Stereo Subversion: How have the tour dates with Jesse R. Berlin been lately? What’s made that a good pairing?
Joanie Wolkoff: Some say that Jesse R. Berlin and I found a each other through a Russian Roulette syndicate. I’m not going to confirm or deny that, but I will say that physically dragging him out of venues when he pulls these civil disobedience moves — he lies limp like a dead weight on the floor à la toddler mid-tantrum — has done wonders for my core strength.
SSv: Without Shame is such an arresting name, because it forces the audience to look for what is being said/played. What made that a proper description for this set of songs?
Joanie: A few nights ago we got on stage and started to perform only to discover that Nathan’s rinky-dink keyboard, that he’d opted for instead of a cumbersome 88=key number he dislikes dragging in and out of a car service, wasn’t working properly. To be exact, every note it played was sour and deformed to the ear. Maybe you’ve had nightmares where you show up at work naked or suddenly lose all of your teeth or discover that you didn’t graduate from high school after all? It felt a lot like that. Nothing coming out of that synth made melodic sense. But he kept playing and I kept covering my right ear so what I was hearing wouldn’t throw me off pitch. What would have happened if I’d let myself be overtaken by shame? Lights out.
On the other hand, shame compels me to clean my home and donate money to good causes — both at least once a year. So shame can be your friend, too. A sort of helper-elf who keeps you from making an ass of yourself all the time. All this to ask where we’d be without shame.
SSv: Is this in any way about finding your own voice/confidence as an artist? Given that you sing about “rewriting the rules you know,” I’m curious how that’s representative for you.
Joanie: Sometimes, rules need to be amended for the sake of progress. You surely do need a lot of confidence in this game, but I’m no stranger to dread. Sometimes I have a good wallow in self doubt just to goad myself into accomplishing more. I believe in myself but I also know my limitations and stumbling blocks intimately. An artist’s realness gets in where their confidence has been perforated.
SSv: Musically, how is the challenge to find the right sort of enticing pop structure around a theme that might be heavier? Do you try to balance? Accentuate?
Joanie: Outfitting a pop arrangement with heavy duty lyrics is fun and keeps me on point as a writer. The thing is, without any sort of mission statement, an audience could just as well think the songs on this album were about football and cuddly animals. I don’t rely on listeners to invest themselves in the thematic narrative of any song I write. Those driving emotions and backstory give the song it’s energy, but it’s not up to listeners to “do their homework” and find out what I’m saying. It’s just an option amongst zillions of others in the vast music industrial complex.
SSv: You’ve released music under different monikers in the past — Her Habits, for one. Is Wolkoff something that feels more personal?
Joanie: I guess I can kiss any future jobs goodbye where there’s a prerequisite of zero online presence. But welcome to modernity as most of us know it. I took my last name as a performance moniker to throw down some roots and luxuriate in crossing two “F’s” in a row.
SSv: You’ve chased various creative pursuits in the past. Is that still true currently? Are you still modeling? Are you writing at all outside of music?
Joanie: I had to quit modeling because I was making way too much money. Just kidding. They told me I was too old and too curvy, so instead, I sent my hips to college, told my booty to keep illustrating and got my boobs certified to teach languages. Finally, my ancient brain decided to put my music and arts journalism out there to see what’d happen. I now leave a trail of 18K gold jewelry and gemstones all over NYC’s five boroughs. To date I’ve lost more jewelry in New York than you’d know what to do with.