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Joan As Police Woman

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Joan As Police Woman
Joan Wasser performing at the Summer Sundae festival, 2006
Joan Wasser performing at the Summer Sundae festival, 2006
Background information
Birth nameJoan Wasser
Born (1970-07-26) July 26, 1970 (age 53)
Biddeford, Maine, U.S.
OriginNorwalk, Connecticut, U.S.
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • violin
  • guitar
  • piano
Years active1991–present

Joan Wasser (born July 26, 1970) is an American musician, singer-songwriter and producer who releases music as Joan As Police Woman. She began her career playing violin with the Dambuilders and played with Black Beetle, Antony and the Johnsons, and Those Bastard Souls. Since 2004 she has released her solo material as Joan As Police Woman. She has released five regular studio albums, one EP, a number of singles and two albums of cover songs.[1] Throughout her career, she has regularly collaborated with other artists as a writer, performer and arranger.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born at the Saint Andre Home in Biddeford, Maine,[3][4] to an unmarried teenage mother, Wasser was placed for adoption at infancy.[5] She was raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, with her adoptive younger brother Dan, who is a visual artist.[6] She credits her background as an adopted child with her "very extroverted" personality and dressing up a lot. She explained that "when you are in a situation where you're not blood-related to your family, it does become extremely obvious that you're born with your personality".[7]

Wasser began with piano lessons at age six and had her first violin lessons at age eight. She played violin in school and community orchestras before leaving Norwalk for her college studies.[3] At the age of 18, Wasser began her music career during her studies at the College of Fine Arts, Boston University.[5] She studied music under, among others, Yuri Mazurkevich and played with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra.[8] Wasser soon grew disillusioned and found that she "didn't want to make classical music my life, the Beethoven symphonies have already been played a million times and I am not going to do it any better".[5] Instead, she joined a number of local punk bands trying "to bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud".[5]


The Dambuilders[edit]

In 1991, Wasser joined the Dambuilders who were signed to Elektra Records in 1994.[9] Wasser featured on three albums as a violinist.[10] The band played a number of shows on the East Coast,[11] and found an admirer in Colin Greenwood of Radiohead.[12] On stage, Wasser managed to stand out with "bright costumes and dyed, often dreadlocked hair".[7] In 1995, the band appeared at Lollapalooza followed by the release of the album Ruby Red.[9] Wasser augmented her role within the band, adding guitar and keyboard parts, singing vocals, as well as co-writing several songs as found on the album Against the Stars.[13][14]

Wasser first began to make a name for herself in the indie rock world during her time in The Dambuilders as she developed her aggressive style of playing, which led to work outside the group. Wasser moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1996,[15] while The Dambuilders disbanded in October 1997.

Black Beetle[edit]

In May 1997, her boyfriend of three years,[16] musician Jeff Buckley, drowned accidentally in Memphis.[17] She found it "such a traumatic experience of loss. I needed to grieve but I didn't know how".[5] She continued to play with Those Bastard Souls, a band started in 1995 by a close friend of the couple, Dave Shouse of Grifters. They made a record entitled Debt & Departure attempting to respond to Buckley's death.[18] In late 1997, she created a band with the remaining members of Buckley's band called Black Beetle and finished an eponymous album that was never released.[19] This was the first project where she was writing as well as fronting a band. She commented, "I found singing terrifying at first, I didn't know about the boundaries of my voice and I had no idea what words I wanted to say. The violin had been my voice for so long."[5]

Antony and the Johnsons[edit]

In 1999, Joan joined Antony and the Johnsons, initially as a violinist, but eventually as a full-time member.[5] She contributed to their Mercury Prize-winning album, I Am a Bird Now. She explained that she "was called up to stand in for another violinist but by the end of the rehearsal (she) was in the band". The experience was "like a renaissance", and she "was surrounded by gentle people and quiet music [...] I had a space to let go".[5]

Joan As Police Woman[edit]

