Guitarist and singer-songwriter Ana Popovic will tour the UK in May 2019.
Ana Popovic‘s latest album Like It On Top was released last summer and focuses on empowered, successful, inspiring female role models. Recorded in Nashville and produced by four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, the blues-influenced album features guest appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford and Keb’ Mo’.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Ana Popovic to talk about her forthcoming UK tour, performing on the Experience Hendrix tour, her latest album Like It On Top as well as her plans for 2019.
First of all, I know that you just finished a recent run in the US. I just wondered how the shows have been going so far?
Yeah, thank you, they have been great. You know, we started in January this year and we started with the West Coast. I live in Los Angeles, so it was nice and easy. Then we went to the East Coast and did about two weeks there. So, you know, they’ve all been great. We are incorporating the new record and it gives us a lot of new songs and a different sound to the whole thing. We’ve been so far playing the most off of Trilogy, the triple CD that gave us 23 tracks, you know, two from jazz to soul and funk and blues. And this is again a kind of a natural sound to it, and different songwriting. Yeah, so people get a lot of different styles and they are loving it.
That’s great. So obviously you just recently released your latest album, which is called Like It On Top. I just wondered if we could start off by you just telling us a little bit about what the starting point for this album was musically. Did you have a particular sound in mind when you were working on this release?
Yeah, so I did that record together with Keb Mo. So we met and we’ve been talking about doing stuff together for many years and finally, we cleared up our agendas and he came to Los Angeles, he spent the week here in our home. And we were writing from early morning to late at night. You know, I had a bunch of stuff started. I had a bunch of songs that I started and we would just tackle one by, or write stuff together or you know, talk about which direction with what cores, with what type of songs we need. And I obviously was ready for a different sound, which he knew it was just like with every record, I really want to bring something different to the table and not really repeat myself, not recycle. So he was up for it.
So basically, the songs that happened here in Los Angeles are really a little compromise between our two very different styles. And I think they were great and I think they turned out great. And I think maybe the songwriting was, that was my favourite part, you know because first I’m a fan of Keb Mo’s music. And the second is like I have my own ideas about how the songs will sound and then when you meet somebody in the middle, that’s really wonderful, you know. And seeing that our two styles that are very different can really work fine together, it was a surprise, a pleasant surprise for me. And I enjoyed the process very much, it was very easy, it was like, you’re finishing each other’s sentences and we never got stuck on any track really. That was like, oh my gosh, which way to go, that never happened. So he would just keep writing. You know, in a week songs were ready. And then we met a little later in his home studio in Nashville where the recording happened. And again, I was, you know, the guests of his family and it was wonderful. It was like, you know, a second home.
And then obviously Like It On Top opened at Number Two on the iTunes most downloaded US blues album chart. The album peaked at Number Two on the Billboard top-selling blues albums chart as well. Have you been overwhelmed by the response to the album so far?
Yes, I have. I mean it’s fantastic. You know, most of my records made it to the top of Billboard charts and that’s always really great to know. I also released my own records since a few records ago, so that’s really wonderful to have that sort of feedback here. And that means that you know that you don’t really necessarily need a label to achieve a certain success. And even with a triple CD that was released also on my label, it also proved that if people know it is going to be a good product, they’re going to go and get it and buy it. And nowadays when CD sales are going down, you know, you don’t necessarily need a label. If you make sure that every record you release is just a good product and people will want to have it.
And I think I always aim for the best musicians on the records for the best possible songs, good songwriting messages, you know, I want something that people want to take with them and that inspires them and that just makes them think about different subjects. And definitely Like It On Top with female empowerment, it’s the right time. I think that with everything that’s been going on in the world and more women that are in politics and more business women that are leading huge corporations and obviously after the Me Too campaign, I mean, it’s the right time to address those things on the record especially because I am one of the women that does what used to be a male job, you know, it’s considered a male job guitar playing.
So with this record as well, you’ve got several guest appearances besides Keb Mo who I know produced the record he also featured on the record. You’ve also got appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd. You’ve got Robben Ford on there. I just wondered, how did those collaborations come to fruition and did you have those particular artists in mind from the very beginning when you wrote those tracks?
