Ana Popovic has been a recording artist since 2000. Since then, she has made a name for herself in the blues world, becoming one of its more dynamic guitar players — so dynamic that she was the first woman invited to join the Experience Hendrix tour, a tribute to guitar great Jimi Hendrix.
In May, Popovic, a native of Serbia, released her eighth studio album, “Trilogy,” which comprises three CDs and more than two dozen songs. This weekend she will perform some of those songs at Knuckleheads, as part of the three-day Blues Extravaganza. She spoke to The Star recently about her new record and Experience Hendrix.
Q: You have been part of the Experience Hendrix tours. What has that been like for a woman guitar player?
A: They don’t invite a lot of female guitar players, but it’s my kind of tour. The band is incredible, and sounds better every time. There is a lot of freedom to play and not necessarily the blues. The audience has many kinds of fans: Zakk Wylde and metal fans, fusion people there for Eric Johnson and, of course, Buddy Guy fans. It’s a challenging show. You only have a few songs to showcase what you can do.
But the guys are really supportive and inspiring. They’re all very down-to-earth, and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.
I try to bring something new to the table. I want to get the message out that they can call more female guitar players and not just to this but to other guitar festivals. I try to inspire that change.
Q: Are you faithful to his versions or do you add your own twists?
A: Both. I’m a huge fan of Hendrix, not only for his playing but for his songwriting and stage presence. We all listened to him growing up. … It’s incredible what he was doing a long time ago. So I study videos and look closely at what he was doing, but I try to come up with something different, something that’s my own version And I like to play the B-sides, like “Can You See Me” and “House Burning Down.”
Q: You just released “Trilogy,” a three-CD project. It’s an ambitious idea. How long have you had this idea in your head?
A: For quite some time. But I decided now was the time to do it or it probably wouldn’t be possible down the road.
Q: Explain the concept.
A: The first record is called “Morning,” the second one is called “Mid-Day” and the third volume is “Midnight.” Fans get three different sides of Ana Popovic. “Morning” has a lot of energy. Like when you wake up and don’t want to go to work, the music is full of positive energy, lots of great guitar and groove.
It was recorded in New Orleans and has a lot of New Orleans funk and soul. I wanted to pick and choose musicians for each volume and have them do what they do best instead of one band to do everything. On “Morning,” I had Joe Bonamassa, and Ivan Neville. I was overwhelmed with all the talent around me.
That one went so smoothly and easy I was ready to record more. I wanted to do a jazz album. I studied jazz a long time ago in college and had been writing jazz songs. I wanted this album to be recorded with top-line jazz crew and I came up with some incredible players. It was fresh for me with lots of new territory. Blues and jazz people don’t often mix so it was unusual for them. I wanted to approach jazz from the blues side and make something blues people could listen to. “Mid-Day” is like when you’re on lunch break and you can’t find your way back to work. There are some heavy rocking tunes.
“Midnight” was recorded in Nashville and Memphis. The idea was you get home from work, pour a glass of wine and listen to Volume 3. So they are all different. But by now I know my fans and I think they will be pleased by this project.
Q: You’ve been a recording artist for more than 16 years. Talk about how the industry has changed over that time, for better or worse.
A: There are good and bad things. It’s really crucial that you be ready to adapt to change. Nobody really knows for sure what will happen next. I’ve been fortunate to release my own records over the past several years. There have been some bad stories about artists and labels, but I’ve experienced a whole other story.
I started playing guitar back in Serbia during the worst economic crisis. Then I went to Holland and studied and formed my band and went on the road at a time when no one could come from Europe and play in America.
I make music I am satisfied with and I want to keep pushing the limits. I surround myself with musicians who inspire me to be better. I’m used to adapting. Starting my career in Serbia and coming here is unusual, but I showed it was possible.