Joan Wasser (born July 26, 1970) is a violinist, guitarist and singer/songwriter in the indie rock world. She began her career playing violin with the Dambuilders. She has released three albums as a singer songwriter, the 2006 Real Life the 2008 To Survive and the 2011 The Deep Field. Her resume includes live performances and studio work with Lou Reed, John Cale, Tanya Donelly, Sheryl Crow, Sparklehorse, Dave Gahan, Elton John, the Scissor Sisters, Antony and the Johnsons, Guillemots, Joseph Arthur, Rufus Wainwright, Fan Modine and Lloyd Cole.
Born in Biddeford, Maine, Wasser was raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, with a younger brother, Dan. She began piano lessons at age six, before starting her first violin lessons at age eight. Wasser played violin in school and community orchestras before leaving Norwalk for her college studies.
Wasser began her career during her studies at Boston University where she was an early admittance student studying with the renowned Yuri Mazurkevich, who himself had studied under Russian violin virtuoso David Oistrakh. She played with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra before joining local bands the Lotus Eaters, Hot Trix with Mary Timony, and the Dambuilders.
During her time in the Dambuilders, Wasser first began to make a name for herself in the indie rock world as she developed her aggressive style of playing, which led to work outside of the group. This work included a spot in Nathan Larson's side project, Mind Science of the Mind and ex-Fishbone member Chris Dowd's Seedy Arkhestra. In the liner notes to an album by the latter, Dowd praised her as a "soulful mothafucka." In the late 1990s, Wasser began to explore more musical paths than those limited only to violin playing, adding guitar and keyboard parts to the Dambuilders recordings, singing vocals, as well as co-writing several songs. Some of these new explorations can be heard on the Dambuilders' Against the Stars; on both Luster and Itch It, Wasser wrote the lyrics and handled the lead vocals. Due to disillusionment, creative malaise, and a need to expand their respective musical horizons, the Dambuilders disbanded in October 1997.
In 1996, Wasser also made a record with her friend Nathan Larson called Mind Science of the Mind.
In May 1997, her boyfriend, musician Jeff Buckley, drowned accidentally, in Memphis, Tennessee. She continued to play with Those Bastard Souls, a solo project started in 1995 by a close friend of the couple, Dave Shouse of The Grifters. They made a record entitled Debt and Departure attempting to respond to Buckley's death. In late 1997 she created a band with the remaining members of Buckley's band called Black Beetle and finished an eponymous album which was never released. This was the first project where she was writing as well as fronting a band.
In 1999, Joan joined Antony and the Johnsons. She contributed to their Mercury Prize-winning album, I Am a Bird Now. Joan has stated in interviews that being part of this band saved her life because of the nurturing effect of Antony and his "singularly beautiful voice".
The end of Black Beetle in June 2002 brought the beginning of Wasser's work as a solo artist and the creation of a new band, Joan as Police Woman. Wasser formed this new trio in New York City, with Ben Perowsky on drums, percussion and backing vocals; Rainy Orteca on bass and backing vocals; and songwriter/vocalist Wasser on violin, keyboard, and guitar. Other musicians working with the group have included Maxim Moston, Charlie Burnham and Andrew Wyatt. The group self-released an eponymous EP in 2004.
In February 2004, Rufus Wainwright asked her to join his band, tour extensively and open the shows with her new project. Her intimate songs and relaxed stage presence gained her recognition and new fans.
In December 2005, Wasser signed a distribution deal with Reveal Records, a British indie label, and subsequently released a 7" single as well as re-released Wasser's debut EP. Joan as Police Woman's full-length debut, Real Life, was released in the UK on June 12, 2006 and released in EU, AU and Japan through PIAS based out of Brussels. It was released in the USA on June 12, 2007 on Cheap Lullaby Records based in Los Angeles. In early 2008, Real Life won in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Pop/Rock Album. The music video for the single Eternal Flame, directed by Leah Meyerhoff, was in rotation airing on MTV Europe.
In 2006, Wasser supported the Guillemots on their spring tour, as well as contributing backing vocals and violin to the track "Redwings" on their debut album Through the Windowpane.
Joan Wasser provides vocals and plays the violin on the song "Ballad of a Deadman" alongside David Sylvian on Steve Jansen's album Slope which was released in 2007.
Her second album, To Survive, was released in June 2008. It was recorded with Rainy Orteca and Parker Kindred, old friend and drummer of her previous band, Black Beetle. The album reached No. 43 in Uncut's review of the year 2008, same as in Q Magazine's top 50.