" BluesWax Sittin' In With Ana Popovic October, 2011
By Bob Putignano
"In this week’s Ezine, Bob Putignano speaks with Ana Popovic about her latest release, “Unconditional”; what she is working on; and B.B. King and Ronnie Earl, in Part One of this interview." Chip Eagle for Blueswax.com
The Belgrade-raised Ana Popovic was introduced to the blues at an early age, soaking up her father’s blues-based record collection. Born on May 13, 1976, Popovic started playing guitar in her teens and formed her first band, Hush, in 1995. Within a year, she was playing blues festivals around Europe and working as an opening act for American blues masters. Fast forward to the fall of 2011, when Popovic just released her latest CD, Unconditional, which was when I had the opportunity to catch up with her.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing Ana?
Ana Popovic: I’m good thank you.
BW: You are now at your home in Europe?
AP: Yes, yes as a matter of fact we just got back, every year I like come back and visit my friends and family. Vacation starts for me right now, we’ve been working so hard touring since March; so this is our relaxing time.
BW: Good for you, you have been a busy lady.
AP: Yes, we’ve been touring non-stop; now that we are back in Europe we just do weekend shows, we don’t consider this work. Coming up in December we’ll be doing some demos for a new record and hope to record the next album in January. Then on from there, next March till November we’ll be busy on the road all over again.
BW: Good for you, you’ve come a long way. I remember your first album on Ruf, and there were some jazzy tracks on it, right?
AP: That’s right, but we try different things on all of our recordings, and even when we have a success we don’t try to copy that previous album, that doesn’t excite me as I definitely need to have a variety. You mentioned my jazzy side, in fact we just did an unplugged CD, which has some jazzy tunes, I never give up on that. The new album, Unconditional, was back to roots and blues though.
BW: And this is turning into a nice relationship between you and Eclecto Groove.
AP: Oh yeah, wonderful, we love those guys, and they’ve been wonderful to us. They give me freedom to do whatever I like.
BW: There’s a lot to be said for that.
AP: Yes, we both agreed for this latest album that we would do a blues record and I enjoyed every single moment of it. In fact we took time to record Unconditional as most of the others were rush, rush, rush. Being on the road so much and finding time to record is hectic; I actually cancelled some shows and went to New Orleans and had a great time. I wanted to take time writing songs in a manner that blues artists recorded like back fifty years ago and not pick twelve standards and make a blues record. I was amazed how time consuming and challenging this was, especially as we wanted to keep it contemporary. You know, songs like “The Thrill is Gone” still sound very contemporary to me.
BW: I agree, B.B.’s “Thrill is Gone” and the entire album Completely Well was a masterpiece.
BW: The sound on that record, and the musicians they choose was perfect. That entire album is excellent, and a lot of the other tunes get lost, because ”The Thrill is Gone” was and still is so popular. Some of those other tunes offer some prime-time B.B. playing on it.
AP: No doubt. I wanted to be true to my audience and keep the album upbeat and not down, which is what some people consider the blues is. It took a year to prepare for Unconditional, but we are very happy with the results.
BW: Nice that you had John Porter on board, too.
AP: Yes, for the second time now.
BW: A buddy of mine that used to live in New England had told me that Ronnie Earl stopped by at one of your concerts?
AP: That’s correct, that was one of the best nights of my life. Ronnie Earl is so high on my list of people that I admire so much. Actually Ronnie was the reason I got into jazz, but I never wanted to be too jazzy for a blues musician, or too bluesy as a jazz musician.
BW: Ronnie is high on my list too. Do you still keep in touch with him?
AP: We’ve been in touch, yes. He’s the sweetest guy, I love his records, too.
BW: You are preaching to the choir, in fact Mr. Earl is making a rare appearance this winter at B.B. King’s in New York City.
AP: Good to hear, that’s fabulous.
BW: I am sure you’ve been at the Turning Point in Piermont, New York?
BW: Well, about ten or twelve years ago, maybe more, Ronnie used to play there regularly, it was a must-see concert on my list every time he played there, as observing the power of Ronnie so up close and personal in that tiny venue was incredibly potent, almost like a religious experience for me.
AP: Oh, I can only imagine. Wow!
To by continued…
In last week’s Ezine, Bob Putignano sat down with Ana Popovic and talked about career and her recordings. This week we continue that conversation.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: What’s the blues scene like in Europe?