Yes. So, you know, with Kenny Wayne, he wrote the song together with Tommy Sims a songwriter that I used to work with a lot in the past. And so it was just a natural thing that even when I was recording, I was like, I need Kenny to play some of those guitar riffs and I’d love to, there’s a lot of guitar riffs on that track, “Sexy Tonight”. And, you know, it was a natural thing for me, you know, to reach out to him and he gladly accepted, which is very nice. So, you know, we divided some of those guitars riffs, and there are plenty and we just go back and forth with them and then play solos, and it’s a real rock tune, and I think it’s the only one quite like that on the record. So, that’s a nice one. I mean, I heard about that song from Robert Randolph, which is interesting because he kept on saying, you know, there’s this song that Tommy wrote and it’s called “Sexy Tonight”. And it’s like, you got to sing that. So, it took time for them to find the song and finally Robert just sent it to me. And, you know, I loved it. I totally felt that that’s my song. So that was that.
With Robben, I mean, I’ve known Robben for a long time and I opened the show for him when I started back in, you know, whatever, 2000 in Amsterdam. And I know he was really kind to walk to the soundman and tells the soundman to put my guitar up, which is very unusual when you have an opener to actually get out of your green room and go to the soundman to put my guitar up. You know, I’ve got huge admiration for him and not to mention that back when I started playing guitar, we were all into Robben Ford’s licks, you know, and being teenagers, we were drooling over his licks and wanting to steal as much as we could. So, you know, we go back way back and then I would meet him on the shows off and on. And you know, he lives in Nashville and both Kevin and me, Keb Mo and me we are huge fans of Robben so when he was in the studio to do those two tracks, we were just so happy dancing around and having a great time that Robben is in the house and he actually wants to put down two tracks. So that’s great, that was great.
So besides the album, you’re also going to be going out on the Experience Hendrix tour again next month. Obviously that tour features, a whole host of amazing guitars. And I understand you’re the only female guitar player that’s ever been asked to perform on the Experience Hendrix tour. I just wanted to know what’s the overall experience like for you going out on that run?
Well, I think there’ve been maybe a few in the past. You know, they are doing this tour, for now, 20 years. And I think there might’ve been Orianthi on it one year and maybe Susan one year, Susan Tedeschi. That’s about it. And but they actually called me back, now this is my fifth time and every time I was on it, I was absolutely the only one. So this is my fifth time. And again, I’m going to represent the ladies. So it’s a big honour, you know, I think there should be more women on tours like that, so I’m hoping to, you know, to inspire other guitar festivals to include more ladies in their line-up. But no, it’s been fantastic because they are just such high-end musicians and the top of the top of the class, you know, we got Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I mean, we had Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, you know, so many amazing guitar players.
And then just to be among them and try to bring something new to the table is already a stretch because it’s a dream gig for anybody who plays the guitar, you know, this is as good as it’s gonna get. It’s put together by Hendrix family, so it’s not just a cover gig. Actually, his family’s behind the whole thing. And then, you know, you come with these incredible musicians, you come backstage, you watch some videos of Jim and obviously we all watched a bunch of videos of Jimi, but it’s different when you are like 20, 30 years in your career and you actually watch Jimi videos and then you realize that there’s nobody quite like him. And that what he was writing back in the day, what he was playing back in the day before, all of us it’s just incredible. It’s not even to touch, you know. So, we are all equally in awe and we are all equally honoured to be asked, you know, to play Jimi’s show like that.
Obviously, you’ve got an extensive UK tour coming up, which is going to be starting at the Globe in Cardiff on the 3rd of May and that will run through till the 11th of May at the Borderline in London. I was just wondering, what can you fans expect from your show this time around?
Well, I’m super excited to be back also for a longer run because we’ve been back last few years, here and there, but didn’t really have a string of shows like that, so it’s really nice to do that this time around. We play all over the world and the UK we didn’t have a whole lot of shows in the past, so I’m very excited to come back. I expect a really warm welcome, hopefully, they will be nice to us. And I hope they’re going to like the stuff. I can’t imagine they don’t, because the band is incredible and the songs are great and the show is really amazing, and we’ve got a lot of guitars, we’ve got slide guitars, funk and old school funk and soul, and rock and blues. And so there’s a little for everyone. We’ve got a great horn section. Yeah, it’s a fantastic band, I enjoy playing with them. They are really, you know, nailing it every time. it’s fun to be a frontwoman to a band with such great musicians, you know, that they can take stuff any direction and it’s easy to front a band like that.
Then for all of the gear heads out there, I just wondered if you could walk us through sort of your set up on stage?
