Mike Atkinson

Interview: Joan As Police Woman

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on December 5, 2008

You first played Nottingham in 2005, supporting Rufus Wainwright and also performing with him during the main set. What memories do you have of that tour?

Oh, I have great memories, for a number of reasons. The fact that Rufus gave me a chance to open for his band was priceless, really. I knew that I was going to be opening for a bunch of true music lovers, so I really got my act together. I would have anyway, but I guess it just scared me a lot more. And then with touring and singing every night, there’s no better way to learn what you’re good at, what works and what doesn’t work. Rufus wanted me to sing in all these different ways that I wasn’t used to: REALLY LOUD! at times, or purposefully nasal, to get different timbres. That was really educational and interesting.

Were you also collaborating with Antony Hegarty [of the Johnsons] at around this time? 

I joined Antony’s band around 1999, a couple of years after I started writing my own songs. I stopped playing with him in 2004, when I began touring with Rufus.

Collaboration seems to have been quite important to you along the way. Your name pops up on various albums, from Rufus to Antony to the Scissor Sisters. That suggests that you must be easy to work with, and flexible to other people’s ideas.

Well, I hope so. I find it fun to see how other people work. I go in with a very open mind and I like to make it as fun as possible. Music is the greatest joy of my life, and usually everybody else’s that I’m working with. So it’s wonderful fun, to be making the best of what happens by combining a bunch of brains together.

Compared to your debut release, your second album To Survive has a more contemplative, delicate feel. It also strikes me as less immediate than its predecessor; you have to put more work in as a listener this time round.

It depends on each person, but this record is pretty dense. You have to give it a moment, and I think it probably takes a little bit more time.

There’s also more of leaning towards piano in the arrangements. 

Yes, definitely. Piano is the last instrument I learned, so it’s the most fun, and the most free for me to write on.

I know that much of the album was composed while your mother was battling with a terminal illness, so one might expect the dominant themes to be loss and mourning. However, a lot of the songs also seem to be celebrations of new love, so there’s an interesting contrast of emotions at work there.

You’re right about that. I love being in love, so there’s always going to be love songs on my records. I was very much in love when I was writing some of those songs. But it seems like a lot of people mistake some of the songs about my mum as love songs, and some of the songs they think are about love are about my mum. That’s kind of nice for me, because ultimately it is the same thing. And then I’ve also got a couple of songs about my government, that has taken a FABULOUS turn for the better recently! Thank the Lord above!

So you’re still surfing that wave of elation? I guess he hasn’t had a chance to disappoint anybody yet…

Well, he certainly has a giant job in front of him, but if anybody can do it, it’s going to be that guy.

I guess that relates to the final song on the album (To America), which you perform as a duet with Rufus. So many of the songs have been so deeply personal up until that point, but then it’s almost as if you’re looking outwards towards the world again.

That song has really complicated implications, but it’s really a hope for the future, and for a return to democracy for my country. Some people think it’s cynical or sarcastic, and it sure is not. I am not a cynic or a sarcastic person! I’m an optimist, even though it’s not hip. I don’t care, I’m not hip!

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