[7]

Wasser began piano lessons at age six and had her first violin lessons at age eight. She played violin in school and community orchestras before leaving Norwalk for her college studies.[3] At the age of 18, Wasser began her music career during her studies at the College of Fine Arts, Boston University, where she was an early admittance student.[5] She studied music under, among others, Yuri Mazurkevich and played with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra.[8] Wasser soon grew disillusioned and found that 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."[5] 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."[5]

The Dambuilders

Main article: The Dambuilders

In 1991, Wasser joined the Dambuilders who were signed to Elektra Records in 1994.[9] Wasser featured on three albums as a violinist .[10] The band played a number of shows on the East Coast,[11] and found admirers in Colin Greenwood of Radiohead.[12] On stage, Wasser managed to stand out with "bright costumes and dyed, often dreadlocked hair".[7] In 1995, the band appeared on Lollapalooza followed by the release of the album Ruby Red.[9] Wasser augmented her role within the band, adding guitar and keyboard parts, singing vocals, as well as co-writing several songs as found on the album Against the Stars.[13][14]

Wasser first began to make a name for herself in the indie rock world during her time in The Dambuilders as she developed her aggressive style of playing, which led to work outside of the group. Wasser moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1996,[15] while The Dambuilders disbanded in October 1997.

Black Beetle

In May 1997, her boyfriend for three years,[16] musician Jeff Buckley, drowned accidentally in Memphis.[17] She found it "such a traumatic experience of loss. I needed to grieve but I didn't know how."[5] She continued to play with Those Bastard Souls, a band started in 1995 by a close friend of the couple, Dave Shouse of the Grifters. They made a record entitled Debt & Departure attempting to respond to Buckley's death.[18] In late 1997, she created a band with the remaining members of Buckley's band called Black Beetle and finished an eponymous album that was never released.[19] This was the first project where she was writing as well as fronting a band. She commented that "I 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."[5]

In 1999, Joan joined Antony and the Johnsons, initially as a violinist, but eventually as a full-time member.[5] She contributed to their Mercury Prize-winning album, I Am a Bird Now. She explained that she "was called up to stand in for another violinist but by the end of the rehearsal (she) was in the band." The experience was "like a renaissance", and that she "was surrounded by gentle people and quiet music, [...] I had a space to let go."[5]

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."[5] She focused 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."[7] 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."[5] She formed a new trio in New York City together with Ben Perowsky on drums and Rainy Orteca on bass. Perowsky also co-produced the EP that also featured contributions by Oren Bloedow, Dave Derby and Erik Sanko.[20] She co-wrote the song "My Gurl" with Michael Tighe.[21] The group self-released a five-track eponymous EP in 2004,[22] as Wasser had "decided to do it without a record deal because I wanted to make music on my own terms."[5] In February 2004, Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band on tour providing backing vocals and strings.[16] In the second half of the year, she joined Joseph Arthur on tour as a violinist.[23]

In December 2005, Wasser signed a distribution deal with Reveal Records,[24] a British indie label, which subsequently re-released the self-titled debut EP,[5] while adding one track.[20][25] The 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.[26] It was released in the USA on June 12, 2007 on Cheap Lullaby Records based in Los Angeles. In early 2008, Real Life won in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Pop/Rock Album.[27] The album included three singles, "Christobel",[28] "The Ride",[29] and "Eternal Flame",[30] which was supported by a video directed by Leah Meyerhoff.[31] In 2006, Wasser supported Guillemots on their spring tour.

To Survive

Her second album, To Survive, was released in June 2008 and featured Rufus Wainwright on the song "To America".[3] The title referred to the loss of her mother to cancer, where she felt encouraged "to talk about it, [to] put it into words and get it out there”.[3] It was recorded with Rainy Orteca and Parker Kindred, an old friend and drummer of her previous band Black Beetle. The album reached No. 43 in Uncut's review of the year 2008, as well as in Q Magazine's top 50. Musically it was described as having "dance-floor soul and indie-rock influences".[3]

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.

In 2011 she released her third album, The Deep Field.[32]

On March 10, 2014, Joan released her fourth album, The Classic, featuring the single "Holy City".[33]

In 2016, Wasser collaborated with Benjamin Lazar Davis and released the experimental album Let It Be You in October.[34] It was preceded by the single "Broke Me In Two".[35] The album received mixed reviews,[36] with DIY noting it as an "curiously unbalanced album",[37] while described it as "a collection of appealingly loose, lush songs full of creativity".[38] The duo followed the release by a UK tour.[39][40]


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 Elton John, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, John Cale, Sheryl Crow, Scissor Sisters, Sparklehorse, Dave Gahan, Tanya Donelly, Joseph Arthur, and Fan Modine.[3]

She has worked with Nathan Larson on his side-project, Mind Science of the Mind[41] 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."[42]

In 2006, Wasser contributed backing vocals and violin to the track "Redwings" on 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.

