Joan As Police Woman: Hymns of Damned Devotion

Joan As Police Woman is an artist whose varied talents as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, performer and producer have seen her traverse an outstandingly diverse and rich musical landscape.

She forged her reputation as a firebrand electric violinist in mid 90’s indie rock bands such as Those Bastard Souls and The Dam Builders (who scored an alternative radio hit in Australia with their track ‘Teenage Loser Anthem’). Following the tragic 1997 death of iconic singer Jeff Buckley, who was her boyfriend at the time, Joan began charting the course of her own acclaimed and intimate song writing journey.

Born Joan Wasser, her more familiar Joan As Police Woman moniker (said to originate as a homage to the 70’s cop show ‘Police Woman’, starring Angie Dickinson) has resulted in seven critically acclaimed albums since her striking 2006 debut, ‘Real Life’.

She also has a breathtaking track record of collaborating and playing onstage with a dazzling array of musical contemporaries, including Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright.

Chatting with Joan on the line from Brooklyn in the lead up to her upcoming Australian tour (her first since showcasing her 2014 album ‘The Classic’), her tone is one of genuine enthusiasm for these upcoming round of shows in support of her most recent album ‘Damned Devotion’, an album in which Joan’s intimate musings adorn trip-hopish, stripped back beats and heartfelt noir-soul. The tour kicks off with a show right here on the Gold Coast, as part of the Swell Festival, at the Spiegeltent in Broadbeach on 1 May.

“It’s been amazing touring the latest record (2018’s ‘Damned Devotion’) over the past year, we’ve gotten a really good response wherever we’ve gone. And the band that I have are extraordinary. We’re really looking forward to coming to Australia and presenting this show.”

While focusing heavily on tracks from ‘Damned Devotion’, I ask Joan about her penchant for reworking tracks from her diverse back catalogue into her live show, and if this keeps things invigorating. “Playing them the same way would be fine. But it’s also really rewarding to find other places in the music to go, by expanding the song. It’s like finding a different route to the same destination, a more scenic route.”

These upcoming shows are taking in a number of regional areas, in venues such as theatres and Spiegeltents and I ask Joan if she enjoys playing these more intimate locales.

“We really do, yes. They’re a lot of fun for us to play. Because we kind of play like a jazz band. There’s a lot of listening going on. We play at a level where we can all hear each other really well, which suits these style of venues. The shows tend to be different every night, that’s for sure.”

Those familiar with ‘Damned Devotion’ would no doubt have been struck by the album’s stunning cover art, a painting of Joan draped in shadow, serving as an evocative visual representation of an album best imbibed in the lateness of the hour. Says Joan of its inspiration:

“It’s based on the paintings of the old Dutch masters. Most of it is in shadow, and you get just a little bit of light. The album was very intimate and nocturnal. I recorded it in my home studio between midnight and 6am and I wanted to capture that feeling in the art.”

After her Australian touring commitments, Joan As Police Woman with band will be reverting to Joan in solo guise, a performance mode she finds equally as rewarding.

“It feels like a very different experience for me. Playing with the full band, there’s so much communication between us. We do tons of harmony singing together. There’s so much listening to each other, and each night we’re choosing the tempo of the songs together and making it happen. With a solo show, I can do whatever I want at any time. I can be totally free with the songs – and I can also get into some serious talking without embarrassing anyone on stage!”

Joan As Police Woman, in full band mode, will be playing her only Queensland show right here on the Gold Coast, on 1 May. It will be taking place within the grandiose surrounds of the Spiegeltent in Centenary Park in Broadbeach, a unique pop-up venue which will be playing host to a dazzling array of shows and events in conjunction with this year’s Bleach* Festival. We’ll leave the final word with Joan as to why you should get along: “I’m incredibly thankful that we get to present this show to you. This current band is my favourite touring band of all, it’ll be heaps of fun.”

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