Sometimes the artist knows best.
Influences: "Life" Sounds Like: "The wind rushing through the forest."
...and the additional observation: "Beauty is the new punk rock"
"The general feeling these days," Joan claims, "is trust no-one, all the media is lying to you...there's such a sense of distrust in the air. For me, the most subversive you can be these days is to be totally honest, and to really laud beauty".
Joan's REAL LIFE album goes a long way to laud honesty, trust and beauty, and in doing so lauds her own beauty. You might know Joan from her loud serrated bands The Dambuilders, Black Beetle and Those Bastard Souls. Or playing more subtly and quietly in Antony's Johnsons or Rufus Wainwright's band. Some influences pervade, but this is all together different. It's music that shimmers, torch-song-like, between categories. It feels adjacent to jazz while being deeply soulful. The voice and delivery has raised comparisons to Dusty Springfield, Annette Peacock and Chrissie Hynde. Like Antony, Joan's music seems to have come out of nowhere, and yet feels fully-formed, idiosyncratically individual, all on, and of, it's own. Simply, Joan As Police Woman feels very Joan.
"I've called it Punk Rock R&B but American Soul Music is better, I feel like my music is the melding of the two styles I love most - Soul, that whole encompassing Al Green, Nina Simone and Isaac Hayes, and then all the stuff that came from Punk like The Smiths, the Grifters and Siouxsie Sioux..."
"...rock moved very easily into punk for me. I loved X, the Stooges, the Minutemen. In town there was an all-ages punk rock club, The Anthrax: thank god for this club! It changed my life." Here Joan witnessed the likes of Sonic Youth, Black Flag and Bad Brains, "who all blew my mind".
Joan's musical career, even in a nutshell, can send you weak at the knees. Her glitter-covered, five-string violin-cum-viola provided the rhythmic thrust alongside the guitars in The Dambuilders. Those Bastard Souls (fronted by Grifters guitarist David Shouse with Joan, Steven Drozd from The Flaming Lips and Fred Armisen of Trenchmouth) and Black Beetle (which included Michael Tighe and Parker Kindred from Jeff Buckley's band) followed before Joan decided to go it alone. But her pal Antony asked her to join his fledgling Johnsons, and she stayed for years, right up until Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band and be the support act: "I kept trying to make my music a priority but I loved playing in other people's bands."
Listening to the album, you'll notice she's not hiding behind that glittery violin or sheltering in the storm of rock's typical form of expression. "Anger is so easy and I have been angry for so long. But anger only arises from other feelings you're not dealing with. I'm trying to get deeper."
"Because I don't have to deal with basic everyday survival, like killing for food and not freezing to death my music is about [laughs] love and loss. Beyond that, it's about finding a way to be truthful with myself, after a really long time running away from myself. From becoming an adult, facing fears without fear, or with fear but being fine with it. To trust yourself enough to admit how you're feeling, which takes a lot of patience. This record is about learning to be real. Real clear."
Sure, you might want to ask Joan about Antony, Rufus or her contributions to The Scissor Sisters, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Sheryl Crow, Sparklehorse and Depeche Mode's David Gahan. Or about putting together the house band for the New York segment of producer Hal Wilner's Sea Shanties project. Or about the one-off album ("one of my favourite records I've ever been part of") that she made alongside Shudder To Think's Nathan Larson, Dambuilders drummer Kevin March and Helium's Mary Timony under the band name Mind Science Of The Mind. Or her contribution to Steven Bernstein's cracking jazz covers band Sex Mob ("I played a wild violin solo on Nirvana's About A Girl"), or the album she recorded in August 2004 with ex-Throwing Muses/Belly founder Tanya Donelly. But really, this is Joan's story. Her music. Her beauty. Her brilliance. As she sings on The Ride, "starting now, the wait is over."