No artist can truly be a trailblazer without the desire to break a few rules—or at least bend 'em like a guitar string. Ana Popovic's entire career hinges on this principle. As one of the few (possibly the only) female virtuoso guitarists to emerge from her home country of Belgrade, Serbia, Popovic's resolve to bring a unique perspective to her instrument started with learning the rules of the masters before spinning off into her own hybrid style of playing that encompasses ripping solos and nuanced tones etched into every note. Decades of touring, recording and reinventing her style garnered her world wide acclaim and 11 albums including her 2016 magnum opus Trilogy which encompasses three albums with three different styles, producers and band members. Recently, the Weekly spoke to Popovic about her latest music, honing her own style on guitar and her co-headlining slot at the New Blues Festival happening in Long Beach this weekend Sep 2-3 at El Dorado Park.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Talk about how you developed your own style of guitar within the blues genre?
Ana Popovic: I started very early trying to form my own style by listening to different guitar players and trying to get their licks. I spent some time doing Albert King solos, and then Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and I tried modern, retro, Delta, Chicago, Texas, all the different vibes and styles I studied when I was a teenager and then really trying to get their phrasing, their tone and touch. And then at some point I forgot all that and really tried to hone my own signature sound. I always knew I didn’t wanna copy anybody or be a cover band. I’m coming from Europe and I still wanna come out with something unique and hoping one day I just woke up with my own licks. You work hard and 10 years down the line and you really search for your own sound it will happen. My vibe is a little bit jazzy, a little bit bluesy, you can only do so much with the scales but you can do a lot with phrasing, tone, attack, sometimes I like to start the changes on guitar ahead of the band.
Talk about your album Trilogy came together as a three-part experience of your sound.
Trilogy really showcased different styles of music starting with Volume 1 which was an old school funk and soul record representing the Morning and then we go to Midday which is a rock and blues album and then the third is a jazzy one called Midnight. It showcases incredible musicianship on the record and a complete different style of my music and sound. I used three different producers to showcase three different sides of me as an artist. You could listen to my music from early in the morning to late at night and not hear the same record even though you’re hearing the same artist.
How long did it take to come up with the concept?
I think I started thinking about it and getting songs together about 3 years before it came out. This was something that was just on to my to do list and I wanted Trilogy to be a showcase record and you open it up and it has a story and I picked band members and producers for each album. Sometimes the songs I write can be played in multiple styles. I would record songs in a few different grooves and take the ones I liked best. Finally it became what it is but it was a very long process. I enjoyed it tremendously with all the musicians I worked with like George Porter Jr., the funkmaster on bass down from New Orleans, Ivan Neville from The Neville Brothers, Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Remy Randall on guitar, Bernard Purdie, the most recorded drummer in history...I really found not only three producers but also the best musicians to play what they are masters at.
As a blues player, what ingredients do you look for in a successful live show?
I play the shows for myself, I really enjoy being on stage with a great band. My band is very capable of playing all three styles on Trilogy. It’s never the same show there’s always lots of improvisation and we we really play for ourselves and then for the audience of course. I’m playing all over the world so I can bring my music to all the continents of the world.
How has the presence of females in the blues world as musicians and producers grown or evolved since you got your big break at a time when there weren’t very many?
There’s many more ladies around which is fantastic but we can always use more. I was the only female guitarist on the last four tours of Experience Hendrix and I think they could have more ladies out there at all the guitar festivals. Many of them are still reserved for men and I’d like to see that changed. But it’s quite different from when I started but there’s still not many women coming from Europe, it’s still just in the beginning stage.
As a parent, how do you get your kids excited about music?
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I have two kids a girl who is 5 and my boy who is 9. There not very interested in what do until recently. My boy wrote two songs on his own and had lyrics and was looking at some of my posters on the wall so I showed him the way I record everything and create a song and before we knew it we had two songs he wrote, I wanted to capture a song from a 9 year-old perspective. This was the first time hearing him take action on that. Before that he would always tell me “mom I’m gonna be a soccer player, not a guitar player.” As a parent I don’t think we should push kids into music or anything. I was never pushed into music, there was always creative ways that my parents would engage me into playing music. With music either you want it really badly or you have no chance so I think kids should be free to find their passion and I hope one day that involves music.
What are some goals you have for your next album?
I’m already working on a live record and a new record which is gonna be totally different than anything I’ve done before. I can’t talk much about it but it definitely will present a different side of me as an artist and I’m really looking forward to going back into the studio.
Ana Popovic performs at the New Blues Festival at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on Saturday at 5 p.m. For full lineup, tickets and show details, click here.