While working with others, Wasser began to develop her own material, which she described as sounding "like old Al Green records".[5] She focused on guitar and singing as "for a long time, I was really content with playing violin [...] and then all of a sudden it wasn't enough".[7] The end of Black Beetle in June 2002 brought the beginning of Wasser's work as a solo artist and the creation of a new band, Joan as Police Woman. The name was a reference to the TV series Police Woman featuring Angie Dickinson. Wasser found the actress inspirational as "she was really powerful but sexy at the same time" in the role. She also preferred "the name to be funny because, although my music is serious, I like to laugh at tragedy".[5] She formed a new trio in New York City together with Ben Perowsky on drums and Rainy Orteca on bass. Perowsky also co-produced the EP that also featured contributions by Oren Bloedow, Dave Derby and Erik Sanko.[20] She co-wrote the song "My Gurl" with Michael Tighe.[21] The group self-released a five-track eponymous EP in 2004,[22] as Wasser had "decided to do it without a record deal because I wanted to make music on my own terms".[5] In February 2004, Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band on tour providing backing vocals and strings.[16] In the second half of the year, she joined Joseph Arthur on tour as a violinist.[23]

Real Life[edit]

In December 2005, Wasser signed a distribution deal with Reveal Records,[24] a British indie label, which subsequently re-released the self-titled debut EP,[5] while adding one track.[20][25] Joan as Police Woman's full-length debut, Real Life, appeared in the UK on June 12, 2006, and through PIAS in Europe and elsewhere.[26] She embarked on a tour around Europe where she played a mixture of headlining shows and support slots, including the Guillemots.[27][28]

The album was eventually released in the USA on June 12, 2007, on Cheap Lullaby Records based in Los Angeles. In early 2008, Real Life won in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Pop/Rock Album.[29] The album included three singles, "Christobel",[30] "The Ride",[31] and "Eternal Flame",[32] which was supported by a video directed by Leah Meyerhoff.[33]

To Survive[edit]

Her second album, To Survive, was released in June 2008 and featured Rufus Wainwright on the song "To America".[3] The title referred to the loss of her mother to cancer, where she felt encouraged "to talk about it, [to] put it into words and get it out there”.[3] It was recorded with Rainy Orteca and Parker Kindred, an old friend and drummer of her previous band Black Beetle. The album reached No. 43 in Uncut's review of the year 2008, as well as in Q Magazine's top 50. Musically it was described as having "dance-floor soul and indie-rock influences".[3]

With Rainy Orteca departing to pursue her own projects, Wasser and Kindred were joined by Timo Ellis on bass guitar for touring in 2008.

At the end of her 2009 European tour, Wasser returned to New York to play a show and release a new album of cover songs, entitled Cover.

The Deep Field[edit]

In 2011, she released her third album, The Deep Field.[34] It contained the singles "The Magic", "Nervous" and "Chemmie".[35]

The Classic[edit]

On March 10, 2014, Wasser released her fourth album, The Classic, featuring the single "Holy City",[36] featuring a video filmed by Alex de Campi.[37]

Let It Be You[edit]

In 2016, Wasser collaborated with Benjamin Lazar Davis and released the album Let It Be You in October.[38] It was preceded by the single "Broke Me in Two".[39] The album received mixed reviews,[40] with DIY noting it as a "curiously unbalanced album",[41] while AllMusic described it as "a collection of appealingly loose, lush songs full of creativity".[42] The duo followed the release by a UK tour.[43][44]

Damned Devotion[edit]

The album Damned Devotion was released on February 9, 2018. Emily Mackay, writing for The Guardian, describes Wasser's return to her "characteristically languorous, smoky zone".[45]

Before the album release Wasser released the single Tell Me, with its plea for openness and intimacy. "I am always wanting more intimate dialogue", says Joan Wasser. "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?"[46]


The album Joanthology was released on May 24, 2019.

The Solution Is Restless[edit]

In 2019 Wasser participated in an Africa Express concert[47] of March 29[48] organized by Damon Albarn, where she met fellow performer Tony Allen. Later that year the pair collaborated, with Dave Okumu of The Invisible, on her ninth solo album, The Solution Is Restless. It was released in 2021.[49]


Wasser has done considerable session work providing strings and vocals for a number of artists throughout her career. Her resume includes live performances and studio work with Elton John, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, John Cale, Sheryl Crow, Scissor Sisters, Sparklehorse, Dave Gahan, Tanya Donelly, Joseph Arthur, and Fan Modine.[3]

She has worked with Nathan Larson on his side-project, Mind Science of the Mind[50] and ex-Fishbone member Chris Dowd's Seedy Arkhestra album. In the liner notes to an album by the latter, Dowd praised her as a "soulful mothafucka".[51]

