Ana Popovic is the Real Deal

photo Mark Goodman

Ana Popovic has earned her place among the all-star ensemble and you can see her and others perform at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre on Sunday, March 13th for the Experience Hendrix show.  Ana Popovic is a guitar slinger’s music treat. The first track I listened to on her debut album, Hometown was a song called, “I’m about to leave you.” I was delighted to hear a tasty guitar solo in a very familiar Stevie Ray Vaughn fashion. Further more, I was delighted to discover the diversity of her style and ability from one song to the next and from one album to the next.

I’ve always loved the blues and as a blues guy and an amateur guitar player, I can honestly tell you this girl is the real deal. She can sing, write songs, and can play the guitar with the best of them. She is currently touring with some of the best of them on the 2016 Experience Hendrix tour. Artists include blues legend Buddy Guy, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnny Lang, and many more. Also adding to the fun is Jimi Hendrix’s bandmate Billy Cox on bass and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton.

Ana had this to say before answering a few questions about her music and the current tour.

Ana: I’d like to start by talking about the new CD coming out in May. It’s called TRILOGY and it’s 3 CDs in one: a funk/soul CD, a blues/rock CD and a jazz CD. It’s a celebration of music and musicianship. It took a lot of preparation. In a way all 3 CDs are so different but they at the same time are part of the same thing. it resembles this specific time in my career, my influences as a guitar player and singer, as wide as they are. Influences from blues and rock on Vol 2 to Joe Pass, George Benson on Vol 3, and whole soul and funk undertaking on Vol 1. I felt I was simply ready for a big record - for a big body of work. I felt it was time for that. All these songs have a mysterious connection although I recorded them to sound as different as possible, like if you would collect 3 of your favorite artists in 3 different genres of music. I was surprised to see how well those songs fitted together, being so differently recorded. I felt I shouldn’t take them apart. It’s a project I’m very proud of - to be able to do something like this - at this stage in my career is to me a real personal success.

The recording process was very different than any of my previous records. All the songs are carefully chosen to fit the exact genre. They were written in that matter. To fit the jazz album, or a soul/funk record, or the blues and rock style that my fans really love to hear. Then I carefully chose the musicians and producers to fit those particular songs. A great drummer or a bass player can be really great in one genre, and I'd find musicians to play what they are really great in. I featured them in the genre of music that they’ve mastered. And have them do ONLY that. So there been 3 different sessions planned in different studios with different amazing lineup. and finally having those songs produced by 3 different producers to have them sound like 3 different artists. It’s been such a great experience, - I can’t imagine going back to the previous way of recording 12 tracks with one band and one producer.

Johnny: Going back to the start, tell me about the earliest music or musical experience that sparked your interest?
Ana: It always been there in my home. I remember my father playing delta blues, playing Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Elmore James…when I was 3-4 years old. That’s what we were listening and singing at home. 

J: When did you first pick up a guitar and begin unlocking its secrets?
A: When I was about 12 years old. 

J: Do you still have the first guitar you played on? Can you describe it?
A: Yes, I do. it’s a Fender LEAD 1 model. 

J: Where there other instruments that interested you at the time or that interest you now?
A: No. it was always guitar. Right now though, I love drums too. I would probably be a drummer, if I wasn’t a guitar player. 

J: There’s something about an electric guitar that’s cool and sexy compared to other musical instruments. Why do think so many people fall in love with this instrument? How is it special to you?
A: If I have to give a reason, now at this time, it’s the sound of it. When I was a kid I always loved the shape of the acoustic guitar, it was an object of beauty. 

J: When you first started developing your technique how important were ideas like self discipline and practice routines? Where you strict with yourself? How has this changed over time?
A: I was strict to myself. I rarely practiced 5 hours a day, but I did practice 2-3 hours daily back when I was starting. 

J: Who were a few of the artists that influenced you along the way?
A: Albert King, Albert Collings, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix, Sonny Landreth, Elmore James, Joe Pass, George Benson, Ronnie Earl, Koko Taylor, Nina Simone. 

J: How did their music affect you personally?
A: Some of it had a deep affection on me, specially in the early days. You can really get lost in the song… I can still get lost in a good instrumental or a timeless music. 

J: Is there one artist that had the most profound impact on you?
A: Stevie Ray Vaughn 

J: What ideas or feelings were you able to draw from these people that can be reflected in your own sound?
A: Merging styles, tone, lyrics, message, inspiration. 

J: If you could work with any musician/vocalist of your choosing who would this be and why?
A: Clapton, Springsteen, ZZ Top, Rolling Stones 

J: Do you have a particular favorite style of blues or favorite song or sound or even mood if you will that gives you the most joy to play? When do you have the most fun onstage?
A: I love to play a slow blues and a fired up slide shuffle. I also love to play jazzy songs. 

