Session work helped Wasser gain a foothold in New York. “In order to stay alive as a musician here, I just took every gig. I put myself out there and I got to know a lot of people. But I didn’t sing or write songs in any of those bands. I was playing violin mostly, exploring for myself how the violin works in a rock band. I was always very comfortable on stage, very comfortable playing the violin, but when I started singing, I felt very uncomfortable. It made me very nervous. And my personality is that when something scares me, I go directly into it. I had to figure out what was scaring me so much about singing. And, really, what it was is that singing is so revealing — and I wasn’t ready at that point to reveal myself. I had always had my guard up. You know, I was very tough — I could carry that SVT cab by myself. In a certain way it was because I was always playing with men. I think I felt like I had to compete. I was just working it out.”
Wasser’s transition from tough-grrrl violinist to confessional singer-songwriter was aided by tenures with Antony Hegarty and Wainwright. “When I met Antony, it was great for me because he was someone who was coming from a similar place that I was. It’s not the same music, but it’s coming from a similar source. That helped me feel more confident about my songwriting. And as I got positive feedback from people, it helped a lot. I mean, at this point I’m very clear with the knowledge that if I have a feeling, then I’m one of a million people who have had the same feeling. And there’s nothing to be afraid of in terms of expressing those feelings. It’s been a way for me to grow up.”
On both Police Woman full-lengths, To Survive and 2006’s Real Life (both on the British label Reveal), she plays most and sometimes all of the instruments. But she had the “luxury” of hiring a string section for the new disc. The album also features two guest vocalists, David Sylvian on the opening “Honor Wishes” and Wainwright handling lead on the closing track, “To America.” Live, Wasser plays guitar and keyboards and is usually supported by the rhythm section of drummer Ben Perowsky and bassist Rainy Orteca, though only Perowsky will be joining her for the Middle East show. And though she’s not nearly as intimidating as the Wasser of yore, she demonstrates her strength in other ways.
“When I was writing the new album, I’d sing something and just feel like it was just way too revealing. And then, within a day or two I’d realize that I was strong enough to keep that on the album. Like in ‘Holiday’ when I say, ‘This is not a dark thought/Not someone who needs constant reassurance.’ To admit that I need reassurance, that’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do when I first started writing songs.”
JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN + MILO JONES | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | September 24 at 9 pm | $10-$12 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com