Joan As Police Woman is a project that has never stopped challenging itself.
Songwriter Joan Wasser continually moves forward, continually raising the bar both for her own artistry and those around her.
Working with ANOHNI, Lou Reed, Beck, and many more, she loves nothing more than cutting free on her own project.
New album 'Damned Devotion' was released a few days ago, and it's a wonderfully creative return in which Joan refuses to keep anything hidden.
At times shocking in its intimacy, she comments: “My maxim is: if it feels scary to say it, it’s the thing you must say...”
Here, Joan Wasser breaks down her new album for Clash...
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Many people will hear this song as a sultry ballad and it will end there. Please don’t get me wrong, it IS a sultry ballad and I am happy to have it end there. For the people who listen closely to lyrics, there’s a whole other subtext.
This is a song about extraction. It’s about clearing out the dusty feelings and the objects infused with too many memories. It’s about altering a trajectory that feels worn-out with the aim of recovering a place in my mind that I have previously known as “wonderful”. It’s about vividly remembering this feeling and wanting it back.
This is a song about hindsight. I am a romantic, a devotee, a lover. An unavoidable byproduct of being this way is missing certain information. When focused so intently on the object of my desire, the blinders naturally appear. “If there was a warning bell, I’d know/ but all I hear is music, soft and low/ I never see it coming/ I always look the wrong way ‘round.”
It’s not a piece about trying to change. Rather, in accepting that I am this way, it’s more observation than critique. This idea of “if I had only known then what I know now” is a universal human experience. It’s impossible to see into the future and I am thankful for that; I would never have felt the incredible feelings I have if I had that crystal ball.
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Why don’t we try trusting each other enough to be fully transparent? What is there to lose?
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I am always wanting more intimate dialogue. Fear of being vulnerable, future tripping and feelings of shame, paranoia and jealousy get in the way. “You got to separate now what’s real, what’s not real” = stop using jealousy (not real) as a way to avoid having to clarify and tell me what you really want (real). Why don’t we try trusting each other enough to be fully transparent? What is there to lose?
'Steed (for Jean Genet)'
I have a fetish for writers. I read a lot of Genet several years ago; it fit the place I was in then. This song came about when jamming with Parker Kindred, the drummer for Joan As Police Woman. He was on drums and I was on bass. I started playing that arty disco-style bass line and singing that first melody and Genet popped into my head, I don’t know why.
I assume it’s because gay men tend to dominate the dance floor and this felt like a dance song. I assume it’s because Genet is such a strong symbol of freedom and fearlessness. These are themes on this record. Maybe most obviously, this song is about sex, filthy sex, pure filthy sex and no apologies.
This is a song about wanting to be taken. I live my life doing, learning, creating everything myself. When I sing “I ache for authority”, I am theatrically winking at you but I am also telling the truth. I need to have the space to let down my guard and allow someone else to take charge. “Sparking the flame in me, you stung my ocean, damned devotion”. Make me yours. I dare you.
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This is the centerpiece of the record. The refrain is “It’s the silence that’s dulling the blade”. Communication and, in this case, speaking your mind are of the utmost importance in every arena; from the personal to the most universal. “We have so much to say, why don’t we say it?” It’s always the right time to tell the truth.
The groundswell has begun of people speaking up and speaking out. I included recordings of the Women’s March on DC that happened in January 2017. “My body, my choice” the women chant, “Her body, her choice” the men chant. The preservation of women’s safety, well being and rights benefit not only women, but benefit every human being and the health of the entire planet.
In speaking with journalists about this song, several of them suggested that this song was a guidebook for being in a relationship with me. Laughing nervously, I couldn’t deny their observation. I wrote “Tell Me” and “Valid Jagger” at approximately the same time and they are clearly connected; the first begging for direction from my partner and this one giving direction to my partner.
“Jagger” does indeed refer to Mick but I use his name as a symbol for IDEAL GLAMOUR MAN, not him personally. “I’ve got a love inside me, yeah, it’s bigger than the easter bunny on easter day and I want to give it away to a valid Jagger”.
Otherwise, I’ve got all this love but I want to find a partner worthy of this love. I end the song with massive gorgeous arpeggios that I purposely mixed too loud to give the feeling of being swept away by ecstasy; as if to say, this is what you will feel if you treat me right.
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I deeply honour being raised by such a kind man...
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This is both about the commodification of the term “spirituality” and the idea of the “quick-fix” method of finding “peace”. I have spent a lot of time looking outside myself for answers that have ultimately been found inside. It is fascinating to watch the way “enlightenment” is branded and sold. I’m anticipating ads for a new pill claiming to bring you a wise awakening. What will they name it? Nirvanassa™? Enlightenmental™? Innapeezz™?
'What Was It Like'
This song is about my father. He passed away at the end of 2014. We had gotten very close after my mother died in 2007. Many years ago I thanked him for being non-judgmental and how he had so positively affected my life. He responded “I could never see what passing judgment on anybody else would ever do for me”. He expressed this in such a simple, clear way. There are so many things I never thought to ask him before he died. I know i’ll never really know who he was, but I deeply honour being raised by such a kind man.
'Talk About It Later'
My sage friend has always said “once you start talking about your relationship, you know it’s over”. This has both made me laugh and groan. Of course communicating is necessary and finding more intimacy is super sexy, but this is about something different. This is about the minutiae that can drag your relationship down. This is about not being able to let the small things go.
The very depths of despair are expressed in this piece. I did a film score last year for a film called Permission with Thomas Bartlett. There was temp music they wanted me to replace- otherwise, write another original song that sounds or feels like the one that was holding space in the scene. The temp song was 'Fool That I Am’ sung by Etta James. This kind of writing removes me from my patterns and allows me to be someone else.
Maybe I’ve been this person before, having fallen in love with someone who will not have you in the end. There is the utter shame you feel having to enter regular life again, imagining that everyone knows you’ve been slighted and is snickering behind your back. It’s not a pretty feeling, but I have certainly been there.
'I Don’t Mind'
I am sorry I had to leave you with this one; send you into the cold steely night with no blanket. I couldn’t help it, I had to leave you with the realness. This is a hard reflection on my life and questioning if there is anyone I can trust or have ever felt I could trust.
The last line is “through the snowfall, I am listening, and hope you’re listening too”.
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'Damned Devotion' is out now.
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