Joan Wasser is better known as her musical moniker Joan As Police Woman, a songwriter, vocalist and violinist that creates some of the dreamiest songs ever written, and her new album, The Deep Field is no exception. Having collaborated with artists like Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright, she shares a similar aesthetic, making music that is ethereal, beautiful, eccentric and very, very queer.
It might not surprise you, then, that Joan is queer. “Surprise” only because you might know she famously dated Jeff Buckley before he tragically drowned in 1997, a fact that likely haunts her in every discussion of her musical career. But there is no trace of her discussing her sexuality, which she once told me a few years ago was not-so-straight.
After she’d written me (via MySpace, remember that?) to let me know she was bisexual (after I’d inquired, mind you — gaydar in action), she gave me her publicist’s contact information so that I could set up an interview. I was denied, unfortunately, which is (also unfortunately) part of the job when it comes to being from the gay press. But upon hearing some music from Joan’s new album, I knew I had to try again. And this time, she had a new publicist, who, like Joan, wasn’t going to position her as something she’s not.
“I have never felt any pressure from anyone I work with about my life and how to live it,” Joan said. “I work with the people I do because they would never try to direct my image.I would guess that the interview was turned down because I was too busy or too exhausted — I don’t really know.”
“I am transparent about my sexuality which i feel is — for lack of a better way to express it — completely open; unzipped,” she continued. “I make no distinctions. I do not judge myself when i feel an attraction to someone and that someone could be of any gender or sexual orientation. Chemistry is chemistry and that is something beyond my control. I have no interest in messing with chemistry. I feel lucky to live in NYC where sexuality is as open as anywhere I have ever been.”
The Deep Field is an incredibly sexual album, from the first song “Nervous” to the slow and sensual last track, “I Was Everyone,” which is about Joan of Arc.
“[It’s about] her internal dialogue,” she said, “but this is not a romantic love song as such, it is an idea of what I imagine her going through.”
The song “Eternal Flame” from her previous LP Real Life is about a woman, Joan said, “But who that woman is will not be revealed, thank you!”
“I have many love songs that I have written about many people at once,” she said, “so the fact is that a percentage of many of my songs are about women.”
The Deep Field is an album you could put on when you’re getting a little romantic, when you’re getting ready for a night out, or while you’re drinking a glass of wine at the end of a long day. It’s got such a subtle but feel-good groove which Joan says she would “describe the color of as a vibrating fluorescent rainbow.”
“It reflects how I feel in my life now, which is passionate and virile,” Joan said. “I have expressed wide-ranging feelings of loss and longing on my last couple of records and I felt the fire flare up again in my soul and expressed that the best i could on this record. I am a Leo, for god’s sake!”
As an indie rock critical favorite, as well as having been romantically involved with another famous musician, it’s inevitable that fans and the media might be interested in finding out all they can about Joan’s life, especially when the songs she writes translate live as being personal if not completely autobiographical.
“I understand the interest of human beings to communicate and find out what works for others and how that can enhance their lives,” Joan said. “I understand it because that is how I feel. I write very personal songs and I do because I know that we all have the same feelings and that the details are the parts that are different, not the feelings themselves. I am always searching for better ways to get along with others and to get along with myself. I feel that communication is all we’ve got and I am going to do it as much as I can for as long as my heart is beating.”
Still, Joan isn’t going to give everything away.
“Sometimes people want more information than I am willing to share and then it is my responsibility to set that boundary,” she said. “That’s it. As long as I continue to be clear, no one gets hurt.”
And Joan has to be clear because she says the media often gets their facts wrong.
“It seems that decisions are made about who my songs are written about and what they are about without anyone ever checking with the songwriter — me!” she said. “But this is part of putting my work out there — everyone will make of it what they will. And I am glad that songs mean different things to each person — that’s the point. Once it’s out there, it’s not mine any longer. I don’t own it.”
Some albums speak so clearly that they translate from the songwriter right into your own life, and that’s what The Deep Field does — ever single song. Coupled with a voice that’s got the perfect tinge of soul pop over low-fi keyboard, drums and bass grooves, lyrics like “I will never be out of love” or “I find it hard to keep away from all that’s you” are cinematic: you can’t help but picture yourself as the protagonist in every song’s story.
“Writing songs is a fascinating thing for me and I do feel like I don’t have much control over it,” Joan said. “The fact that different combinations of notes evoke a certain emotion is forever compelling to me. When i am writing, the sound of the music is representative of how I am feeling, even if I don’t consciously know I am feeling that way. It’s sometimes very educational and surprising for me. I can direct the emotion a little, but for the most part I have to give in to what I am feeling, even if it’s not what I was planning to write about.”
The Deep Field is available on iTunes now.