Gig preview: Joan as Police Woman and Benjamin Lazar Davis at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Collaborations are nothing new to Joan Wasser. Prior to becoming a Police Woman the Brooklyn singer-songwriter was a member of Antony & The Johnsons and toured extensively with Rufus Wainwright.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 10th November 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:21 pm
Joan as Police Woman with Benjamin Lazar Davis
Joan as Police Woman with Benjamin Lazar Davis

She’s subsequently enjoyed one-off collaborations with, among others, Lou Reed and David Sylvian.

Her latest partnership with multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis nonetheless marks something of a sea change. A musical marriage of true equals, their initial “exploratory writing and creating new music together” quickly evolved into a complete album project.

Described by The Guardian as ‘alt-pop experiment’, Let It Be You (Reveal Records) is loosely influenced by Central African Republic Pygmy musical patterns.

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The pair bonded over the style after they met at a gig by Davis’ indie-pop band Cuddle Magic and they discovered that they’d made separate trips to Africa: “Ethiopia for me as part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express; West Africa for Ben to study traditional music.”

The trip, which arose after Wasser received an invitation from The Independent’s Ian Burrell, had a profound effect on her. “[It] changed my life and I no longer hear music the same way,” she notes. “I was lucky to hear these amazing local woman singing in polyphony – two voices sounding like ten. Just incredible and moving.”

The musical patterns can be most keenly heard on lead single ‘Broke Me In Two’. “You can hear the influence in the staccato bit-crushed guitar line that plays throughout,” explains Wasser. “Of course you could always ignore that and just listen as if you’re hearing a pop song!”

Promoted with a video featuring Portlandia’s Fred Armisen as a mechanic (“Fred and I have been friends for years; we used to play in a band called Those Bastard Souls in the mid 90s”), it was chosen “as the first single because it seemed to hit people hard right from the top of the song. It still hits ME hard!”

The rest of the album hits no less directly. “Someone recently described ‘Overloaded’ as ‘environmental machine-pop’ and ‘Motorway’ as a ‘tech-orchestral lullaby’. They also said that ‘Station’ was a study in stillness!” she says of other key tracks.

The material maintains many of the hallmarks of Wasser’s recent work, especially the soulful grooves that rooted 2014’s The Classic. It nonetheless marks another shift forward for an artist who’s already experimented with torch songs, rock and jazz. This constant experimentation with styles is all part of a natural process as her songwriting develops.

“With each record and new chapter in my life my music evolves,” she describes. “I like to completely lose myself in whatever is flowing creatively through me at the time; I don’t make a conscious decision to try any particular direction.”

It’s an evolution that’s aided by every working relationship and her belief that there are only benefits in musical alliances. “Each new artistic collaboration extends my understanding of music,” she enthuses. “I am enjoying this new experience with Ben so much. We actually already have four new songs that we have written together since we recorded Let It Be You.”

This marks what appears to be an especially prolific period in her career. Her approach to work could hardly be described as slothful up to this point - having released five albums since she appeared on the scene in 2006 - but having just issued Let It Be You she’s already “in the middle of writing the sixth Joan As Police Woman record here in Brooklyn.”

“The songs are coming and I can’t wait for people to hear it. Each time I write a new song it’s like the first time. I enjoy staying open and letting the music come to me naturally.”

Before she gets to finish writing and recording the album, she’ll be embarking on an extensive tour with Davis. “We have such a great band, full of strong musical personalities,” she raves.

“I guess the way this band plays is more immediate than the subtle late night vibes of some of my previous Joan As Police Woman shows.

“The music on Let It Be You is still super soulful but perhaps a little more cutting, with complex rhythms. You’ll hear us play plenty of Joan As Police Woman material from across the albums, songs like ‘The Magic’ and ‘Holy City’ are especially great to play with Benjamin, Ian Chang (drums) and Ryan Dugre (guitar).

“Come out and see us!”

Joan As Police Woman and Benjamin Lazar Davis will perform at the Belgrave Music Hall on November 15.