We caught up with Ana Popovic before Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Fest to talk meeting heroes, her mammoth new record and, of course, the blues

Ana Popovic is coming to Australia people, and she’s bringing her guitar with her. She will be the guest of honour at Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Fest, which is just a few weeks away, alongside a slew of other great acts like Stonefield and Ash Grunwald.

Before she blows crowds away with her weeping guitar, we caught up with the blues prodigy to talk meeting her heroes, her mammoth new record Trilogy and, of course, the blues.

Ana Popovic

Before she tears Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Festival apart, we caught up with Ana Popvic to chat about meeting her heroes, her mammoth new record Trilogy and, of course, the blues.

HAPPY: You’re about to play Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Festival here in Australia, as well as a few sideshows. What’s your favourite aspect of playing festivals? And what can we expect to see in your live show?

ANA: Every festival is different – American (blues) festivals are about blues, bbq, sitting down; Italian festivals are about families with kids running around, not much about which musical style, more of coming together enjoying music and company, Dutch festivals are about music – crowd standing up, squeezed in the huge tents… Every festival is different and I equally enjoy all the different countries and cultures as well as the switch.

I like to feel the crowd and my set list is rarely made ahead of time. I like to adjust it to the crowd and the type of the show. We will bring a rocking show, all kinds of different music – funk, soul, rock, jazz and all of it based on blues. Lot’s of guitars for the guitar lovers, some slide guitar and some great grooves.

HAPPY: Do you have any favourites on tour stories or rituals?

ANA: No rituals. I love to always come relaxed onstage, don’t wanna have a feeling that I might have forgotten something. I rarely practise just before going on stage. I love to come out feeling relaxed – just loving what I do and loving being onstage.

Plenty of stories, the favourites would be meeting BB King, Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke and so many of the greats and spending time backstage and talking about music and different America that they recall.

HAPPY: You released your latest 3 part, 23 track LP Trilogy earlier this year. What inspired the idea for the 3 part record? And what was it like working with Warren Riker, Tom Hambridge, and Delfeayo Marsalis, all of whom have worked with blues legends?

ANA: On all of my previous records I’ve featured different musical styles. Some of my fans would come to me and say – “ I made a compilation of all your blues songs for my self and a compilation of all your jazz songs for my friend who likes your jazzier side”. I thought that was a neat idea.

I felt it was time and I felt I was ready for a huge project like this where I’m gonna present 3 completely different sides of me and different sounds of my music, ability to switch and make my guitar and vocals sound completely different on each CD, and simply make a CD without compromises, giving my fans a gift of hearing my music from morning to late at night – without hearing just one sound.

If you feel like blues and guitars, or you feel like dancing to the funk/soul record, or you feel like hearing some smooth listening jazzy blues, you can get it all, in the same package!

Trilogy was all my idea. Once Trilogy was recorded, I listened to it and although all 3 different CDs sound very different, they still sound like they belong to the same project. That’s when I realised I shouldn’t divide them, but release them as one package and give people all 3 different sounds at once.

Warren Riker is great with band tracks. He’s innovative. He’s great with band sounds, with grooves. Modern approach. Tom Hambridge: Fantastic with vocals and guitars. Real Nashville production and Delfeayo Marsalis: Fantastic with vocals. Incredible horn arrangements. Great band leader. He completely understood my project and delivered exactly what I wanted from the jazz record.

HAPPY: What were you listening to at the time of recording Trilogy?

ANA: While recording Trilogy I was completely into my songs, going over some new songs that were there for many years and finally got the right version on this session. Planning such a huge project – dividing songs to genre’s , players, producers.

For the jazz record I went back and practised jazz guitar that I’d been studying a decade ago, re-learned some changes, listened to my favourite jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and guitar players Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, etc.

HAPPY: You’ve played with some of the most influential names in blues history, majority of whom are men. As a woman myself I find it very inspiring to see you playing next to Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker and Jeff Beck and doing so with the same amount of ferocity, and finesse.

You’re definitely a fine example of a powerful woman. What’s it like for you to have played next to such big names? and what advice would you give to budding female guitarists around the world?

ANA: It’s incredible to not only meet your idols but even share a stage with them – it’s beyond dreams. I met Buddy Guy backstage when I was 15 in Belgrade, Serbia. I grew up listening to him back in my hometown when it was impossible to imagine that a girl from Serbia could play with the American blues legend.

My advice would be to never give up what is really ‘you’ as an artist and to treasure what makes you different and unique in music (or any other art form). You can learn anything, but you can’t learn how to be unique. You either have it or you don’t. So find it – and treasure it. Many women are emerging as great band leaders, great instrumentalists, and they have started to do it like men without compromises.

That’s what I like and what I’ve been trying to do since the beginning. Even if it was for many people unimaginable that a girl from Serbia can play the blues in the US I kept going and kept proving them wrong. I’ve put lots of work into it and have loved every single moment.

HAPPY: What is it about the blues that has you hooked? And where do you draw inspiration from most when writing songs, and playing guitar?

ANA: I love the feeling. I love the groove. It’s the emotion. It’s very deep inside me because I’ve been listening to it since the very early age – since I was 2-3 years old. On a daily basis. To me, it was always a happy feeling – even if I listen to the slow blues – I grew up with it and I would listen to it through all my years of childhood. It’s a part of who I am.

I draw inspiration for the songs from everything: I love different writing. Real stories. I try to find subjects that I heaven’t used before. I just can’t copy what I’ve already done. Trilogy is full of new thematics, never done before on my records.

I love to push limits and try new things when it comes to songwriting. Maybe the songs with the deepest messages are Song For the Next Generation, If Tomorrow Was Today, some cool lyrics are in Train, Show You How Strong You Are and many more. Each song stands strong on it’s own – that’s the real power behind Trilogy.

HAPPY: As a musician who primarily plays the blues, you’ve been nominated for some of the highest awards in the genre, been on multiple magazine covers, played with a tonne of greats, and toured the world. What’s been the highlight of your career so far? And what can we expect to see in the coming year or so?

ANA: So many. I guess being nominated for the American Blues Award (previous W.C. HANDY award) as the first continental European artist ever nominated. I’ve got so many new plans. We got to get down to making another live CD/DVD and I’ve got plans for new music – again – something completely different and in the new direction.

HAPPY: Awesome! Finally, what makes you happy?

ANA: My children, my husband, my (large) family and being onstage with my instrument.

You can catch Popovic at Mitchell Creek Rock n Blues Fest September 16-18 – get your tickets here.