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Track By Track: Joan As Police Woman on The Classic

Track By Track: Joan As Police Woman on The Classic

04 March 2014, 11:00

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.

“Holy City”

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.

“The Classic”

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.

“Good Together”

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.

“Get Direct”

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.


Joan As Police Woman 2

“What Would You Do”

Best Fit: Here you are asking someone what they would do if they saw you dying. Why so sombre?

Joan: This song is about a friend of mine who was, clearly – to me – heading towards ending their life. It wasn’t in an obvious way, necessarily, but what was really confusing was that nobody else seemed to notice. But at the same time that person had done a lot to push everyone out of their life so, of course, no one was noticing because my friend had done a good job of hiding it, putting up a lot of walls, where they couldn’t really hear anyone’s concern about them. There’d be an instant deflection of any concern and I had alluded to a few things and gotten an instant, slightly angry, defensive deflection. It’s such an uncomfortable place to be because when you are in that state of mind you would do anything to secure your fortress, no one is allowed in and if anyone creeps up you just shoot them down immediately. This song is about my attempt to figure out what to do. I started writing it from this person’s perspective, you know – what would you do if you saw me dying? And I got to the conclusion that I needed to trust my intuition about it, I had to talk to that person even if it meant that they would never talk to me again. And I did do that. Things turned out really well. The person initially responded very angrily and told me to fuck off and then a few days later called me up and said: “you’re right”. And, you know, it was something that I knew I couldn’t live with not doing. It was the most uncomfortable of moments and scary. You don’t want to lose this person from your life but you also don’t want to lose this person forever. I’m glad I had music to work it out with.

“New Year’s Day”

Best Fit: You are singing about new year’s resolutions and being able to change one’s life, here. Is that right?

Joan: Yes, but it is about deciding that New Year’s Day can be any day and you can decide when you can start over. Like, I don’t have to wait. I mean, I wrote it in March 2013 and I wasn’t willing to wait for 9 months to get to the day when you’re supposed to start over. Every culture has a different new year. You can decide that any day can be your new year’s day. You don’t have to wait. You just have to make the decision. I was ready to make the decision then.


Best Fit: What’s the story with “Shame”?

Joan: I wanted to write a song about shame but how lame if it would have been like a total bummer? I mean, shame is that thing that people don’t talk about. That thing in you that you keep secret, you don’t let it out and you hold it in there, like – no, this is mine, I’m too shameful to talk about it. Well, fuck that! I really wanted to write a song poking fun at that. Shame won’t be in my life like it has been for a long time.

Best Fit: Was there a particular event that prompted that?

Joan: I think I took time off of relationships for the last couple of years so I was pouring my energy into myself, which was a different feeling and, for me, that means cutting off a lot of the baggage that I’d been pulling along behind me, which I didn’t realise I was doing until I suddenly had the time to reflect on it. Wait, hold up, what is this I’m telling myself? Uh-oh. I’m done tolerating these voices in my head. I got to a point of thinking it was all ridiculous and I wanted to write a slightly ridiculous song about shame and about how you can kick it out.

Best Fit: So if you feel ashamed about something now do you immediately think of your own advice and listen to this song?

Joan : I haven’t done that, yet, but I’m looking forward to using it in that way so thank you for suggesting that because it will come back and I’m gonna try and remember the song!


Best Fit: This track is the one song on the record which, for us, harks back to older Joan As Police Woman tracks, for some reason. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

Joan: You know, I had one song only when I started writing this record and I had written it right after I’d finished The Deep Field. That song was “Stay”. And I think that’s why it feels like the connector.

Best Fit: There’s some great lyrics here. Do you have a favourite one?

Joan: My favourite is “desire is a strength unwieldy” – that part is almost like, you know, when you’re so vulnerable that you’re afraid of being so revealed but it actually gives you more power.

“Ask Me”

Best Fit: What we’re getting from this song is a reticence to say “I love you” to someone. And you’re mentioning that the other person might be surprised by your reply if they ask you a certain question…

Joan: I am a very extroverted and open person who is ready to talk to people about anything – I feel like I am usually the one who is making things happen with other people. And that gets tiring. Over time it gets really tiring. I mean, it is clearly a role that is comfortable for me but it can be nice if someone else takes the reigns sometimes. I don’t wanna do all the initiating and the asking all the time. Let me be the passive one for once. The question I wanna be asked is never clarified, for a reason. It’s not really about anything in particular. Someone suggested that the song was about marriage but no, that was not the intent. Sure it can be about that but not what I had intended.

The Classic is released on 10 March on Play It Again Sam. Joan As Police Woman plays Village Underground on 16 April. For tickets and full tour dates head to her website.

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