Oh, lovely Joan Wasser and her gregarious, hilarious ways. You could quite easily spend hours with her chatting and giggling about life, music and pistachio halva. Which we gladly would have done but for the fact that we had to get on with the business of discussing each of the tracks on her fifth Joan As Police Woman album, The Classic.
It’s her sassiest, most Motown-y collection of tunes to date and reveals her – yet again – to be an interesting lyricist and idea miner. And so, we start at the beginning – a very good place to start…
Head here to stream the record in full, a week before its release.
Best Fit: How did this album-opener come about?
Joan: Well, I started writing this record towards the end of 2012 and New York – as I am sure London does – can get pretty fucking bleak in the winter. I had been on tour for, like, the last thousand winters and all of a sudden I was spending the winter in New York. A whole winter in New York. And I just got so down. I had suffered from a certain amount of depression in my early 20s but I would say that, normally, I am the kind of person who wakes up excited about life. Normally. And then suddenly I was waking up feeling horrible and low and I started asking all of my friends, the people who I respect, what should I do about this? A bunch of my friends are practising Buddhists and they said – it’s very simple, just step out of your emotional state and observe it as a witness rather than feeling all your feelings as facts, because emotions are chemical states. It’s funny to think about it as an artist – that’s all I’ve got, my emotional states, my emotions, you know? But, I was pretty desperate. I really tried to do that and became very vigilant in my thoughts and I’ve done stuff like this in the past and I know it’s really hard and so exhausting – listening to your mind all the time. Aaargh. Turn this off! But it did really help me to get back on my feet and get through the winter and that is what this song is about.
Best Fit: This is one hell of a big, album-welcoming, single.
Joan: Yeah, it feels like it is the catchiest song on the record. I mean, that’s what I want in a single. It feels really good to play and to sing and if that’s true to me then I feel like it might also feel good for people to hear . At the end of one of the tours for The Deep Field I got to finish in Tel Aviv. I was, like, just book me a show there! It doesn’t matter if no one comes, I just wanna go there. I wanted to go and see Israel.
Best Fit: Why specifically Israel?
Joan: I wanted to check it out. I love travelling and I have always wanted to check out that part of the world. I am not religious per se but religion is fascinating to me as is how human beings have interacted with God. But, first of all, Tel Aviv is such a cool city. It’s so bad-ass. I mean, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are such vastly different cities. We started in Tel Aviv and I played a show there. It was an amazing show and people were wonderful and we had what is definitely, definitely the best back-stage food spread. Oh my god, we didn’t want to get on stage, we were like – no, we have to get some more food to eat! But it turned out, by chance, that one of my friends was in Jerusalem because she was studying to be a rabbi and so I played the show in Tel Aviv and then travelled around for a week. We got to Jerusalem and stayed with her and she was the best tour-guide. It was tremendous. I wanted to bring home as much halva as is humanly possible. We went to the Wailing Wall and I am so glad I saw that because people in ecstasy is always a great thing to witness. I thought – wow, I can relate to that feeling. I get it from music and I get it from being in love. So I used it as the pop song fodder for a person that I am into, entering the holy city.
Best Fit: This one’s a doo-wop heaven and it looks like you had so much fun filming the video.
Joan: Oh yeah! I wanted the song to be all vocals but none of us are trained doo-wop singers so I just wanted it to be our interpretation of what that would be – an organic doo-wop, if you like. And having Reggie as the beat-boxers was amazing. I mean, he can do all the cheesy 80s drum-machine sounds, which he actually did on this song – to the point that a lot of people actually thought it was an 80s cheesy drum-machine . That is a testament to his ability. We filmed the video on 23rd street. It was really fun. I laughed the whole time.
Best Fit: ‘Good Together’ is not a run-of-the-mill break-up song, lyrically.
Joan: You know, I haven’t written many break-up songs as such – usually I am talking about being in love. But this was driving me crazy so a song came out of it. I was getting so angry at this person. The relationship was over and it clearly hadn’t worked for the entire time, you know? But this person just kept romanticising it. And I just started getting really angry and then I started saying the things that I had wanted to say but couldn’t because they were too mean.
Best Fit: You get that sense of frustration from the first line: “Remember the first time/on second thoughts, please don’t remember the first time/ ‘cos going there and feeling that don’t me any good”…
Joan: Exactly. In the first part of the song I am saying – stop romanticising about something that never was and then the mood changes and then I start thinking, like, oh maybe we can just meet one more time. I am asking the person to meet me at the bath house, where it’s secret and no one is going to see us. Almost like it’s not happening. That embarrassed state of mind of going back and forth which drives you crazy. I go – “get out of my mind and my life”, but then the next day I’m not so sure. And you can’t help your emotions. It’s a moody song because it’s a moody time, a feeling of being out of control, which is great in certain circumstances but really uncomfortable in this scenario.
Best Fit: “Good Together” was already epic in proportions but, at 6:46 minutes, this one is almost as long. We like its sprawling, moody finale!
Joan: I love the feeling of this song. At one point I had all this talking on it. Like, “c’mon baby” type sweet-talking that I just ad-libbed on it over the whole end sequence. I decided that the end was more powerful without it but I might bring back the ad-libs in the live shows.