Ana Popovic brings her Serbian blues to Columbia
A passport and a ’64 Strat: Ana Popovic discusses life, the blues and future albums.
Ana Popovic might be well known for her endless array of licks and her heated blues solos that bear traces of Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker and others, but the star has had a long journey from beautiful Belgrade, Serbia, to the blues-rich U.S.
As a teenager, she was already opening for blues greats and playing with her band, Hush. Now, she is busy touring the U.S., recording her seventh studio album and taking care of her new newborn baby, Lenna. Her last album, Unconditional, topped U.S. Billboard charts and was nominated for "Best Contemporary Blues Album" at the 33rd Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tenn.
Popovic has been nominated for many awards throughout the years, including BluesWax Magazine's "Blues Artist of the Year" in 2006 and the British Blues Awards' "Best Overseas Artist" in 2010. Her success in the U.S. led her to play with blues legends such as Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, B.B. King and her slide-guitar idol, Sonny Landreth. Even though she’s touring and recording fervently, the guitarist/singer/songwriter/new mother had time to discuss with MOVE her music, musicianship and journey from the '80s Belgrade blues scene to major venues around the world.
[MOVE] You’re from a place that's famous for obscure time signatures and very fast tremolo picking. What led you to the blues?
[AP] Blues was always being played in my house. My father was into blues music before it gained real popularity, so I was used to it from a very young age. He had many records — I loved Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Landreth, Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. I really loved the old Mississippi roots players. When I started playing, it was natural to play the blues. I never cared much for Balkan music, nor did I ever sing or songwrite in Serbian, so playing the blues fit. It was the right thing for me.
[MOVE] Beograd is known as a historic European metropolis. Is there a heavy blues scene there?
[AP] There is definitely a big blues scene for those who are familiar with the local musicians and blues locales. It’s somewhat underground. There are many ensembles that play in a classic blues style and play standards — it is not difficult to find good music.
[MOVE] How come you’re doing a tour in the U.S.?
[AP] Like I said, blues was a constant in my house, so I felt obliged to make blues music. I played in Serbia and then went to school in Amsterdam. In 1999, I started a band, and naturally wanted to play in the States. There were many people who said it was a stretch and it was too difficult, but I was determined. If you believe in something, you need to go for it. This is what I tell all young musicians in the Balkans — if you’re sitting, playing in Serbia and waiting for someone to book you in America, it will never happen. One must be charismatic and determined to make it anywhere, especially in music. I was intent on playing on both sides of the Atlantic, and I pursued that goal.
[MOVE] You’ve become very popular in America and throughout the world. Did you ever see yourself playing with blues greats like Sonny Landreth and Buddy Guy?
[AP] Never. I never wanted to set any goals like that. Setting goals in music is tough, because then one may not be ready for disappointment. Blues music is my passion. I just wanted to play, and I still just want to play. I want to do it for as long as I am able to do it. This was all I thought about. Naturally, I had fallbacks. There are always fallbacks, I love graphic design, and I love art, so options were there if music wasn’t. It was though. I think it’s most important to absorb the journey without thinking about success or fame. The point is to enjoy the ride — everything else just comes with it. But playing on stage with Sonny Landreth and Buddy Guy is still a life achievement, and I feel honored to have done so.
[MOVE] Any plans for an upcoming album?
[AP] Of course! Half of the next album was recorded in Memphis recently, just two months ago, and we hope to have the next half done by August. I’m actually working on three parallel projects right now, though. One is an acoustic blues album that I’m quite excited about. The other is a fundamentally funk blues album, while the third is a follow-up to Unconditional. I was very happy with the last album, and this one will have a similar sound. We make time for both touring and recording.
[MOVE] What is your main guitar on this tour?
[AP] My main guitar is a ’64 Strat — it satisfies the majority of my needs on stage, but I also have a ‘57 Strat reissue with a maple neck that I use for slow blues playing. There a few more guitars I own, mainly a Tele and some acoustics, but everything that I have, I use. I don’t like for guitars to sit in closets — they are meant to be played. I’m no collector, but I love my guitars.
[MOVE] You’re headlining The Blue Note's 9th Street Summerfest in a few weeks. How does that feel?
Yes, I’m very excited! We love Columbia. We came last year for the Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ festival and loved the energy and the turnout. The crowd in Columbia appreciates blues music. It’s a great town, and we’re looking forward to returning.