Ana Popović: Directions In Blues

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Ana Popović: Directions In Blues

Ana Popović is a guitar-playing demon with a hell of a back story. Born in Belgrade in 1976, she was forced to flee with her family to the Netherlands to escape war. Somehow she went from émigré to living in Memphis and sharing the stage with the world’s best bluesmen.

Popović owes her chops, in no small part, to her dad’s massive vinyl collection. More often than not, the young Popović didn’t understand the lyrics, but the music spoke to her soul. “I was listening to blues in my home ever since I remember music,” Popović says.

“I was maybe two or three years old, and on a daily basis he’d [her father] have on Stevie Ray Vaughan or Albert King, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf – all of them. Delta blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues – all of the different shapes of blues. I grew up with that reality. I was deep into the blues from a very early age.”

That said, it wasn’t the blues per se that inspired Popović to pick up an instrument. “The only wish I had was that I would learn an instrument so that I could have fun with my friends in a jam session,” she says with a chuckle. “I never thought I’d end up doing this for a living.”

Popović takes heed from the old adage that success is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration, and she’s not afraid to sweat. “I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “But it means that when people come and see us they say, ‘How is this possible? You were great last year and it’s even better this year.’ The idea is that when my audience buys a ticket to see my band and they’ve already seen 10 shows, they have a reason to come back next time. I choose people to be in my band who really want to improve. There has to be constant improvement, because I don’t want to be the same band as we were last year.”

Popović takes the same exacting approach to recording, including in sessions for her latest release, Trilogy. “I record, then I listen to it later and I don’t like half of it,” she admits. “It’s not a big problem, it just means that I have to do a little bit better next time. Especially with Trilogy, I wasn’t going to compromise. If I didn’t like a take, I decided that I’d do it all over again with someone else. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do this too often with Trilogy, but there were still songs that didn’t make the cut. These are 23 songs that are well chosen as the best of my best.”

Trilogy displays Popović’s versatility across three albums with hints of soul, funk and rockabilly thrown into the blues mix, which she says was deliberate. “The idea was to showcase as many different styles as possible. Volume one is really a funk and soul record. I really wanted a dance record. I didn’t want to be worried about shuffles. Then, volume two was blues, featuring heavier guitar and some rock, and volume three is jazz.

“On every record I do, I’m not a blues purist. I’ve done that ever since my first record came out. I wanted to make sure that nobody would expect me to be a blues purist, but on every record, the few songs that I do that are the blues, I go very deep and go deeper with every record.”

Over the years, Popović has played with just about all the greats, including Solomon Burke, Taj Mahal and B.B. King. She isn’t quite prepared to choose a favourite, but is happy to admit that Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy had one hell of an impact on her.

“I saw his show when I was just a teenager and I was so amazed – he was out in the audience with a long lead playing guitar; the show was just incredible. Afterward, I asked for his signature – he was the only person that I’ve ever asked for a signature. To be able to later share a stage with him in the States was a dream come true.”

Popović is keen to hit Australia next month on tour, all part of a strategy to conquer new territory with her licks. “I’m looking forward to meeting people and seeing how they react to my music. For us, it’s necessary to open a new territory every year. We’ve played Japan, Indonesia and Dubai – Australia is our territory for this year.”

Written By Gem Doow

When & Where: The Barwon Club, Geelong September 22