Ana Popovic, virtuoso guitarist, singer and song-writer has just recorded her 11th studio album, Like It On Top. Recorded in Nashville, and produced by four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, it features guest appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford and Keb’ Mo’.
Popovic, born in Belgrade, now living with her family in the United States, was called by Bruce Springsteen “one helluva a guitar-player” and has been nominated for six Blues Music Awards. She was the only continental European artist to be nominated for the WC Handy Award (now Blues Music Awards) for “Best New Artist.” Her albums typically reach the top of the Billboard Blues Charts and along the way she and her six-piece band have shared stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa and many others.
A child prodigy on guitar and a student of jazz guitar, Ana Popovic is widely acclaimed as an outstanding guitar player, evidenced by her being the only female to star on the Jimi Hendrix tribute tours, and NPR hailing her “fiery technique on the Stratocaster.”
Her new album is terrific piece of work, featuring some beautiful and truly exceptional guitar work, and funky, bluesy arrangements. Popovic not only excels in the instrumental department – her vocal performance on the album is very strong. And thematically, the album is important. Down at the Crossroads was pleased to chat to Ana about the record:
DATC: So, Ana, congratulations on the new album. It’s terrific, a really great piece of work, catchy tunes, sophisticated music, the sort of outstanding guitar work we’ve come to expect from an Ana Popovic album – and it’s had a great reception. We’ll come on to the theme of the album in a minute. But maybe you could tell us a bit about the making of the album and working with Keb’ Mo’, who appears on a couple of songs and whose presence you can feel on the album.
Ana Popovic: I’ve been a fan of Kevin’s for many years and obviously know his songs, and we’ve been talking about doing something together for many years. Finally, we met on a cruise and I said, I’m ready, I’ve got songs that I’ve started, so we said, let’s just get together and write some songs. And he came over to my home in Los Angeles and we spent a whole week – we would start at 9 o’clock and finish around 6 or 7pm. We would cook dinner with my family, and he was just like part of the family. And it was really a wonderful process, and maybe my favourite part of the process was that writing. I had some songs that I’d started and he would come up with something, and really, we were both very open minded. And that song,
Lasting Kind of Love was the first song we wrote and I think it was done in a matter of an hour or two. It went so smooth.
And then I went to his home studio in Nashville and we recorded there for two sessions of about ten days each and we recorded with Nashville musicians. It was wonderful to work with him and see how he works, which is very different from how I work, but we would meet somewhere in the middle. It’s a very dear record to me. It’s a really good subject, it’s got good stories. It’s very different from what I did before, which has always been the number one thing I go after – because I’ve been around for 15 years, and my fans need a reason to go out there and get a record. One of the reasons is a high-quality record, which I think I’ve done so far, and the second reason is it’s different from what they’ve heard before.
DATC: How would you describe the musical direction on this record?
Ana Popovic: I try to put out a new sound to Ana Popovic with every record. Obviously Trilogy had a lot of that, also the previous one, Can You Stand the Heat? And this one is following the same path, which is, pick out a little different sound and surprise people, and have them hear another sound, another style of Ana Popovic.
DATC: And you have guest appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford. Tell us about working with those guys.
Ana Popovic: Well, it was wonderful, Of course, I have known both of them for many years, and I see Robben from time to time on the tour. I really love his style – I was sitting for hours, when I was learning to play the guitar, back in the day, with his guitar solos and I absolutely love his style of playing, he is one of a kind. So, it was wonderful to see him and have him play on a few of the songs. Kenny Wayne as well – he lives close by, so it was easy to schedule that. Kenny, of course, is a fantastic guitar player, and a different style to Keb’ Mo’ and myself and Robben Ford. He’s on the rock side, and it really fits the record and the song. He wrote that song, Sexy Tonight, so it was a nice addition to have him play.
DATC: Tell us a bit about what this album is all about and what you are trying to do with it.
Ana Popovic: The theme of the record is female empowerment. More females in the corner offices, more females in politics, in business – that’s the overall theme. I’m one of the women who does sort of a male job, right? Back when I started to play guitar, there were just a few female guitar players out there – Bonnie Raitt…but just a few – and I was wondering how other ladies juggle their work, how they convince their male colleagues that doing a male job is OK for a woman!
