indieberlin talks to Joan As Police Woman and whistles her tunes


 ib: Hey Joan. So, is this your first time in Berlin?

JW: No, I’ve been here before and played here many times.

ib: Currywurst or Döner?
JW: Döner

ib: Patty Smith or PJ Harvey?
JW: Oh, that’s unfair. I can’t answer that. Love them both. Both white girls with long blonde hair, but that’s where the comparison ends.

ib: The past or the present?
JW: Oh, the present

ib: The one thing you insist on whilst on tour.
JW: I play with excellent musicians that make every show the most important show of their life. I don’t have to insist on this, but that’s really all I want. I know you meant something like “I need hot chocolate”, but all I want is for them to give their best

ib: Your stage name is “Joan as Police Woman”. I don’t want to go into how it came about, I’m sure you must be bored of that question by now, but does it make you feel more in charge?

JW: Probably it does a little… It’s referring to a cop show from the 70s, so that’s who I think about: someone playing the part of a police woman, and it’s not very realistic, it’s more glamorous. I just like fun names, nothing too serious.

ib: So as a front-woman, are you a dictator or a democrat?
JW: I feel like I play with people that are so competent that I don’t have to be a dictator. That’s of no interest to me, I wanna play with people that hold their own and have something to give. So no dictatorship – more like a working things out together, suggestions.

ib: So the name doesn’t necessarily match the persona…
JW: Not really, no.

ib: Wikipedia says you worked with lots of famous people: Elton John, Scissor Sisters, Rufus Wainwright and the late Lou Reed. They must all be rather amasing, but who did you most click with?
JW: Of all those people I had very different degrees of working with them. I worked a long time in Rufus’ and Anthony’s [and the Johnsons] bands, so that was a lot of experience and a lot of playing. For the Scissor Sisters I do all the strings on their record. So it’s different situations for each of those people. Certainly playing with Anthony and Rufus was incredibly important, both incredibly fun to make music with, and it was very interesting to observe their relationship with music and musicians. But on the last tour that Lou Reed did I opened and sang with the band, which was a dream come true. Getting to sing “doo, do do do do do do dooooo” was amasing!! I must of heard that song a zillion times. He’s much more of a dictator, but the fact is that everyone respects him so much that they want to hear what he has to say, and they’re used to his delivery, and everyone on stage wanted to bring his vision to life. It felt like a real honour!

ib: Your main instrument is violin?
JW: Not any more. I studied violin. Do you want a Fisherman’s Friend?

ib: Oooh yes please!
JW: I studied violin classically, but now guitar and piano are my main instruments. That’s how I write songs. I play violin less often, but I do the strings on my record and other people’s records.

ib: I couldn’t hear many strings on the last record though. I was expecting some violin solos.
JW: Oh God no, I would never do that.

ib: But you used to put lots of effects on your violin?
JW: Yeah, long time ago

ib: You used to put your violin through lots of effects. What’s the coolest, crassest, craziest effect?
JW: Oh… when harmoniser pedals started coming out like 20 years ago that was really cool, because you could just make that sound so weird, so interesting, you could create all sorts of really fucked up sounds. And then I loved just running it through a million distortion pedals, make it sound like the nastiest guitar, except you’re playing with bow, so you can get all the crescendos.

ib: There’s this band from the 70s called Gentle Giant who put a wah-wah effect on their violins. I always thought that deserves greater attention within the violin establishment.
JW: Yeah, I know Gentle Giant, that’s really cool – you listen to Gentle Giant?

ib: Yes, actually yesterday I bought vinyl of theirs. Finally found one after looking for ages, so I was very happy.
JW: Congratulations! It’s always fun to connect with vinyl records that you bought.

ib: You’ve been categorised as many different styles. Categories aside, what do you identify with most as a musician?
JW: I really don’t identify. I really love so many types and genres of music and at this point, everything is a mush because everyone listens to so much. We have so much available. When I was growing up, things were not available – you had to go to a record store and search for stuff. There were no computers, no internet. Can you imagine?

ib: Well, not really. But I still have this notion of having certain movements attached to particular music styles, like you had the Punk rockers who listened to Punk and dressed like that, and so on.
JW: Yes, but I mean nowadays everything is mixed with bits and pieces from everywhere. Which is exciting! It’s a very different thing, but it’s exciting. You used to have to find out about Punk Rock by either reading the magazines or watching TV. Or though friends, like “oh, you gotta check out The Clash”.

ib: Are there any musicians that you were listening to a lot whilst you wrote the last album?
JW: I really didn’t listen to that much music, I just created. Ha! I mean, I do sometimes, but not when I’m writing.

ib: The album is very nice though. Did you know there is one song on there that starts exactly like “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions?
JW: How does it go?

ib: [I whistle the intro]
JW: I’m not gonna recognize it from that whistle, even though you have a beautiful whistle.

ib: Anyway, this song was a massive big hit in Germany, particularly in Berlin as it was an anthem of the fall of the wall. Anyway, your song “Get Direct” starts on exactly the same chord. Do you reckon that will help you sell more in Germany?
JW: Whatever works! I’ll push that element

ib: Do you reckon the age of the Album is dead?
JW: Well you’re asking someone who grew up with albums and loves albums. So it’s not dead for me. I love a group of songs that an artist puts together, it’s a beautiful idea and that’s not gonna wear out for me. And I have complete creative control. I know I can trust them.

ib: Which is your favourite song?
JW: I don’t have a favourite song. I like “New Year’s Day”, but if I didn’t like a song on the record then it wouldn’t be on there. So I really like them all. They’re all my babies.

ib: Hmm, I guess you can’t have a favourite child
JW: Well I’m sure people do but I don’t know about that kind of thing thankfully.

ib: And your surname is Wasser. Do you have German roots at all?
JW: Well, I was adopted, so that’s my adopted dad’s name, and he has German roots. But don’t think I really do… I’ve met both my birth parents and neither of them seem to have German roots.

ib: Nonetheless, do you feel an affinity to Germany?
JW: Oh, my adopted dad doesn’t care, he’d rather all heritage would just sort of… go away. He feels it divides people. He’s not against heritage, just doest care about it himself. But I love Germany because I love Germany.

ib: What do you love about Germany?
JW: I really appreciate the way Germans listen to Music – very specific!

ib: Very intense?
JW: Yes!

ib: Very efficient?
JW: YES! But that’s wonderful! I mean it’s wonderful for me. Also, when you arrive at a club, everything works. Do you know how nice that is? You arrive at clubs in other countries I’m not gonna mention, and nothing works… And then again efficiency – but guess what? Efficiency makes you be able to do your job, which is present music. And I always feel a lot of enthusiasm in Germany, people are getting shit done here! And that’s very inspiring to me.

ib: One more question: I work in a bar, and make some lovely drinks. What’s your drink of choice?
JW: Well, I quit drinking 10 years ago because I drank every cocktail you’ve ever made over and over again. If I was given a choice then I would probably drink some kind of smokey single malt straight up, and then I would drink the whole bottle [laughs].

ib: Straightforward. Maybe there’s a little bit of German in you after all?
JW: Hahaha, OK that’s fine with me! I’m happy!

Joan Wasser aka Joan As Policewoman was interviewed for indieberlin by Lucas Frost