In 2006, Wasser contributed backing vocals and violin to the track "Redwings" on Guillemots' debut album Through the Windowpane. She provided vocals and plays the violin on the song "Ballad of a Deadman" alongside David Sylvian on Steve Jansen's album Slope which was released in 2007. Wasser was credited for playing piano, violin, and guitar as well as contributing vocals on Lloyd Cole's 2010 release, Broken Record.[citation needed]

In 2013, she started the band 2001[52] with Benjamin Lazar Davis, which released its first single "Broke Me in Two" in September 2015.[citation needed]

In 2014, she released a track on the Printer Clips album, the side-project of Bell X 1's lead singer Paul Noonan.[citation needed]

Also in 2014, she began to work and perform with Scottish folk outfit Lau, producing their album The Bell That Never Rang, released in May 2015.[53]

In 2015, Joan performed with the English alternative rock band Placebo on their MTV Unplugged session. She sang a duet with vocalist Brian Molko in the song "Protect Me from What I Want".[citation needed]

In 2020, Joan appeared on the Gorillaz song "Simplicity" from their seventh album Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.[54]


Studio albums[edit]

Album details Peak chart positions
Real Life
  • Released: June 12, 2006
  • Label: Reveal
40 63 169
To Survive
  • Released: June 9, 2008
  • Label: Reveal, Cheap Lullaby, PIAS
10 17 180 42 44 27 93 56
  • Released: 2009
  • Label: Reveal
  • Notes: Limited release[66]
The Deep Field
  • Released: January 25, 2011
  • Label: Reveal
60 14 9 119 54 42 72 23 66 40
The Classic
  • Released: March 10, 2014
  • Label: PIAS
70 32 82 78 79 32 44
Let It Be You
  • Released: October 21, 2016
  • Label: Reveal
  • Notes: with Benjamin Lazar Davis
Damned Devotion
  • Released: February 9, 2018
  • Label: PIAS
72 36 78 84 47 57
Cover Two
  • Released: May 1, 2020[67]
  • Label: Sweet Police
The Solution Is Restless
(with Tony Allen and Dave Okumu)
  • Released: November 5, 2021[68]
  • Label: Sweet Police
"—" denotes a title that did not chart, or was not released in that territory.

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Label: PIAS
  • Released: May 24, 2019

Live albums[edit]

  • Label: Sweet Police
  • Released: 2020


  • Joan as Police Woman (self-released 2004 – CD; re-released February 27, 2006)


Year Title Peak chart positions Album
2006 "My Gurl" Joan as Police Woman
"The Ride" 71 144 Real Life
"Eternal Flame" 63 132
"Christobel" 84 200
2007 "Flushed Chest"
"Real Life"
2008 "To Be Loved" To Survive
"To America"
2009 "Start of My Heart"
2011 "The Magic" 59 The Deep Field
2013 "The Classic" 104 The Classic
2014 "Holy City" 104
2016 "Broke Me in Two" Let It Be You
"Let It Be You"
2017 "Warning Bell" Damned Devotion
2018 "Tell Me" 84
2019 "Kiss" Cover Two
2020 "Spread"
"Out of Time"
"There Are Worse Things I Could Do"
"Not the Way"
"Under Control"
"—" denotes a title that did not chart, or was not released in that territory.

Compilation appearances[edit]