And obviously this comes from the whole movement right now, where women should have equal pay and equal benefits, so it would be a fair choice over who’s gonna stay home with the kids and who’s gonna go out and support the family. So that’s what I stand behind. And of course, I’ve got a band to take care of and an agency and management, but some of these ladies are in huge corporate offices with hundreds of employees, and how do they tackle family life and kids. Obviously, you need a strong partner who supports that or otherwise you have no choice. So, it’s more of a shout out to those kinds of situations, and more and more you see and hear about those families where the husband stays home and the woman goes out and makes money, and that’s just the reality, there’s nothing crazy about it. It’s just the new world.
Yeah, this is the overall theme, but there are different stories – about passions, about longing, about doubts, even about domestic violence in one of the songs and how a woman can actually overcome that, how some of them are strong enough to put a stop to that, which I think must be extremely difficult.
DATC: Some of the songs are quite hard-hitting, aren’t they? I’m thinking of the one you’ve just mentioned, Matter of Time, which is a terrific traditional sounding acoustic blues song with resonator/slide guitar. But it deals squarely with domestic violence. Which is a huge on-going problem for women all over the world, whether it’s the US & Europe or the developing world. I was reading recently that the UN says that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence.
Ana Popovic: Yes, it’s a problem everywhere. And when I write a song, I really have to find lyrics for dramatics. And blues is all about something dramatic, it’s got to feel real. And that song is very real, and putting it in that old school blues form felt right. Yeah, that’s one that I’m proud of.
DATC: And there’s a nice balance with this song, because some of the very old blues songs – you know, you go back to Robert Johnson and others, where the songs have terrible misogynistic lyrics – “I’m going to beat my woman until I’m satisfied” and so on – I mean it’s just awful. So, to get a song in that genre and style that is completely the opposite is really good.
Ana Popovic: Thank you! And we have Slow Dance, of course – I always try to get some sort of slow blues in there. I had Johnny Ray on Trilogy which is sort of a B B King style, but this is more soul-blues, something I haven’t done before. Slow Dance is a wonderful song and fun song to play live as well.
DATC: Yeah, I really enjoyed that one. But with it and Funkin’ Attitude where you highlight men who don’t keep their hands where they’re supposed to be and get “nasty, evil, mean” if they don’t get what they want – it struck me that you’re tapping in there to the problems that have been highlighted by the #metoo movement and the move to making life safer for women.
But the record is not about men hating, I adore men. And we need men to be on our side – so that’s why I chose my male colleagues to come and play. They all have strong women at home and they very much respect women, which is a wonderful thing. So, it’s really just about equality on this record. It’s that we both need to have the same chances – equal pay and equal benefits. Just the mindset that any job can be done successfully by a female or a male.
I adore working with men – I have a great band and wonderful fans that really support me, I have an incredible partner at home. I think it was just the right time, with the #metoo campaign and all the rest, with the actresses pushing for the equal pay, which I think is really fantastic. So, it was just the right moment to address that, in a nice way, musically.
DATC: And you’ve got that lovely song, Honey I’m Home which reverses the traditional man-woman roles and has the man welcoming the woman home after her day at work.
Ana Popovic: It’s a nice closure to the album. Kevin wrote that for me, for the record, and I thought it was wonderful. And it says to everybody that it’s OK to have things reversed like that, and it’s more and more happening. It’s progress, it’s the natural thing, and more and more people are OK with that. So yeah, I think it’s a good closure of the record.
DATC: And you’re touring the album at the moment – the US and then Europe?
Ana Popovic: Yes. We are touring here in the US in October and then November in Europe, and part of December. So, we have new songs to play. And we don’t even get to play all of Trilogy, because Trilogy gave us 23 songs in different genres – blues, funk and jazz. So, we got plenty of material, and it’s just fun to work the songs on stage and make them alive.
DATC: Fantastic! Ana, thank you so much.