For Joan Wasser – that’s Joan As Police Woman to you and me – her new record, Damned Devotion, emerged as something of a surprise. Not just in terms of the production, which modernises the sound of her last solo record, The Classic, but also in the way the tracks arrived. She’d been playing around with drum programming, you see, not realising that she’d actually written a whole album’s worth of songs in the process. It took a hesitant play of some demos to a friend to make her acknowledge that, whether she liked it or not, she had a new album practically ready.

“I write all the time”, Wasser tells The 405. “I’ve already written songs for whatever my next record will be and started recording them. I like to “catch it”. I feel like I want to catch it when it’s fresh. So since I finished recording The Classic – even before the record was out – I was writing new stuff. With the first sessions for Damned Devotion, I went into the studio like I usually do – with a band – and recorded a bunch of songs.” Those songs – with the exception of one, which was significantly reworked later - did not actually end up on the new album.

“What I have been doing is experimenting, because of the last record I did – Let It Be You [her collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis]. We had spent a lot of time in the studio, working on drums and programming. We really got into the minutiae of stuff, which we both love doing. We would really egg each other on and, so, my ability to program drums increased and I got much more comfortable using the software I’d come to discover. It is something that I’d always wanted to do but… when there’s a computer and a piano, I’m always gonna go for the piano.”

Getting to a level of comfort where she felt she could start using programming as an instrument enabled Wasser to get creative with it in what she describes as “a better way”. It worked well for Let It Be You and informed her inclinations when approaching new writing. “But I didn’t know whether it could also work with my own stuff”, she recalls. “So I started writing songs where the process would begin with the beats and I made some demos here in my home studio. At the time I was working on a film score with [American pianist] Thomas Bartlett [for Brian Crano’s ‘Permission’] and Thomas asked me what I was working on. I hadn’t really played people the new stuff I was working on because I was afraid to. But I played it to him and he was really into it and he asked to hear more. And then I said that I would need to start thinking about writing a new record soon and he just laughed at me and said: you already have a record – here, with this stuff. I guess I was hoping that the demos I’d been making would work but I didn’t realise I already had so much. With many of the demos, I just recorded over them – most of the drums stayed the same and Parker, my drummer, played over the programming and it was built from there. So, yeah, even though I thought of them as demos, they were more like experiments, the blueprints for what became Damned Devotion.”

When you compare the new record to The Classic, it does sound very different but if you take what came between them - Let It Be You - into consideration, the sonic path Wasser has treaded is crystal clear. “I feel like The Classic was the furthest I could take recording the old school way to”, she says. “I knew I had to do something different and I wanted to.”

When Damned Devotion was finished, people in Wasser’s camp were worried about what Joan As Police Woman fans would think of the drums programming sound of the new songs. “Fact is, I think my fans are grown up enough to be able to roll with the punches”, she offers when I ask for her take on this. “The people who listen to my music are real music fans so I feel there’s a certain open-mindedness in people that are really into music. And, also, I can’t just make my first record over and over again. It’s not possible and it would also kill me.”

But when it came to introducing the new album era towards the end of last year, Wasser took advice and decided to go with ‘Warning Bell’ as the introducer, because it was the only song on the album that – to her - sounded a little bit more like her previous material. “In terms of the feel of it, I think it reminded some people of my older stuff, so in an attempt to create a thread between how people perceive my past music and this record, it was suggested to me that I should release that first”, she explains. “They called ‘Warning Bell’ the “lead track” and ‘Tell Me’ was to be the “first single” but, to be honest, I have no idea what any of this means”, she laughs.

“I think ‘Steed’ is a song that really connects with people and would also make a good single”, Wasser continues after a moment’s thought and then asks me which song on the record I thought could have made a good first single. I suggest that ‘Wonderful’ would have been my choice - it distils the sound of the entire album in three and a half minutes and the rhythm section gives a good introduction to the overall beat of Damned Devotion.

Speaking of ‘Steed’ - a definite highlight on Damned Devotion - I ask Wasser about how the song came to be dedicated to Jean Genet. She considers this carefully and then explains: “Three songs on this record were created with Parker – we were jamming in the studio, I was playing bass and he was playing drums and I recorded that session on my iPhone. I would take those jams and bring them back home and cut them up on the computer and make songs from them. The three tracks I did that with were ‘Talk About It Later’, ‘The Silence’ and ‘Steed’. When I write and start singing over stuff I never have all the lyrics there and then – I’m not that kind of songwriter – but there would be some words that are intrinsic and integral to the song for some reason. It’s the same with melodies. And I started singing that opening melody while we were jamming and I don’t know why but it had something to do with the New Wave kind of disco-y feeling of that song, with that weird bass-line, that Jean Genet flew into my head. I’d read Jean Genet at a point where it felt like it fit into my life, a number of years ago, and I think he is sort of a symbol of freedom for me and doing whatever the fuck you want and saying what you want. The guy was extraordinary. So he just popped into my head and I decided that the song had to be about him. I wrote the lyrics about his life.”

If Damned Devotion has an overarching theme, then for Wasser the predominant concept that runs through its twelve songs is communication. “With ‘Tell Me’ and ‘The Silence’ it is clearly about speaking your truth”, she says. “Especially now in my country, I mean – oh my god! In yours too, I guess – different levels, perhaps, but, yeah. So the necessity of communication and saying what you think is a big part of it. And, more generally, I guess the record is about my continued attempt at untangling the idea of being devoted both to someone, in love, and also to music.”

‘The Silence’ takes its lyrical theme one step further with the inclusion of chanting which Wasser recorded at the Women’s March in Washington: “my body, my choice, her body, her choice”, it goes. “It was bigger than any coming together of women before, I think”, Wasser says.

Bringing Damned Devotion to audiences across Europe is something Wasser is very excited about. She’ll be doing a show at New York’s Rough Trade at the end of February and is then scheduled to commence a full tour in Europe towards the end of March. “I have Parker with me, who is the same drummer on the record, and at this point we are not playing with beats. That is a sound that can work live well but I really like playing with human beings rather than machines. I like the pull and push of the live experience – when music gets made, rather than playing to a click-track. So there’s not going to be much programming in the live show. We are a five-piece band and three of us play keys so, at any given time, there are three available key situations which can really enhance things – we got a lot of great sounds happening!”

Damned Devotion is out now on Play It Again Sam (listen to it here). If you’d like to catch Joan As Police Woman live head here for a list of dates.