Ana Popovic: It varies from country to country. There are a lot of blues bands in France, most don’t understand a word of English, yet they sing in English, that’s pretty funny for me, but the French are very musical, they are very much into melodies, they also have great blues and jazz festivals there; they have great audiences even though they don’t understand anything you are singing or writing about. Sometime I tell jokes to the French onstage and they just don’t get it. In Germany they have great fans, and you can always expect them to be right on time, they buy a lot of CDs, they know blues their history, and keep up and follow current blues trends, which is great. Italy is fabulous, too, the outside summer festivals there are some of our favorite places to play, and of course all of the great food and wine is there, too. They are also big on gospel music in Italy, so every country is a bit different here in Europe when it comes to blues music. I have to say that I cannot go to one country here and tour all year long, yet you can make some good money playing in one country here, but for me the point is to spread around and get the word out to as many places as possible, that’s the theory of success for me. Some bands do this and copy great artists like Jimmie Vaughan and others, they do well, but it’s not for me. What I miss in European bands is that they seem afraid to make their own music, so they end up doing covers. I like to make my own songs, even if they are not blues, this all means so much to me.
BW: And furthermore, what makes for a great musician is their signature sound?
AP: Absolutely, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan had that for sure.
BW: For me B.B. was born with his unique guitar sound.
AP: You cannot top B.B., but I’d suggest that all artists try to create their own music and sound and add their own personal touch.
BW: Refresh my memory, but you also worked with Michael Hill nearby to us here in New York City?
AP: (Enthusiastically) Yes! That was my first American tour with Michael.
BW: Time flies, but I think I saw you both in Florida at a festival.
AP: Yes, I remember, as a matter of fact I just saw Michael in Germany, and we had a great time, it was good to see him. He also told me he’s ready to go back on the road. We have been missing him for too long.
BW: I guess his son has grown up now, as Michael is a wonderful dad.
AP: He’s the sweetest guy we’ve had some great jams together, too. Speaking of great jams, at the Russian River Blues Festival in California this year with Buddy Guy, so in front of ten thousand fans he called out for me to play with him, and what was also cool was that B.B. King was also sitting on stage when this happened.
BW: Did you get goosebumps?
AP: I did. I was shaking and I don’t know how I played. But it was a lot of fun, we played “Country Shack,” because I told Buddy that it was the pick of the week by USA Today; I also did this tune previously as a tribute to Buddy. I had to do it. It was like a big bang when he invited me to play with him in front of all those people. It was a great way for us to close our American tour, it was just fabulous.
BW: It must have been a wonderful way to conclude your tour. You seem to know what you want and where you want to go with your career.
AP: I’ve been trying to do this since the beginning. It wasn’t always easy, but I like it that way. I am very much aware that I need to enjoy everyday life also. Not only as a musician, and make sure you have time for your family and friends. I make sure that I don’t take everything our booking agency puts in front of us for this very reason. I could stay in Europe and be financially content, but I understand that I need to go for the festivals that have good publicity around them. Nobody is waiting to rent your band; you have to know what really is important for your career. I choose my record companies well and our songs well because I want to do exactly what I want to do, otherwise I ‘m the only one to blame.
BW: You are unique amongst musicians in that you have a good marketing sense about you, plus you travel with your child- right?
AP: Yes, I’m married…
BW: Oh, you just broke everyone’s heart here.
AP: Oh, my God, I am definitely happily married. I feel the baby is going to be happy when the mom is happy. To do this you don’t have to give up your dreams, you have to be organized to tour and travel like this. We have the biggest blast living life this way on the road. Once my child starts school we’ll have to choose our concerts more carefully, I don’t have to be on the road a hundred and fifty days a year. I definitely want to make this all work out for me and my family, and have a healthy life at home, too. It’s important to be there for my family. For this very reason we don’t play just any gig as we want family balance, too. Now we do have our favorites and enjoy various areas around the world. I don’t do sound-checks anymore, and prefer to search for a children’s museum or a zoo instead. I know places all over the world to go, and we all enjoy these breaks from the road. You name it and we know it, and this lifestyle keeps all us very happy.
BW: You sound like a very good mom.
AP: Well, thank you.
BW: With that solid European tradition.
AP: Maybe, but we are big fans of the United States. Whenever we have time we just run over to the USA. We like Europe but there is a lot of things here that are not so cool. When I compare Europeans to Americans, Americans are much more polite, Europeans lack a lot of those things.
BW: But you know what they say? The grass is always greener on the other side.
AP: That’s probably very true (laughing)
BW: Ana, it’s been a real pleasure chatting with you. I don’t want to take anymore of your time while you are just starting your vacation. I believe this is our first time chatting, so this was nice. I did bump into you at the Montreal Jazz Fest, which was an outstanding show. Keep on keeping on baby, you have lots of things going your way.
AP: We enjoyed Montreal for sure, and thank you so much, it was a great pleasure talking to you too, thank you for also playing my music in the USA.
BW: Keep us posted as to when you are playing in the New York City area; you are always welcome back here at WFDU and at BluesWax, too.
AP: Wonderful, wonderful, I will be in touch.
BW: Thank you, Ana.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com