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  2. ^ "Discogs credits" List of writing, arranging and performance credits spanning the period 1991-2016. accessed December 4, 2016.
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  4. ^ "History". saintandrehome.org. May 30, 2013. Archived from the original on March 28, 2016. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Joan as Police Woman..." Bernadette McNulty, The Daily Telegraph, August 5, 2006
  6. ^ "Art nouveau mag" Archived April 29, 2018, at the Wayback Machine Announcement of an exhibition in Harlem (NYC), October 7, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c Guy Blackman, "Joan as Policewoman", The Age, September 18, 2006
  8. ^ Phares, Heather. "Joan as Police Woman - Biography". Billboard.com. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Wolff, Carlo (July 1995). Dambuilders Cover States, One by One. Billboard Magazine. p. 19.
  10. ^ Lyndal Martin, Erin (July 2, 2014). "I've Lived Many Lives: Joan Wasser Interviewed". The Quietus. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  11. ^ "1990-1996 shows" Songkick listing of The Dambuilders shows
  12. ^ "Radiohead 1995 tour" Archived March 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Randee Dawn, "Modulation Across the Nation" Alternative Press, October 1995 (Issue 87), accessed March 12, 2014.
  13. ^ Allmusic.com entry for The Dambuilders album Against the Stars.[permanent dead link] Accessed, March 12, 2014.
  14. ^ "The Dambuilders - Against The Stars". Discogs. November 10, 1997. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
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  17. ^ Rogers, Jude (July 14, 2008). "Blasé is not the vibe!". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Phares, Heather. "Those Bastard Souls | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  19. ^ Shepatin, Matthew (February 17, 2011). "Joan Wasser on Her New Album, Jeff Buckley, & Feminism - BlackBook". BlackBook. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  20. ^ a b "Joan As Police Woman - Joan As Police Woman (EP)". Discogs. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  21. ^ "Joan As Police Woman - My Gurl". Discogs. January 23, 2006. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  22. ^ "Joan As Police Woman - Joan As Police Woman". Discogs. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  23. ^ Morford, Judah (September 23, 2004). "Joseph Arthur - The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, Ga. 9/23/04". Pastemagazine.com. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  24. ^ McKibbin, Adam (December 2008). "Joan As Police Woman: A conversation with Joan Wasser". theredalert.com. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
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  28. ^ "Guillemots / Joan As Policewoman – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Sunday June 4". Mike Atkinson. June 4, 2006. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  29. ^ "About IMA section" Listed as one of the past winners.
  30. ^ "Joan As Police Woman - Christobel". Discogs. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  31. ^ "Joan As Police Woman - The Ride". Discogs. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  32. ^ "Joan As Police Woman - Eternal Flame". Discogs. July 31, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  33. ^ Meyerhoff, Leah. "Eternal Flame". Leahmeyerhoff.com. Archived from the original on February 17, 2017. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  34. ^ Neeson, Paul (January 5, 2011). "Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field | The Skinny". theskinny.co.uk. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  35. ^ Cragg, Michael (July 20, 2011). "New music: Joan As Police Woman – Chemmie". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  36. ^ "Joan As Police Woman". Musicglue.com. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  37. ^ Joan as Police Woman premieres video for Holy City online - exclusive, archived from the original on February 6, 2014, retrieved December 6, 2016
  38. ^ Davies, Hannah J. (October 20, 2016). "Joan As Policewoman & Benjamin Lazar Davis: Let It Be You review – alt-pop experiment goes off script". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  39. ^ Murray, Robin (July 4, 2016). "Premiere: Joan As Police Woman x Benjamin Lazar Davis - 'Broke Me in Two'". Clash Magazine. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  40. ^ Bemrose, Bekki (October 22, 2016). "Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis – Let It Be You | Album Reviews". Musicomh.com. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  41. ^ Johnson, Eugenie (October 21, 2016). "Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis - Let It Be You". DIY Magazine. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  42. ^ Phares, Heather. "Let It Be You - Joan as Police Woman,Benjamin Lazar Davis | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  43. ^ Boyl, Stuart (November 22, 2016). "Joan as Police Woman at Heaven | Live review". The Upcoming. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  44. ^ "Joan as Policewoman: UK Tour through November". Flux Magazine. October 31, 2016. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  45. ^ Mackay, Emily (February 4, 2018). "Joan As Police Woman: Damned Devotion review – edgily lascivious". Theguardian.com. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  46. ^ "Joan As Police Woman to release new album and play Yorkshire gig". York Press. January 9, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  47. ^ "Africa Express: The Circus review – Albarn's multi-artist Brexit show has stop-start feel". TheGuardian.com. March 30, 2019.
  48. ^ "Africa Express: The Circus, London, 2019 - Setlist".
  49. ^ "The Solution is Restless (Album, 2021), by Joan as Police Woman Tony Allen Dave Okumu".
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  54. ^ "Gorillaz team up with Robert Smith on 'Strange Timez' and share star-studded 'Song Machine' tracklist". Nme.com. September 9, 2020. Retrieved November 6, 2021.
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  68. ^ Peters, Daniel (July 15, 2021). "Joan As Police Woman announces 'The Solution is Restless', a new album with Dave Okumu and the late Tony Allen". NME. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  69. ^ Peaks in Scotland:
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External links[edit]