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Ana Popovic

Many artists tour America and Europe, but Ana Popovic is taking her extraordinary world renown talent to not just play the U.S. and Eu-rope, but hop back and forth across the Atlan-tic Ocean, all within one year.

Her 2020 tour begins in Florida on January 15th at the Max-well C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, continuing January 16th in Tampa at The Attic at Rock Brothers, then Stuart on January 17th at the Lyric Theatre and wrapping up just prior to the Rhythm and Blues Cruise in Ft. Lauderdale at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday January 18th.
With over two decades of experience, Popovic has achieved many successes and accolades in-cluding having been nominated six times for the Blues Music Award, as well as four of her albums (Unconditional, Can You Stand The Heat, Trilogy and Like It On Top) have placed in the top five Billboard Chart for US Best Selling Blues Albums. Now, this well accom-plished blues singer/guitarist has released nine studio albums and has been recently working on more new projects. Catching up with her in the midst of her busy schedule, she revealed details of her tour, her music and the secret to her success.

SFL Music: Tell me about the new tour.

Ana Popovic: We are playing, performing songs off of latest record and some of the pre-vious records because it’s coming close to my 20 years since I formed the band under my name, and I’m pretty much doing this all my life. So, we’re playing songs off of Like It on Top (released in 2018) and Trilogy (released in 2016), Unconditional (released in 2012). So, it’s a nice little mix of different things. We just recorded a fabulous DVD in France and we got a lot of plans coming for 2020 because that’s going to be kind of an important year for us. Our new record, ‘Best Of’ and a new DVD.

Yeah, we’re going to definitely bring that to Florida. That’s our starting point of our an-niversary year.

SFL Music: So, January is when you started 20 years ago?

Popovic: Yes exactly. That’s the year when I formed my band. I did perform before that with a band called Hush, but then I moved to Holland and I started studying and then you know 2020, twenty years since I formed, and I went on under my name.

SFL Music: You studied Jazz in the Neth-erlands. Is that part of your musical influence?

Popovic: Well you know, I like different types of music for sure and I think for the guitar player is important to at some point, do some studying and be able to develop something that’s unique and different, I guess. I think defi-nitely studying jazz and world music and pop. I did a few different studies in about three years’ time. It helped me to get that diversity in my playing obviously, and my playing was very much based in blues at that time. and growing up in Serbia, I was into a lot of blues. So, when I moved to Holland and got in touch with dif-ferent guitar players and different students and different obviously, teachers, guitar, it definite-ly got in my view on point, and on sound, and on phrasing. It all definitely helps in making my own sound and style.

SFL Music: What influenced you to be a guitar player, to sing?

Popovic: I started very early listening to the American blues and funk, soul. When I was a kid, dad had all of his records and we listened to everything from B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, (Jimi) Hendrix, Elmer James, Bukka White, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells. Just different shades of blues you know, from Tex-as blues, to jazzy blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues. Yeah, so those are my early influences. Stevie Ray Vaughan, obviously, and then lat-er on you know everything, John Scofield. I mean, I just listened to different musicians. Not necessarily just guitar players, but it’s about the phrasing. My music is very much based on blues, but throughout my career of about ten records, I’ve touched all different styles of mu-sic. Reggae, funk, soul, jazz, pop, rock. Yeah, all kinds of different genres of music.

SFL Music: B.B. King was an influence and you played with him onstage didn’t you?

Popovic: Well, I played a few festivals and we shared a stage which was wonderful back in the day, but you know, B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ronnie Earl. So many different artists. Jimmy Reed and Buddy Guy, Junior Wells. I have a wide range of artists who influ-enced me back in the day.

SFL Music: At one point you moved to Memphis to work with some Southern Mu-sicians? What inspired you to do that?

Popovic: Well I made different records in the past, and I would move to a different place and spend some time you know, learning the music and getting the feel of a place and a city and musicians. So, Memphis was one of those. I spent some time in New Orleans. I spent some time in Memphis, actually pretty long, about three years. Now I’m in Los Angeles, but yeah, so, just one of those places where you can re-ally spend time playing with local musicians and Memphis, I was there from 2012 to 15, and I really get to know that southern style. Obviously, the first time I was nominated for the American Award that was already back in 2001, I first landed in Memphis. So, Memphis, that was a place that I really liked from way back, and then 2012 we decided to stay and re-cord a few records, and while I was living in Memphis, I actually was kind of recording all over the place. Memphis, New Orleans, Nash-ville. Those are the cities that are fairly close. Especially on the record called Trilogy. I really explored this three different cities and I would go record a track in Memphis, and I would re-cord the vocals in Nashville, and I would re-cord horns in New Orleans, and mix it all up like that. Trilogy was a record that was fun. It had three different CD’s so Volume 1 was funk (MORNING), and Volume 2 (MID-DAY) was rock and blues, and Volume 3 (MIDNIGHT) was jazz. So, I gave myself total freedom to pick musicians and pick different sounds out of these three cities. Southern cities. Yeah, it features I think 23 songs. All different styles of music and about 30 plus musicians on it.

