Joan Wasser is a multi-instrumentalist who has contributed to the songbooks of some of the more singular artists of the past decade. Among those who have tapped Wasser for her virtuosic work on violin and string arrangements: Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Antony and the Johnsons, Elton John and the Scissor Sisters. And a footnote: She was dating Jeff Buckley at the time of his death.
She's hardly just a session player, though: Wasser just released The Deep Field, her third solo release in five years under the name of Joan as Policewoman. And, whereas her first two albums leaned more heavily on piano ballads and dealt with the loss of first Buckley and then her mother, the songs on The Deep Field are more funked-up and sonically adventurous, reflecting the album title's reference to deep space astronomy.
In advance of Wasser's tour through the region this week, we caught up with her to ask about the difference between working on her own projects and working with other artists on theirs.
As someone known perhaps as much for your work as side woman and collaborator as a bandleader, how do you approach the recording process when you're in charge?
Working with so many people has helped me be able to communicate effectively with my own contributors. Before going into the studio, I absolutely complete the song 100 percent. I don't see any point in going into the studio without songs being finished. For me, the studio is for recording songs, not for writing.
Do you live for the studio or for the live performance?
Comparing the studio versus live is like comparing pineapple and papaya. The studio is about slowly building your tree house. And I absolutely love the process. Live, it's real time, and you can't think about what you are doing—you just have to do it. So, for me at least, that means a lot of rehearsal. But I love it, too.
Having worked with so many interesting musicians, is there somebody you get particularly excited about working with when you see their number pop up on your caller ID?
Every few months, the Scissor Sisters call me up me up to do some string arrangements. That's always such a blast.