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Topic: interviews
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Joan as police woman, free as a singing bird (interview)

par arbobo | imprimer | 10juil 2008

After Real life and the two-years tour that followed, we were many expecting a new record of Joan As Police Woman.
Like her first EP (with the enchanting My gurl), like Real life, her new album To survive is a beautiful achievement.Her concert in Paris’ Nouveau Casino in June was the opportunity to ask her a few questions. Very generous on stage and aside, always open, she put her hands on the audience and lifted us high with a stunning force and an indescriptible warmth.

The accurate word would certainly read like this : wow !

The French version is there, and the astonishing pictures of the show by Chrystele are here.

Joan, you’ve been a sidewoman for years, a musician only, playing other people’s creations. Now you’re the front girl. Did it come naturally, when you though about recording your own tracks? Or did you have to learn a new way of being on stage?

I had to learn about being onstage with this new role but I also took my time so It felt like a natural transition. You can’t be as cocky being the front person, in my opinion, you’ve really got to be completely YOU.

Now you are a singer, a deep and beautiful singer, were you eager to sing at last, or was it a bit frightening?

I was terrified of singing- that’s why I pursued it, actually. I am someone who dives head first into the things that scare me the most, for better or for worse. I feel like if I feel a certain kind of fear, there’s something there for me to learn- and indeed, I feel like learning to sing forced me to learn who I was and ultimately grow up a lot.

You played with known and even very famous artists, from Antony to Nick Cave or Lou Reed, among many others. How did it feel when you had to come back to smaller venues, and to conquer a public who already heard your violin but without noticing it was you?

I am someone who Is always trying to prove herself- ultimately to myself- and returning to smaller stages was a challenge I appreciated and grabbed hold of with fury.

I mean, you already had a strong career as a musician, and Joan As Police Woman was a real challenge, wasn’t it? It is even more a challenge considering you are on a small label, Reveal, not as famous nor as powerful as many others.

When I decided to release my own music, I made a decision that It would ONLY work with people and with labels I really liked. I figured that it would also be solely independent labels also but I was open-minded. I have done many record deals, both with majors and with every size indie and while I have no horror stories, I never felt like any of them were exactly right.
I made a promise to myself that I would wait for the right situation. And I have found, that when you make this kind of decision for yourself, you will be fulfilled.

By the way, we knew that you worked with Anthony or Rufus Wainwright, but how did you meet David Sylvian?

David contacted me over a year ago because he had written a song for his brother’s (steve jansen) record, and wanted me to sing with him. When he was leaving the studio after the recording session, he mentioned that if I needed any backups on my next album that he would be happy to contribute and this I did not forget!

You took risks, you took chances when founding Joan As Police Woman, and it looks like a true act of liberty. This liberty is also an issue as a woman, as shows the sleeve of to survive, which is an evocation of the famous Rosie the riveter’s “We can do it”. More and more women lead bands now, but is it easier than it used to be?

I guess I can only guess that it IS easier. I feel so thankful to all the women before me who laid such an incredible groundwork for someone like me. Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Chrissie Hynde, PJ Harvey, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux- all these women and so many others helped make it easier and I hope that I am also doing my part for the future.

Seeing you on stage, it is instantly obvious that you belong here. You also talk a lot to the audience, you feel even closer than on records. This closeness, this feeling of intimacy, is even stronger on To survive than on Real life. Was it intentional or something you discovered afterwards?

I try to get to the very heart of how I feel and express it as directly as possible; I have continued to push this in my writing. I know that my feelings are not unique; if I have felt them, I am sure that every person has felt, if not exactly the same, almost the same feeling. And I know that when I feel isolated with my sorrow or my desperation, a sure way to feel better is to share it. I made it through so many trying times by listening to music that allowed me to feel and I suppose that am ultimately trying to give back.

From your first EP, including the beautiful My gurl, then Real life and now To survive, your music sounds less and less rock, more and more soul and jazz. But on stage I remember powerful rock moments last year, with My girl and especially Furious.

Do you feel one can really know your music only from the records, without hearing you live?

I feel like a listener takes what they need from any music. They can know me if what they need is on the record. I do present a more energetic live show usually and often, the crowd DOES react to a nice uptempo number.

I broke the piano while playing the Roskilde festival recently and I guess one would probably not expect that from my albums.

This evolution in style also made you sing differently, it seems. A little less sharp and direct, a little more soulful, holding some notes longer, but your singing is still very plain, you barely use vibes or vibrato. You stay in a simple tradition, in the noble meaning of it, despite the beautiful work of production, the songs remain very humble.

I think that the voice comes across the most honestly when the least fluffed up for lack of a better expression.

I feel like there is no confusion about the emotion when it is presented as purely as I can sing it.

Indeed you seem very involved in the production process : this new album has a very strong unity, in the rhythms, in the mood, there is no Christobel-like song for instance, to speed it up. Was it your wish to arrange and produce the songs as to give this strong unity ?

Really, I just recorded the 13 songs that I liked the best and chose the 10 that worked the best together for the record. I didn’t TRY to make the record any certain way. I feel like if you let it be, it WILL be the best representation of what you have to offer and the most beautiful, rather than trying to force it into some predetermined form or idea. I know that the end result is there in the future somewhere and I don’t have to know what that is till the album is completed.

I instantly recognized songs of the album you played on your previous tour, starting with To be lonely. How did you decide to stop and record a new album, had you already composed all the new songs during the tour?

I wrote all the songs for this record when I was touring for Real life. I had toured for about a year and a half and when I got off the road, I just started pre-production for To survive. I felt like I had to get the songs I had been playing for a while down in a more fleshed-out form and, for me, that meant making a new album.

Your lyrics as your music are emotionally very intense. It reminds of the very word of “soul” music, coming from the heart and blood, and giving with a lot of generosity. Can music heal, or help healing a little? Listening to the record, I remembered Sam Cooke’s Soothe me, and I thought it was exactly what your songs were doing to me.

Actually the first song I ever covered solo was a sam cooke song. He is a great inspiration. That is so nice what you said. Yes I do indeed believe that music can heal. it certainly has helped heal me and many people around me. It is god in my opinion.

And is Nina Simone still an inspiration for you?

I am inspired by so much music and so many music-makers. I have covered Nina songs and Mary J. Blige songs and Judy Garland songs and jimi Hendrix songs and Bowie songs, I love music.

Thank you very much Joan !




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