Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Joan APRP2

Joan As Police Woman on the art of staying "bad"

13 February 2018, 08:00

Joan Wasser explains how her curiosity led to never mastering anything, but was the making of Joan As Police Woman.

I picked up the violin in elementary school. It was something that came pretty easily. It was also easy to not care because I was going to be a dancer.

Violin was just another thing I was doing, like macramé. Then my knees went bad and I had to stop dancing completely. Devastated, I put some of the dancing energy into playing. But if you’ve ever spent time in orchestra, you know it’s a competitive sport. I was always considerably behind.

The thing I did have is passion for music. I ended up going to college to study classical music. Most people were technicians, not music makers. I did advance through a lot of practice but I often volunteered to play new compositions rather than wear out the same 4 measures of the Brahms violin concerto.

Eventually, I found a way to put a pickup on my violin and run it through amps and effects pedals. I joined bands, started touring and my classical career was over before it started.

Instruments I have picked up but am far from mastering: guitar, bass, piano, drums.

I have never taken lessons or seriously tried to learn my way around these instruments. Over time I have built my own vocabulary on each of them, my own method. There have been guitarists who have approached me after shows thinking I studied jazz. Both flattered and alarmed, I asked why. “The way you form chords” they said, “is abnormal”. Exactly. What’s natural for you may not be for me.

I don’t gravitate towards finding road maps. I like to off-road. I speculate that this is connected to my interest in travel as well. While some people have a list of places they want to go, I’d go almost anywhere. There is always magic to be found. I don’t have preconceptions of where the next chord “should” or “shouldn’t” be. I find the “happy accidents” like wandering around a new city without a destination.

I’ve also never picked up the standard language of chord naming, but I do know what sounds feel like. Part of my training as a violin player was to study theory. While I could make my way through the classes, it was always math to me, not poetry. The naming of anything always seemed to remove a bit of its power. I’ve never learned so much about something as when I’ve interacted with it blindfolded.

There are an infinite number of songs to be written, but I also need to want to write them. I’ve been told that I have a knack for writing melodies. With this in mind, I will probably never consciously think about writing a melody again, no reason to. My melodic sense will be challenged when I create harmonic changes that feel less obviously melody-driven. I’ll roam over the piano or guitar, trying out chords until I find the ones that peak my interest.

Remaining untrained also forces me to keep the song simple. The music I want to make is about emotion, not about complexity or cleverness. Less choice often generates more enjoyment. Too much of anything can overwhelm and confuse me. I care about creating a song that feels natural in the body.

I am often asked ‘am I going to make another thing like some other thing I did?’ No, I’m not. First of all, I’d never be able to simulate the circumstances that made that song happen. I also never had the road map for that song and still don’t. I feel most comfortable and creative with the unknown, the hidden.

When I picked up the guitar, etc, I berated myself for not being better. Now I am thankful I didn’t study any of them like I did the violin. It’s what keeps me interested and creative. I want to be virtuosic at curiosity.

Joan As Police Woman's Damned Devotion is out now.
Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next