Ana Popovic On Hendrix And The Blues
The blues is considered by most to be an American genre of music. How did it find its way to you in Belgrade?
My father Milton is a huge blues fan and I grew up listening to his record collection. He introduced me to all the blues greats and by the time I was 7 I’ve heard American Texas blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, great guitar players, songwriters.. There’s a small blues scene in Belgrade and as a teenager I would go to the few blues clubs and listen to the artists.
Despite many amazing female singers and players, the blues has always been a bit of a boy’s club. Was it hard for you starting out in a style that’s so dominated by males?
I was always different from the rest by not only being female in the male dominated world but being from overseas, too. I always embraced that, and being different and bringing something new to the table is good. However, I’m a huge student of blues and guitar music and have always stayed close to the American sound. There are more women becoming in charge, and that’s a great thing to see. We owe a lot to Memphis Minnie, Bonnie Raitt, Victoria Spivey, and women that were doing it when it was a whole lot of tougher to be a female band leader.
You’re the only female player in the Experience Hendrix show at Chicago Theatre. Does that put any extra pressure on you to excel or do you just let your guitar do the talking for you?
I wouldn’t call it pressure, I’m just overly excited to put on my A game and show that they could and should invite more ladies for any of the future guitar events. I love challenges and playing after Zakk Wylde and Dweezil Zappa is exciting, it’s challenging, inspiring, it’s an energy rush and it gives me a kick. I simply can’t wait to get on that stage. The best thing you can do is let your self go, be who you are, and embrace the moment.
The tour starts a couple weeks before you join up in Atlanta on March 8th. For a production like this, is it important to the show to build a camaraderie with your fellow players, or does the chemistry just come naturally once you start playing?
I never experienced a tour that felt more natural to me. This will be my 3rd time and every time I join it’s like we never parted. We take it right from where we left it. It’s an incredible crew – both off and on stage – of hard working people who love being there, who love Jimi’s music and are in this thing together. Very humble people, down to earth, amazingly talented, and very supportive of their fellow players.
The lineup for the Experience Hendrix show has a good selection of younger players-yourself, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Doyle Bramhall II, et al. Is it a mission for the younger generation to keep the blues alive for the great blues guitarists who may not even be born yet?
For sure. They all experience blues in different ways, but all of them did a fair share of learning the blues from the greats. We’re all students of blues. That’s why it’s important to not just copy but bring something new to the table. New influences and new sounds to inspire the next generation.
Anybody playing blues, I think, would be intimidated playing with Buddy Guy in his hometown of Chicago. But you’ve played with him before, so what is it like playing with a musician so overwhelmingly loved and respected as one of the last living legends of the blues?
I’ve watched Buddy in my hometown in Belgrade when I was 13 years old. I’ve known of him longer than a lot of Americans did. I’ve met him backstage and asked for his signature. He’s the only artist I ever asked for a signature after the show – I was so amazed by his show. So many years later sharing the stage with him – is to say at least – WILD. He’s on the absolute top of his career and he never played better. It’s so amazing to hear those licks that I’ve been listening on his records and records with him and Junior Wells. I never get intimidated – I just embrace the moment and learn as much as I can from moments like that – from playing with a legend.
Jimi has been gone for over 45 years now, but when you listen to his music it still feels like something from the future. What kinds of lessons do you take from his music that help you when you’re making your own?
His songs are timeless. His guitar playing is timeless. 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, a blues audience is sitting right next to the jazz, fusion and heavy metal audience. Only Jimi could unite them all.
You have a new record coming out in May called Trilogy. You’ve said you want it to be a celebration, and you have a bunch of talented guests helping you out. What was the recording of the record like? Was it a lot of jamming and spontaneous recording or did you have it all planned out?
It’s all very much planned and 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 and though of, 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.