|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS ANA POPOViC
CONSiDER THiSSome of the best blues music in the world has always been about suffering but more importantly, it has also been about survival. Blues singer-guitarist ANA POPOVIC is something unexpected in a genre known for itís gritty, down home sensibility. Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, POPOVIC was raised on the sounds of ALBERT KING and MUDDY WATERS thanks to her father and Ėin fairly short order Ė picked up the guitar as he did. It was the blues that gave POPOVIC her first lessons in the English language. Once the language was mastered, the young guitar slinger was at a loss for what to say. All of that changed when the MILOSEVIC regime of her homeland came under fire from around the world leaving the country and itís citizens marked by the misdeeds of their leader. It was at this time that POPOVIC was a stranger in a strange land Ė Holland Ė but it was here where the young Serbian sharpened her musicality and found her voice. The results of her extensive soul search resulted in her 2007 album STILL MAKING HISTORY Ė a catalog of songs that told the story of her country and itís people. Now she is back with her latest offering ĎBLIND FOR LOVEí (ECLECTO GROOVE RECORDS) Ė a most optimist blues collection that speaks of the good things that people tend to ignore in life. ďI had decided to go for something a little more universal for this latest album.Ē Says POPOVIC ďI started to ask myself ĎIf I am going to make one more record, what will I want to leave as a message to all of my fans?í I wanted to make a one-statement album about my life and what is really important in my life and the result was BLIND FOR LOVE. The album is all about love and all kinds positive and negative stories.Ē
ANA POPOViC TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUTHER LATEST CD BLiND FOR LOVE
A LiFE ON THE ROAD
AND TELLiNG A STORY THROUGH MUSiC
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with ANA POPOVIC over the phone. Here is how it went.
Where in the world are you at the moment?
Thatís a good question. Iím up north close to Canada on the West Coast in Washington State. Iím in the middle of the woods and Iím really enjoying my time off.
It sounds like Walla Walla.
Itís close to Maples Falls. We were planning ongoing straight to Vancouver BC but we canít bring ourselves to leave. So itíll be next week when weíll be playing over there. Itís very laid back here. There is no internet and no cell phones here at all. Everything is so far away from the day-to-day world and itís really charming.
How deep are you into this tour at the moment?
This is a little vacation that we have planned around the release date so we could do the interviews. Weíve been heavily touring all summer. We just did a huge Italian tour of music festivals and we just came to the States and after this weíve got a festival in Vancouver and then we are going to do some more American dates before going back to Europe. We are always touring actually. We are doing both sides of the ocean and are trying to do as much of it as possible.
Youíre an old pro at touring these days but in the beginning, how easy or difficult was it to get adjust to the touring lifestyle?
I started touring when I was about nineteen. I started touring Serbia Ė which is where I come from Ė and then I went on to Holland and the rest of Europe from there. I always really wanted to combine all of my touring experiences with touring America and that was when it became tough. No one in the States ever knew about me. What I think is strange is that when an American artist tours Europe, everything seems to fall into place for them. They have a bus and they have the equipment and everything seems to be taken care of quickly. My first tour of the States seven years ago was very tough. There was no equipment and no one knew about us so there as no tour manager. We pretty much had to rent a van and get equipment. Finally, it became evident that we could tour this country thanks to the opportunities provided by endorsements, but it was very, very hard in the beginning. From there, I started touring both sides of the Atlantic and I never stopped. Even though I didnít have to do it, I still wanted to do it. I just hate missing the chance to play at a great festival. Itís a lot of flying back and forth in the summer time but it has become a lot easier with time.
Youíve just released the CD ĎBLIND FOR LOVEí. Whatís different this time around as opposed to your previous release?
I think that everything is different and this is how Iíve been working for the past six or seven years. All my records are really different from each other and this one in particular is very different. The overall approach was different. Iím extremely happy with the way that everything turned out. My previous record STILL MAKING HISTORY was a very political record. I wanted to say something about the events that were happening in Serbia and how I got to play all over the world being Serbian which was not easy at all. Finally after all of those years of putting all of my feelings down on paper to make an album like STILL MAKING HISTORY, I had decided to go for something a little more universal for this latest album. I started to ask myself ĎIf I am going to make one more record, what will I want to leave as a message to all of my fans?í I wanted to make a one-statement album about my life and what is really important in my life and the result was BLIND FOR LOVE. The album is all about love and all kinds positive and negative stories. When I hear a story I just write about it. I think that the whole idea behind the album is captured on the song THE ONLY REASON and if you read the lyrics of that song, I think youíd be able to see the message that I wanted to make with this album which is Ė you canít be truly happy in your life unless you are surrounded by love. It doesnít matter if you are rich or poor or successful. Love is the only thing that really matters in my opinion. One of the other themes that get brought up on this CD is celebrity life and time and friendship. All of my songs are very different and each of them has a little twist.
You pedigree as a blues artist is much different from many other blue artists that Iíve interviewed. Despite growing up in Serbia it was blues music that your father listened to.
With that being said, talk about how music began for you as an individual.
Iíve started listening to that kind of music ever since I was little. It was always playing in my home. I grew up listening to American music and singing those songs in English before I could even speak the language and understand what it was that they were saying. I started listening to people like ALBERT KING and JOHNNY WINTER and STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN and ELMORE JAMES and that was what got me wanting to play slide. From B.B. KING to MUDDY WATERS, blues was the only thing that we listened to. I love that style of music and Iíve been playing it for a very long time. My music has evolved from that sound with every record Iíve made but I always love going back to that style.
