Name: Joan Wasser / Joan As Police Woman
Current Release: Cover Two on Sweet Police / PIAS
Recommendations: American Sonnets For My Past And Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes / Ventriloquism by Meshell Ndegeocello
Website/Contact: You buy Joans’ music, watch videos and get gig info at her website joanaspolicewoman.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I began writing for myself in the late ‘90s, after playing in several bands as an instrumentalist. I loved Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Al Green, David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Prince, Neil Young, Sibelius, Stevie Wonder, Aaliyah, Oum Kalthoum, Sly and The Family Stone, Mulate Astake, The Wailers, Judy Garland, Miles, Diana Ross, the list could go onnnnnnn…
Music always seemed magical. You cannot touch it. You cannot feel it or hear it the same way twice. It is pure emotion through sound. It is an intangible unbreakable alternate world; a language shared by all human beings irrespective of language, culture, race, money, etc. Otherwise it is pure.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I remember learning “Lost and Lookin’” by Sam Cooke. His voice was the most remarkable sound I’d ever heard. I wanted to be him. I yearned to sing without embellishment; I felt that any melisma I found myself doing was merely a way to cover up some deficiency in my voice.
I did a lot of listening to Ray Charles and Mahailia Jackson. Effortless singing is what I was attracted to because it felt anything but easy for me. “Night Time is the Right Time” I listened to on repeat.
When I would prepare to sing myself, I’d do a lot of breathing and clearing my mind. I still do that now. I try to quiet the thoughts and trust myself and let the music guide me. If I’m not thinking about how to sing and just doing it, I’ll be closer to being in my true voice.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I never felt like there were necessarily challenges in composing or production. It’s always felt like being at a theme park and picking the rides I want to experience that day. Over the years and many albums, I have learned a lot about recording and production from watching and listening to producers and engineers who possess skills they’ve been honing for decades. My home studio is my haven. But I go into my favorite pro studio all the time as well, because they’ve got the power to transform sound into the mystical.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
In the mid-90’s I had a 20-channel Sony board and two Tascam D88 machines. I lived in a massive loft in a forgotten part of town with two musicians and we all had our own different setups and would teach each other about recording. That was a great set up but it’s all so much easier now!
Presently I have an Apollo x8p and use Logic for the most part. I have an upright piano, a Hammond home organ, Wurlitzer 200A, Moog Rogue, Rhythm Ace, Roland Rhythm Arranger, various basses, guitars, a violin and a bunch of other toys to play around with. I use all the basic plug-ins plus some AUD and Isotope jammies too. I leave the sexy plate reverb and space echoes to get processed in the pro studio. I don’t have room for an actual plate in my apt!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Humans are good at emotion.
Technology is good at remembering and playing back that emotion.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
“Co-authorship” is a thought-provoking way of wording this question. I tend to think that, for example, the bass does nothing until someone picks it up and plays. But before that ever happens the potential of that instrument lives inside of it ready to be explored at any moment. I am technically awful at most of the instruments I regularly play but this also allows me freedom I might not have if I’d studied them more formally.
With the instruments and all the technology, I’m often looking for unique/wrong ways to make sounds with them like using an extreme EQ or fuzzing out instruments until they’re unidentifiable.
I use my voice to make a lot of sounds. It’s the easiest tool, it existing inside my body. Nothing is more organic than the voice.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I don’t have a preferred way and often each collaboration is different. Being in the same room can be preferable for some parts of it. But I also like to have time on my own to work and have something to present to the other person.