“Joan As Police Woman is one of the 21st century’s best musicians”
Listen to Joan discussing her life and music for the Joanthology Podcast here:
Born in Maine, and raised with her brother in Connecticut by adoptive parents, Joan began studying violin in elementary school.
She went on to study classical violin at university, and was drawn to new compositions written for smaller ensembles. She started pushing the boundaries on her violin, and with a head full of wild dark hair with a white streak up the middle, she performed regularly with local punk bands.
In 1994, she landed in Brooklyn, NYC, and began working as a session musician, playing her violin across every genre from Haitian to pop and r&b. She became a member of Anohni’s ensemble (formerly Antony and the Johnsons) and recorded, I Am A Bird Now. In 2002, Joan As Police Woman was born, named in homage to the 1970s television cop show starring Angie Dickinson. She began touring with Rufus Wainwright for his Want One and Want Two albums, playing in his band and as his opening act. For her EP, Joan As Police Woman played as a simple duo, with Ben Perowsky on drums, and eventually added Rainy Orteca on bass.
Her first record, Real Life, earned the band “Best Rock and Pop Album,” at the Independent Music Awards. Her second album,To Survive, was chosen in 2008, as one of Q Magazine’s, “Albums of the Year.”
Joan has spoken often of how vital music and music-making is to her life. “I can comfortably say that music has saved my life. I am a devotee. It’s not something I can even choose or not choose, it’s just what it is.”
Alongside consistent touring and album making, she says yes to almost every project or collaboration she is offered, noting, “I just want to be making music all the time.” This has led to a large and diverse list of co-collaborators: Tony Allen, Damon Albarn, Lou Reed, Beck, Afel Bocoum, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, David Sylvian, Benjamin Lazar Davis, Sparklehorse, Laurie Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, John Cale, Aldous Harding, Woodkid, Justin Vivian Bond, RZA, Norah Jones, Lau, Doveman, Rufus Wainwright and Daniel Johnston.
Recently, Joan had the pleasure of subbing for Guy Garvey, of the band Elbow, on his BBC 6Music show, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour. In 2017, she and pianist, Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), co-wrote the film score for Permission, directed by Brian Crano. In early 2019, Joan took a look back at her first fifteen years of music, and gathered together songs for a triple-disc compilation album, Joanthology, which also became an extensive and hugely acclaimed solo world tour.
Joanthology features over thirty of her most loved songs, alongside BBC live performances. Curated and sequenced by Joan, with manager Tom Rose (who discovered and released her earliest recordings), this collection showcases Joan’s depth of musical vocabulary, her strong ability on several instruments, and her rich quality of writing and production. It further exemplifies Joan’s solid standing as an important artist, collaborator and muse, to both audiences and fellow artists and musicians.
1. Kiss (Prince)
2. Spread (Outkast)
3. Under Control (The Strokes)
4. Not The Way (Cass McCombs)
5. Keep Forgetting (Michael Macdonald)
6. Life’s What You Make It (Talk Talk)
7. Out of Time (Blur)
8. On The Beach (Neil Young)
9. There Are Worse Things I Could Do (Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs)
10. Running (Gil Scott-Heron)
“I began working on this second covers album ever since the release of the first one 11 years ago! I’ve been performing “Kiss” by Prince and my version of “Out of Time” by Blur throughout last year’s Joanthology Tour and finished Cover Two as soon as I returned home this winter. Recreating existing songs is a gratifying creative challenge for me, especially with songs I adore. I start with the question, ‘WHY, exactly, do I love this song?’ I take those elements and reform them, sometimes removing much of the remaining material to refocus them through new glasses. I re-harmonize the chords, radically change the feel, or shift the hook or the phrasing to rebuild the composition.
For “Spread” by Outkast, I invited my friend and musical genius, Meshell Ndegeocello, to recite André’s words and play bass with relentless swagger. I beatboxed the drums, had Parker play live over the tracks, and added the masterful trumpeter, Cole Kamen-Green.
I always heard The Strokes’ “Under Control” as a classic r&b song dressed up as a Strokes song. I reframed it the way I heard it naturally and added my best Brian May guitar playing.
“Not The Way” is from Cass McCombs’ first EP. I’d listened to the song for years before I realized what the lyrics were. The verse describes being judgmental and difficult which leads into the chorus, which blithely sings “That’s not the way to make friends.” Effortlessly humorous without being funny.
“Keep Forgetting” by Michael McDonald is a song that lyrically tears me up. It felt like a terribly sad song dressed up in a slick untouchable suit. I recreated it as the heartbroken ballad inside that suit.
Talk Talk’s, “Life’s What You Make It,” is a mantra for me. I sang it with the incredible vocalist Justin Hicks, whose singing floors me. The endlessly creative Thomas Bartlett, plays the syncopated piano. I’ve been working on this one for some years now and then was invited to perform in the Talk Talk tribute that happened in Nov ’19, at Royal Festival Hall, which included many of the musicians who collaborated with Mark Hollis. A great honor.
How to choose a Blur song? I went with one that made me cry every time I heard it. “Out Of Time” features Jacob Silver playing gorgeous bass flourishes that wrap around the sublime lyrics.
Neil Young’s “On The Beach” is a favorite of mine. I used sparse piano to re-harmonize and create a shifty underpinning for the uneasy feel of the lyrics. I was lucky enough to record this track in Buenos Aires at the world renowned Ion Studios, known as “the Abbey Road of Tango.” The studio retains the vibe of its beginnings in 1960, when greats like Astor Piazzolla recorded there. It’s full of ghosts and so is this track.
You may recognize “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” from the “Grease” soundtrack, but it was not written specifically for the film. I crafted it in Flamingos-style (doo-wop group from the 1950’s who used heavy reverb to create their sound) with Parker, Justin, and I sharing the many tracks of backup vocals.
The inception of Gil Scott-Heron’s, “Running,” began when I prepared it for the GSH tribute show at London’s, The Roundhouse, in 2016. I took his classic spoken word piece and created chords and melody; a song around the poem. Shahzad Ismaily added bass and Jim White finishes it off with his stormy drums.”
Performing as a trio with Parker Kindred (drums) and Jacob Silver (bass), Joan As Police Woman presents Cover Two live in concert May /June 2020. Please see the gigs page for details.
“This is breathtakingly good music”
“The coolest woman in pop”
“Full of meditative beauty…ravishing and lovelorn”
“A voice so wondrous and moving that it makes everyone else’s seem ordinary and mundane”