Yes, so I do use different amps on different occasions and in different parts of the world. So I tend to use a Bassman and a Super Reverb, 65, 66 Super Reverb Blackface, here in the States. I use a Bassman and a Mark 4 in Europe. So I tend to switch between those, but it’s basically a Bassman, Super Reverb and a Mark 4 Mesa Boogie that it’s going to be one of those that I’m going to choose and play. And then, I use my main guitar is my ’64 Strat, all original. And I got a ’57 reissue Maple neck that I had with me since I was 18. So basically that’s the one that I play all the slow stuff with. So instrumentals or you know, slow songs like “Slow Dance” or like “Navajo Moon”, that’s all maple neck reissue ’57, and then all the rock and blues stuff and slide is my 64′ Strat. So, yeah, I got a few other guitars, but those are my two main guitars.
I just wondered in terms of your own musical tastes what do you listen to you when you are kicking back at home?
Oh, you know, I listen to different stuff really. I mean, all kinds of different things. PJ Morton was recently on my playlist then D’Angelo was recently on my playlist. I mean, like live or recorded at the North Sea Jazz of D’Angelo, that could be just like homework for any drummer, any bass player, Pino’s playing bass and you know, any guitar player, Sharkey is playing the guitar. So, not to mention D’Angelo and his songs. So, you know, this is just a lot of different stuff. I’m not really stuck on blues. I listen to modern stuff and yeah, I get inspirations from different players, not necessarily guitar players. You know, you can get inspired by a great drummer. You can get inspired by a saxophone solo or you know, in anything, a piano solo – I kind of like to analyse what other bands are doing.
As a guitar prodigy, you said that you fell in love with the American blues as a kid. I just wondered what was your sort of introduction to blues music back then. How did you kind of discover this treasured sound?
Oh yeah. I mean, we used to listen to blues at home, thanks to my father. He had a great record collection. So the first things, I guess it was Albert King and Albert Collins, Freddie King, BB King, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Sonny Landreth, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix obviously – so many, you know, different players. I mean Ronnie Earl, we used to listen to different shades of blues from Texas Blues, Chicago Blues and Jazzy Blues, you know, and just all of these great players, they influenced me and that’s the reason I play nowadays as well.
And at that point in time was their much of a blues scene back at home in Serbia?
No, it was a tiny scene, you know, and I mean, it still is. So there’s been a few bands that were doing that back in the day. We did, however, have a festival once a year where I did get to hear actually Junior Wells. I did get to see Buddy Guy. Yeah, he was there actually, I was 13 and he signed my backstage pass. There was BB King playing one year, Ronnie Earl playing one year. So, you know, we could once a year experience the real players, which was already a lot to ask when you’re growing up in Serbia, you know – and you want to become a blues guitar player. So I was fortunate enough to see some of the top-notch players and I opened up a show for Junior Wells with my band in 98, I think, that was a big deal for us.
Obviously, it’s the start of a new year, I just wondered what have you got in store for the rest of 2019.
Well, we got plenty of shows, that’s for sure. If you see our agenda, it’s crazy busy already. So that’s going to be great. It’s going to take us to a lot of different territories and a lot of, you know, nice countries and we gonna do a live record sometime this year. Obviously, I’m already working on my new songs. You know, I’m busy with writing, so at some point, we got to put some things down. I usually give myself two years from the release to release of the new record, so I still got time. I don’t like to rush that process, but I do right away start, start writing, you know.
That’s amazing. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. I really appreciate it. And hopefully, we’ll get to catch up when you were over here very soon.
Wonderful. Thank you so much for calling. I enjoyed it.
Ana Popovic will be touring the UK throughout May starting at the Globe in Cardiff on the 3rd of May running through till the 11th of May at the Borderline in London. Special guest at all shows will be Ben Poole, except for Chester where Lynne Jackaman will be appearing as a guest. For tickets and further details please visit https://bit.ly/2Ro5eF9.
ANA POPOVIC – MAY 2019 UK TOUR
|The Globe, Cardiff||Friday 3 May|
|The Live Rooms, Chester||Saturday 4 May|
|The Deaf Institute, Manchester||Sunday 5 May|
|The Cluny, Newcastle||Tuesday 7 May|
|Oran Mor, Glasgow||Wednesday 8 May|
|Brudenell Social Club, Leeds||Thursday 9 May|
|Rescue Rooms, Nottingham||Friday 10 May|
|Borderline, London||Saturday 11 May|
Image at the start of the interview feature: Ruben Tomas