Shane Van Lunteren
To Survive is Joan Wasser's second album under the moniker Joan as Police Woman.
Singer, songwriter, and violinist Joan Wasser spent the 1990s and early '00s in alternative rock groups, including The Dambuilders and Those Bastard Souls. Her skill on the violin made her an in-demand supporting player, tapped to collaborate with acts such as Lou Reed, Antony and the Johnsons, and Jeff Buckley.
But a few years ago, she set out on her own under the name Joan as Police Woman. She earned raves for her emotional, punk-informed take on American soul music, and this week, she released her second album (To Survive) before heading out on a European tour. She joins host John Schaefer for an interview and a stripped-down, solo studio performance.
Stark and Unusual
To Survive is filled with stark, unusual imagery. She says she wrote most of the record while on tour, as a way to keep herself grounded.
"Touring, while it's fabulous and fantastic, it's also a completely insane state of mind," she says. "So I was just looking for ways to find some solace and some peace while on the road. And that's how, why I write songs: is to sort of find a place for my emotions and my intellect to meet and make sense of what's happening."
Though she tours with backing musicians, Wasser says a certain type of loneliness sets in on tour. Much of her work deals with being alone.
"But separate from tour, loneliness is always something that I've always sort of grappled with," she says. "Trying to find a place for myself where I'm really comfortable being alone, honestly comfortable being alone. Because, really, you're alone all the time: when you're surrounded by fans, when you're surrounded by all your friends, all your family... You just have to be right with yourself, ultimately. And when you are the most right with yourself, I think you're the most comfortable being by yourself."
The title track of To Survive is a musing on Wasser's mother, who died during the creation of the album.
"The song is written from her voice," she says. "It's about her singing to me when I was a kid — you know, a young girl — being fearful of whatever was under my bed or whatever, and singing me to sleep and soothing my childhood fears. And then it's about her going out into the other room and being with her own thoughts, and really contemplating the fact that she has the same fears as I do. You just, as an adult, learn to deal with them however you do."
When she first started playing gigs by herself, Wasser took on the moniker Joan as Police Woman, after the show Police Woman starring Angie Dickinson, in order to distinguish the project from her appearances as a violinist. She says that, after playing in a band and playing backup roles, she was terrified to sing at first.
"I felt like learning how to sing and figure out what I even wanted to say in my songs was my process of growing up," she says.