SFL Music: Tell me about your band (She previously had done a part-time project with a 9-piece band).

Popovic: We have a six-piece band that I’m touring with horns, piano player, bass, drums. We travel 160 shows on both sides of the ocean. This year was very, very busy and we had some fantastic shows. I was a part of the Experience Hendrix tour as well that definitely added up to the number of concerts this year, and I usually do 120 shows, however this year is super busy, but really filled with some really great concerts on both sides of the ocean.

SFL Music: How did you get involved with the Experience Hendrix?

Popovic: I got involved with them five, six years ago and was always my dream gig. It was always my to do list. They’ve been getting together for maybe fifteen years. They don’t have a lot of women on their roster so for me it was important to be on that tour, and then not just one time. I’ve been successfully part of that for about five or six years and it’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been amazing to see all of these incredible musicians playing music of Jimi Hendrix and keep his legacy alive, and I’m representing women for the fifth or sixth year in a row. This year I think we had two tours. One in the spring and one in the fall. We all get together. We all play a few songs of Jimi Hendrix the way we experience it and you know, everybody from Zakk Wylde to Buddy Guy to Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Sa-triani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang. Just a really incredible variety of fantastic mu-sicians on one stage. It’s really a guitar event of the year.

SFL Music: It sounds like it. What influ-enced you to play guitar:

Popovic: Well I guess it was in my home when I was a kid and my dad played guitar and he still plays. So, I grew up around guitar maga-zines and guitar amps and guitars. It was my big wish to play at some point. I started pretty late, when I was about thirteen, but I grew up around it, and I was always encouraged by him to sing, and we would gather, my sister and I, around guitar. He would play and we would sing everything from Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy songs and Jimmy Reed. Just some delta stuff, and Elmer James and Robert Johnson, and really being just kids you know, five, six years old, we would already be singing those songs and obviously, we didn’t speak any Eng-lish at that time.

SFL Music: That’s very cool. Is your father still involved in music?

Popovic: Well, he still plays just for hobby. He was always playing for hobby and nowadays, we do that with my son. We kind of sit around and jam at home. My grandfather was a gui-tar player too, so I’m a third-generation guitar player in the house. My grandfather used to play sort of you know, gypsy jazz kind of style back in the day around I guess, second world war. So, it goes way back, guitar in our family.

SFL Music: That’s nice. You’re also a big advocate for women’s empowerment which is the premise of your last album Like it on Top.

Popovic: Yeah.

SFL Music: How did that come about? What inspired you to make that the theme for the album?

Popovic: Well, obviously every record that I make has some type of theme, and I try to re-ally write about things that interest me at that particular time and that take my attention and stuff where important in the world and obvi-ously what it means to campaign and all the rest of the things that were going on as far as female empowerment in the world. Differ-ent continents. It was just the right time to I guess, write a record like that and it just kind of happened naturally. It’s not something that I’m planning, but lots of songs were going in that direction, and then one day you just real-ize this is the new theme for your record, but with all my previous records, I also felt strong about the message for the time and I just made them a theme for the record. You know, I had political records and I had records about time. Songs about time and friendship and love and important things in life like the record that hap-pened around when my son was born.
When my first child was born you know, this sort of things that put your life in perspective and then you think what is really important, what you really want to speak out. You have only ten songs on the record to say that to your fans and basically when I write, I kind of think of what is the next thing that my fans that been with me for ten, fifteen years want to hear from me musically, but also lyrically because if you put out ten records in your career and every record has ten songs, you really have to think about every theme you put out. Every lyric you put out. It needs to be strong. It needs to mean something. So, at this particular time, I was just writing and all the songs were going into that direction.

Obviously, the female empowerment. Obvi-ously, I’m doing a job that used to be consid-ered a male job back in the day and you know, there was not a whole lot of female guitar players out there and also not a whole lot of just strong band leaders and nowadays, it’s become really common and women get much more support from their male colleagues, from their band members, from their producers and stuff. I think it was not as easy back in the day especially the time before me as you can see because there’s not a whole lot of women that were doing that twenty to thirty years ago. So, I think it’s much easier, and it’s a wonderful thing, and there’s a lot of girls that become guitarist nowadays. You know, I have concerts where a music school comes over to see me and out of fifteen guitar players, twelve are girls.

