When recording artists ranging from Elton John and Sheryl Crow to Rufus
Wainwright and Antony and the Johnsons want to enhance their music with an
electric violin that’s got that tightrope balance between rock & roll
raunch, indie edginess and country sweetness, they turn to Joan
Add Lou Reed, Nick Cave and The Scissor Sisters to the list, and
it becomes hard to believe that the New England-bred Wasser has found the time
over the last two decades to not only play an integral role in the successful
1990s Boston alternative rockers, The Dambuilders, but more recently, after
switching to guitar and keyboards as instruments of choice, to establish herself
in her own right with three well-received solo albums under the moniker Joan As
That whimsical name, an homage to the opening credits of the
1970s cops and robbers show Police Woman starring Angie Dickinson, offers ample
evidence that the 41- year-old Wasser’s take on life and career are far from
solemn, as she carries her hard-earned indie credentials along with her musical
path. Her shows, which run the gamut from joyous rock to tender ballads, are
full of impromptu banter with the audience and with her Joan As Police Woman
band mates Tyler Wood on synths and Parker Kindred on drums. Fans who attend her
show this week at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on Saturday night will find that
Wasser is in her element on stage.
“I feel like the live experience is
really important. When I go to see a band, I want to see an amazing show,” said
Wasser in a phone conversation from her Brooklyn home, a day before she was
headed out for Europe for the tail end of 10-month tour in support of her latest
album The Deep Field.
“Now the only way to make money is to tour – you
don’t make money off of recorded music any more with royalties, at least not
like you used to. And that’s a shame.
But I’m not so upset about the fact
that playing live is the only way to go – I love playing live and I love the
guys I play with. It’s hard on the road, I’m not going to lie, but I wouldn’t
rather be doing anything else. I’ll take it!” Wasser’s love affair with music
began at a young age growing up in Connecticut with immersion in classical music
and piano and violin lessons. Attending Boston University as an early admittance
story to study under the renowned Yuri Mazurkevich, Wasser would play classical
music by day and delve into the thriving indie alternative music scene in Boston
“It never felt strange to me, that they were two different
worlds – I saw them as part of the same world,” said Wasser.
I would go to the hardcore and punk shows and then go and play Mahler. They’re
both very emotional kinds of music.
“Even though I was studying classical
music in Boston, as soon as I arrived there, I tried to find other musical
projects and took on every opportunity. For example, I answered an ad in the
paper from Berkelee School of Music engineering students – they had no violin
students there and needed to get experience recording strings, so I would go in
and play for them.”
IN ADDITION to playing with the Boston University
Symphony Orchestra, she also joined a succession of indie rock bands, making a
name for herself with her aggressive electric violin playing. That led to her
joining The Dambuilders, a tuneful band of rockers who were signed to Atlantic
Records and achieved some national success in the US with their single “Shrine”
from the 1994 album Encendedor. The band eventually broke up in 1997.
look back with fondness on that period because I really loved the people I
played with. Certainly, there were good and bad things about the ‘90s, and all
the huge amount of money being spent to sign bands on major labels. Amazingly, I
was able to mostly live off being in the band for a while, which is rare and
pretty great,” said Wasser.
“But what went with that was this seeming
incomprehension by the record label of what to do with a band like ours. They
were well meaning but they had us go out on the road with these really
mainstream bands and there was very little overlap with our audiences. Their
fans wanted to hear the hits from their band and didn’t care very much about our
music. And our fans were going, ‘what are you doing playing with this band? We
don’t want to hear them.’” “But I see it now as, hey, we got to play music. A
lot of people complain about how hard it is to play music for a career but
you’re not going to hear it from me. It’s certainly not awful for me to be
What was awful for Wasser was the 1997 drowning of her
longtime boyfriend, singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley.
She dealt with the
tragedy through music, first by recording an album with a friend of the couple,
Dave Shouse, under the name of Those Bastard Souls, and later forming a band
called Black Beetle with members of Buckley’s band.
“It was an attempt to
survive that period and it really helped,” she said.
“Music is something
that feels divine to me. It really saved me then and at other times in my life.
The way I feel about music is the way people who describe as being saved by a
higher power must feel.”
That feeling continued when Wasser was asked to
join Antony and the Johnsons in 1999 and worked with them on their acclaimed
album I Am a Bird Now. In between playing with that band and doing prolific
session work for the cream of the rock world, Wasser decided in 2002 to start
her own project. The first incarnation of Joan as Police Woman appeared, with an
EP being released two years later. However, another lull to her budding solo
career occurred when Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band in
By the following year, Wasser was back to concentrating on her own
band, enriched by the experience of playing with some of the greats of rock in
the studio and on tour.
“People like Elton John and Sheryl Crow are just
highly professional. There’s no messing around with them – but they’re also
highly likeable,” she said.
“I didn’t have a huge amount of interaction
with either of them in the studio, because it was so businesslike – they both
make use of time well and know what they want. With Sheryl Crow, I was part of a
larger ensemble, so I wasn’t in any position to be suggesting a change in my
part or a telling her what I thought. But generally, I’ve hardly ever been in a
situation when I’m working on someone’s album and the artist has not wanted my
Usually musicians are really excited to get other musicians in the
room and hear their ideas of how to make the song better. So for me, I love
seeing how other people work and seeing the leeway that they give or don’t
That’s the fascinating part about being a musician.”
plus is getting to travel the world, and Wasser is not only anticipating coming
to Israel, she insisted on it.
“I actually went out of my way to set up
the Israel show,” she said. “I’ve wanted to see the country for so long. When we
were planning this last part of the tour, I said to my agent, ‘can we please end
this tour in Israel?’” Wasser is getting her wish, and if you’re a fan of
intelligent rock & roll played with spirit and humor, seeing Joan as Police
Woman on Saturday night will also make your wishes come true.