In 2013 she started a band, 2001,[43] with Benjamin Lazar Davis, which released its first single "Broke Me in Two" in September 2015.

In 2014 she began to work and perform with Scottish folk outfit Lau, producing their album The Bell That Never Rang, released in May 2015.[44]

In 2015, Joan performed with the English alternative rock band Placebo on their MTV Unplugged session. She sang a duet with vocalist Brian Molko in the song "Protect Me From What I Want".


as Joan as Police Woman




Compilation appearances


  1. "Joan as Police Woman | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  2. "Discogs credits" List of writing, arranging and performance credits spanning the period 1991-2016. accessed December 4, 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Righi, Len (September 11, 2008). "Joan Wasser survives as Joan As Police Woman". PopMatters. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  4. "History". 2013-05-30. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Joan as Police Woman..." Bernadette McNulty, The Daily Telegraph, August 5, 2006
  6. "Art nouveau mag" Announcement of an exhibition in Harlem (NYC), October 7, 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 Guy Blackman, "Joan as Policewoman", The Age, September 18, 2006
  8. Phares, Heather. "Joan as Police Woman - Biography". Rovi. Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  9. 1 2 Wolff, Carlo (July 1995). Dambuilders Cover States, One by One. Billboard Magazine. p. 19.
  10. Lyndal Martin, Erin (July 2, 2014). "I've Lived Many Lives: Joan Wasser Interviewed". The Quietus. Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  11. "1990-1996 shows" Songkick listing of The Dambuilders shows
  12. "Radiohead 1995 tour" Randee Dawn, "Modulation Across the Nation" Alternative Press, October 1995 (Issue 87), accessed March 12, 2014.
  13. entry for The Dambuilders album Against the Stars. Accessed, March 12, 2014.
  14. "The Dambuilders - Against The Stars". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-06-30.
  15. Asher, Tizzy (May 3, 2007). "Joan As Police Woman: Get Real". Magnet Magazine Inc. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  16. 1 2 Sandall, Robert (July 30, 2006). "Pop: Arresting development". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  17. Rogers, Jude (2008-07-14). "'Blasé is not the vibe!'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  18. Phares, Heather. "Those Bastard Souls | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  19. Shepatin, Matthew (February 17, 2011). "Joan Wasser on Her New Album, Jeff Buckley, & Feminism - BlackBook". BlackBook. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  20. 1 2 "Joan As Police Woman - Joan As Police Woman (EP)". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  21. "Joan As Police Woman - My Gurl". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  22. "Joan As Police Woman - Joan As Police Woman". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  23. Morford, Judah (September 23, 2004). "Joseph Arthur - The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, Ga. 9/23/04". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  24. McKibbin, Adam (December 2008). "Joan As Police Woman: A conversation with Joan Wasser". Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  25. "Joan As Police Woman (First EP)". revealrecords. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  26. "Joan as Police Woman: Real Life Album Review | Pitchfork". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  27. "About IMA section" Listed as one of the past winners.
  28. "Joan As Police Woman - Christobel". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  29. "Joan As Police Woman - The Ride". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  30. "Joan As Police Woman - Eternal Flame". Discogs. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  31. Meyerhoff, Leah. "Eternal Flame". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  32. Neeson, Paul (January 5, 2011). "Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field | The Skinny". Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  33. "Joan As Police Woman". Music Glue. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  34. Davies, Hannah J. (2016-10-20). "Joan As Policewoman & Benjamin Lazar Davis: Let It Be You review – alt-pop experiment goes off script". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  35. Murray, Robin (4 July 2016). "Premiere: Joan As Police Woman x Benjamin Lazar Davis - 'Broke Me In Two'". Clash Magazine. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  36. Bemrose, Bekki (October 22, 2016). "Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis – Let It Be You | Album Reviews". Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  37. Johnson, Eugenie (21 October 2016). "Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis - Let It Be You". DIY Magazine. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  38. Phares, Heather. "Let It Be You - Joan as Police Woman,Benjamin Lazar Davis | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  39. Boyl, Stuart. "Joan as Police Woman at Heaven | Live review". The Upcoming. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  40. "Joan as Policewoman: UK Tour through November". Flux Magazine. October 31, 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  41. Aaron Schatz. "Mind Science of the Mind | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  42. "Kingdom For A Kiss - The Jeff Buckley Discography: Appearances & Collaborations". Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  43. 2001
  44. Hemmings, Jeff. "Joan As Police Woman - Interview - 2016". Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  45. "Reveal Records: Joan As Police Woman". Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  46. "Orchestral Variations V.01". The Separate. Retrieved 2014-03-10.

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