So, that’s a fantastic thing to see that’s it’s gon-na go in that direction, but it’s not only about music. I mean that record really talks about different subjects about female empowerment and about a stage where women find them-selves in families and surrounding in careers and how that all is going about and obviously, I lead a band where there’s certain employees. There’s people that play in the band. There’s people that are producers. There’s people that are agents, they book the shows. They’re man-agers. So, I create a lot of jobs as a woman and I’m proud of that, and then I’m looking at all the other women that are doing this on a much larger scale then I do. Some of them are CEO’s of huge corporations and they have to juggle family and business. Yeah, so it really opens up a lot of themes and a message to think about and write about. So that all is of this record Like it on Top.

SFL Music: What would you say is the se-cret to your success over the years?

Popovic: Well, I think it is definitely my fam-ily and my support from my husband and my children and I think the thing that I was suc-cessfully doing is combining my work with my healthy family lifestyle. I think is my big-gest strength and you know, that’s probably my big success. In the past it was very diffi-cult for women to do both and one was always suffering, but I think we found a right way to combine and still be here for the family and be here for the kids and live a normal life, and then also combine that with something that re-ally inspires me and fulfills me as a musician. You know, get to choose my own career and my own path.
Get to choose the musicians that I really enjoy playing with and they inspire me onstage, and get to play music the way I want it and write about what I want to write, but it’s a big suc-cess to do both I think and to do it for such a long time, and not to mention that only 25 years ago I was still in Serbia which was in the middle of nowhere, writing about blues, and when I was there, I was thinking how on earth am I gonna get to a place where I can really do what I really love, and at some moments it did look totally desperate obviously, when you’re not born in the right spot; but yeah, I think it’s very unusual and it still is unusual because you can count on your one hand, fingers you know, people that are from Europe that really have successful careers here. It’s a very big step to come over and build a career like that.

SFL Music: That is something that most Americans probably don’t realize. What would you recommend to up and coming musicians in your home country or even in the US?

Popovic: Well I mean, they are two different things. I think for musicians that are coming from like my home country or eastern Europe or Europe in general, and you want to do this sort of music. I think you really need to insist on something that’s unique and that’s different and that it’s you no matter what is the category, but I think if you try to copy American mu-sicians you have no chance because simply they’re born here and this is what they do and obviously you have to make yourself available to American audience if you want to do blues. No use of sitting in some Germany or some Belgium and releasing records over there that nobody’s going to hear. So, I think you need to make yourself available here for touring, for the booking agencies. That’s one thing, and about just any new musicians that are coming from the states, what I would suggest is just like use all the modern medias that are here. A lot of people in blues and the old school music tend to look down to all the new possibilities that you have with modern social medias and stuff, which I think is totally wrong, but I think you can combine those things although it’s old fashion music genre, you need to let it evolve and let it be modern and use all the modern tools that pop artists have and then combine. The record companies are, some are dying out the way we know them. They’re dying out and we need to be creative with new possibilities, and there’s a lot of positive things in owning your own music. Owning your rights. You know and leading your career the way you want to lead using social medias. Yeah, just word of mouth, I guess. It’s just a different way of doing stuff, but it’s not necessarily a bad way.

SFL Music: Is there anything new that you have coming out? You mentioned a “Best Of” album for 2020?

Popovic: Yeah, I’m already busy with that and all the demos’ and preproduction. We just recorded a DVD that’s going to be out and there’s gonna to be a ’Best Of’ that’s going to come out. So, we’re planning these three new releases. I’m excited that I’m build-ing a signature guitar with Fender. My own model with John Cruz who’s a master builder at Fender, so that’s also going to be kind of a support for my twentieth anniversary. It’s just a lot of really exciting things in the making for the 2020, so I’m excited.

SFL Music: You’re also known for playing Stratocasters. Do you have a favorite?

Popovic: I have my own favorite guitar which is my 64 Strat and that is the old original 64. I got it about twelve years ago. However, this is going to be something that’s a little more in the future and it’s going to be the way I want to build the guitar together with John Cruz who is a master builder at Custom Shops. It’s going to be exciting and modern and different and obviously a take on the Strat ‘cause that’s my main guitar. Stratocaster.

SFL Music: Are you going to be playing some of the new songs on the tour?

Popovic: I might. Yeah, it’s been still a long time, so I usually don’t do a whole lot of that before the record is out, but there is a chance because we already are working on demos and preproduction for the songs are pretty far, and by the time January comes, there’s a big chance we’re going to be performing some of them.

SFL Music: Is there anything else you want SFL readers to know:

Popovic: We are looking forward to coming back to Florida. My start-ing route as far as the stage touring goes, I mean, that’s one of the first shows I was playing was Florida so it always goes back to. It’s great to come back.

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