Did your father play also or was he just a listener?
He played guitar as a hobby and he had a lot of jam sessions at home. My first wish was to play a song in a jazz session. That was why I started playing. I was a graphic designer originally and initially, I was only going to play as a hobby but eventually, I really wanted to play a gig and then that one gig became four gigs and after that I just decided to pursue it full time.
At what point did songwriting start to figure in to your love of blues music?
I was really careful from the start because the music that I was singing was not my language. I had to make up my mind about how I was going to go about it Ė whether I would sing in Serbian or sing in English. Ten years ago it was too difficult to even think about writing a song. The first time that I had ever written anything it was for my first release called HUSH. The label had asked me if I had any songs and I said ĎYeahí, so they told me to write them down on paper, record some of them and send it to them. After that conversation I locked myself in my room for a couple of days and six songs came out of it. That was my first time writing. I was really into great songwriters like STING Ė people who could tell a story. I wanted good lyrics Ė like something you would hear in a ROBERT CRAY song. In the blues genre, you have a lot of simplicity and I like that manner of singing but I wouldnít want to write that way because Iíve got a lot to say. I want to tell a story. Over time, Iíve felt better and better about my writing and with each record, I have evolved. Before these last two records, I was trying to write what I thought everybody wanted to hear but with these last two records I focused on what I wanted to say. Youíve only got twelve songs that you put out every two years to give to people. I think you should really mean what you say with those twelve songs and every time, you should come up with something new.
Describe if you can how songwriting happens for you?
I always start with the lyrics and if the lyrics are well written they tend to have a rhythm to them and it make it easier to build the music around them. Iíll hear a melody and the melody starts to happen and the rest of the songs begins to come together. If I hear a good line or if I think of something that sounds like a strong idea I will start from there and come up with the rest of the song and the story that I want to tell.
Thirteen years ago, the MILOSEVIC regime came under fire. Was your family caught up in that?
Yes. I was already living in Holland by the time that had happened. I was really surprised one morning when I heard of all of the horrible things that were happening there. My family was right in Belgrade and it was a very difficult time. I had just moved to Holland and I barely knew anybody. With everything that was going on in Belgrade, it wasnít an option to go back yet it was horrible to stay. It was a very difficult time.
How did you adjust?
It was really, really difficult. Luckily it lasted only one month. It couldíve lasted years. I think it helped that I was into music. This was the first time in my life that I had ever studied music and I made friends pretty quickly. Serbia and definitely MILOSEVIC had a horrible reputation throughout the world and its not fun to wake up in a foreign country and have everyone hating your country and talking badly about Serbia. MILOSEVIC was the one to blame, not the rest of the people. My father was always more Western-oriented and he always supported things like the European Union. I was twenty-two years old and I was taking all of it in. It was really complicated situation. The young people of Serbia would end up suffering for years and would need visas and permits to go anywhere in Europe. The political regime of our country really colored the life of its people negatively for the coming decade. This was what my previous album STILL MAKING HISTORY was all about.
For the current album you worked with MARK DEARNLEY and TONY BRAUNAGEL. What was it like working with them?
It was wonderful. I had worked with TONY BRAUNAGEL before. He played drums on STILL MAKING HISTORY and on the record before that. He is really a great friend and an excellent musician. He is the drummer for one of my favorite bands Ė THE PHANTOM BLUES BAND - who did an amazing recording with TAJ MAJAL. I had him play on a couple of songs on this record but this album I had actually conceived as a ďbandĒ record. I wanted to have my touring band play on it. I had always hoped to have the opportunity to record in the States with American musicians. TONY worked closely with MARK DEARNLEY. MARK is an amazing producer! Heís not from the blues world and that is why a lot of people donít really know him. Heís more of a rock producer and heís worked with AC/DC and PAUL McCARTNEY and I love the way he produces the vocals and the guitars. He is a fabulous producer. For me, it is always great to have something fresh. With blues music, you get eh same producers working on project after project and they end up making the same sound over and over again. Iím happy that I found MARK to come in and bring something new to my music.
Describe working with the ECLECTO GROOVE label.
They are incredibly supportive. They are very open-minded about different styles of music. They have the DELTA GROOVE label, which is roots blues and the ECLECTO GROOVE label, which has music rooted in the blues but incorporates other rhythms and influences. This is my second record to be released by the label and I love working with them. I have all the freedom that I want. It is wonderful to record in a beautiful studio in LA and Iíve got a lot of studio time that even the major record labels arenít willing to give their artists. A major label artist has to cut a record in five days and I canít work under those circumstances. The label is also heavily involved in movie production so Iíve had a song of mine in one of their movies. I actually got to appear in the movie and it was a lot of fun. It was new experience. When it was all over, I was happy to be a musician and not an actress because the waiting time to do something in the movie business is just ridiculous. I may complain about a sound check but to shoot a scene, it takes a full day with full make up and at the end of the day nothing is recorded yet. It was fun to be a part of it for two days but that was enough for me.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard BLIND FOR LOVE?
I would want them to reconsider the most important things in life. I would want them to reconsider if running after money or running after time is the most important thing in life. I Ďd like for them to feel good about what they already have in life and sometimes because of the rush to get things done we forget to notice how much love there is around us. There is love all around us that w cant see because of the rush of everyday things. Time is ticking and this is the moment when we need to be happy Ė not tomorrow and not when youíre rich.