J: I respect your choices of cover song material. “Did Somebody make a Fool Outta You” is one of my favorites by Buddy Guy. Tom Waits “Downtown” has a nasty sound that is very cool and Hendrix’s LSD spiked “Belly Button Window.” How do these choices come to you and is it hard to narrow them down when recording?
A: I am a fan of ‘B side’ songs, I love to discover a ‘hidden treasure’ on the record versus recycling a hit song like a cover band. Song needs to strike me with lyrics, message, to be inspiring, I need to feel like I’m a part of that songs. it needs to feel like it’s been written for me. And that feeling usually happens right away. I don’t need to hear the song many times, ones I hear it I know I wanna play it and give it my version. 

J: How did you first become involved in the 2016 Experience Hendrix Tour?
A: It was a tour I wanted to be a part of for a long time. I’ve been a fan of Jimi my whole life and a tour put together by Jimi’s family is not JUST a cover gig. It’s the real deal. Knowing they didn’t have many women in the past, I took it as a huge honor and privilege to be a part of, for the 3rd time. I’ve been playing songs of Jimi off and on, throughout my career, and to be able to play those songs for Jimi’s audience and audience of all these incredible performers is really a dream come true for me. Songs like “Belly Button Window”, “House Burning Down”, “Crosstown Traffic”, and “Can You See Me” are songs that I had played for many years in my set. 

J: It must be quite an experience, touring with an all-star line up like this. So many gifted musicians celebrating one of the most unique and creative minds in music history. How did it make you feel to be a part of it?
A: Very honored, thrilled, extremely proud... Maybe my favorite guitar players to share a stage with are Buddy Guy and Billy Cox. I had that fortune and privilege to share stage with not just one, but 2 legends on a closing jam for more than a few evenings - just the 3 of us. It was beyond words. Zakk puts out a great performance, and sharing stage with Dweezil and Mato was fantastic. I feel that this is my audience. My music is based on blues but I was always very comfortable playing for ‘guitar audience’ in general. My music merges styles and is ‘unpredictable’. Especially on Trilogy there’s guitar work that spans from Buddy Guy’s style, Hendrix, to Joe Pass, and George Benson. And that doesn’t even cover the soul and funk part of Trilogy

J: Jimi Hendrix’s sound has a way getting inside of you. It becomes almost a kind of spiritual experience. He showed us the way the blues should be played in some other solar system in the very distant future. What affect did Jimi have on your writing process and overall creativity?
A: I am hugely influenced not just by his guitar playing, but by his songwriting, his stage presence, his energy, and his tone. There are so many things to love about Jimi. His songs are timeless. His guitar playing is timeless. His lyrics are right there with Bob Dylan. There are solos that still can’t be copied and done the way Jimi played them, even now at this time. And even more important his music is inspiring to so many new musicians from so many different genres of music. On Experience Hendrix blues audience is sitting right next to the jazz, fusion and heavy metal audience. I can’t think of any other guitar player that could could unite them all as well as Jimi’s music can. 

J: How would you feel about it knowing that the energy being created by this tour will surely influence people to rediscover his music or even introduce him to new audiences?
A: Then I’ve done my part well, and we all did. That’s why we’re all there. Giving our own interpretation of his timeless art. And his music and his legacy should never be forgotten. It’s easier for our generation to remember Jimi. Nowadays for the young kids and new musicians his music is so far away. These kind of events help them get introduced to what Jimi was about. 

J: Once the tour is complete what will come next for you?
A: Promoting Trilogy 

J: Where do you see Ana Popovic, the artist, in another 10 or even 20 years?
A: Writing an even better song and playing a better solo. 

J: Are there any new musical horizons that you would someday like to explore?
A: Many. I am always into finding a new challenge. None of my records sound the same. Music is evolving - and so should our personal music evolve too. 

J: This last one is just for fun. Name a few of your favorite “go to” albums that you could never grow tired of hearing no matter how many times you listen?
A: Couldn’t Stand The Weather by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Groove Elation by John Schofield, and BB King’s Live At The Regal. 

When some people play the blues they may know the right chords and hit the right notes on time but they are lacking some secret ingredient. They go through the motions and do sound good but they just don’t have it, whatever “it” is. Other musicians do and when you hear it you just know. When I listen to Ana Popovic, I hear it. She’s one of those artists that when you hear them you can tell they’ve really lived the life. With a single note or verse you feel that they’ve been around the block and know the struggle. An elusive element of that sound, which is hard to define, speaks to you on a deeper level. And what it says is, “I have lived and loved and hurt and you are not alone in your sorrows”. That is the message of the blues.