Following the release of her latest album “Like It On Top”, guitarist and singer-songwriter Ana Popovic announces her nationwide May 2019 UK Tour. The tour includes dates in Cardiff (May 3), Glasgow (May 8) and London (May 11). Special guest on the tour will be Ben Poole (*on all dates except Chester), who recently released his studio album Anytime You Need Me. “Like It On Top”, released on September 14, 2018, focuses on empowered, successful, inspiring female role models. Recorded in Nashville and produced by four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, the blues-influenced album features guest appearances from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford and Keb’ Mo’.
BD: Thank you for taking time out to speak to Bluesdoodles ahead of your UK tour.
BD: Let’s start off with the tour seven nights in the UK starting in Globe, Cardiff on the 3rd May with Ben Poole is your special guest on six of the nights. Are you touring with your own band, and are there any specific routines you have when planning a tour?
AP:Going to be great, I am looking forward to it, and touring with my six-piece band, we have horns and Hammond organist bass, drums and me on guitar. It is a fantastic band.
BD: Is It easier travelling with your own band: AP:It is the only way I do it music is very demanding it is not just 12-bar blues that you may be able to find people to sit in so not easier for me. Some of the players have been with me for more than twelve years and it does make it easier for me it is a wonderful experience to see them grow as musicians just as much as we all do then somebody you have known for so long grow, it is a wonderful thing. It is so important to find the right people when touring, finding the right people is as important for on and off stage. For me, it is very important to find people I am comfortable with as you spend a lot of time together. You become family, so it is important to find the right balance of wanting to grow as musicians and be kind off stage inspiring you on stage and giving you more every time and the same from me to them. It is a really specific thing finding people you want to share your life for about 120 days a year with, yes it really is like a family.
BD: When you are on tour do you have a specific routine, or you bring with you to relieve the stress that is part of your life on the road.
AP: Oh! Wow! Let me think about that… I don’t think I do. I really look forward to my tours and I can’t wait to get on stage. For me it is not like a stress moment I know the band are going to kill they are such great musicians. I can’t wait to be on that stage so I don’t have a whole lot of routine. I actually try not to be nervous. I see lots of guitarists just before they start on the side of the stage with their guitars and they are shredding just getting warmed up I don’t do any of that I also have a few of my favourite picks that I use for guitar then again I like to swap them around so if I lose one I don’t get desperate. I don’t get used to anything particular before a show so that I am totally relaxed. I do warm up my voice earlier in the day and if I have to play I do that earlier as well so I don’t do any of that just before the show. Just before the show I have fun with the guys and I walk on stage totally relaxed that is how I do it.
BD: Are you visiting any new towns and venues on this tour?
AP:Oh! My gosh Yes! Maybe most of them I have not done before so this is a different tour for me. We had a long break from touring the UK like we have been back last few years before that there was a long stretch where I haven’t toured the UK. Unfortunately, I don’t think we had the right agent and we are very booked on all sides of the oceans and different continents. I have this rule I don’t want to do more than 120 shows per year, once that is full we don’t take any more. So I guess we were always full with all kind of territories. India, Indonesia, Dubai plus USA and Europe and UK got missed out. So it is first come first served and unfortunately we didn’t have the right agent. So I am really happy that we are starting to come back to the UK more often. I think it is a fantastic place, people know guitar players, they know great music and you have to work hard to gain their acceptance which is very encouraging. You know in America, I love America but can get you spoilt as the absolutely love everything you do. Places like the UK it is a tough crowd it’s fun for a change I think… (laughing)… we are so ready for this tour.
BD: For people who have heard your albums but not heard you play live before why should people come out and see and hear your music what sets your show apart?
AP:It is a really powerful show, very funky, soulful and a blues show, the band is fantastic I think there is a lot of great horn arrangements, great slide guitar there is much more guitar than on the record for sure. I try to record my records, not as a guitar freak more guitar in the service of the song and try not to overplay. On my concerts, the guitar is definitely a feature the setlist is really nice. We have got some funk, soul and awesome songs. We have so many to choose from as on the Trilogy my triple CD that was featured funk Vol 1, Rock and Blues Vol 2 and Jazz Vol 3 that gave us twenty-three songs to choose from and that is just on CD. We do have a lot of songs and often have my fans come in and say why don’t you play this song, but if you want to hear it you have to tell me ahead of time as I have too many songs. It does may it easy and interesting for us to make a set list because we can always pull out something we haven’t played in a while and enjoy I like to keep it fresh for the band. I think it is a fantastic show everybody is going to be very excited and satisfied after our performance.
BD: When planning the set list for the tour do you change it each night or do you have a tour list?AP: We have a few things that are set mostly the same, then I definitely like to feel the crowd. I don’t write a setlist down. The band knows what I want I just have to give them a look they already know which direction we are going to go. So it is one of my things I don’t need to stress out before, I don’t write setlists, I don’t need to say however they know how I am going to approach the show. The band knows I am going to begin and end the show in a certain way. There are a few beginnings to the show lot of segues a few sections of 4-5 songs that can happen we can go in one direction or another direction beginning and the same for the end of the show there are 4-5 songs. I give them signs when we are on stage and I know they really love it when I surprise them, actually they have told me they love it. The more I surprise them the better and sometimes there are really complicated segues and they have to nail it and I expect it, they really are amazing musicians. It is a lot of fun and when the tour starts and we are into the 5th or 6th show that is the time when you need to change things around to keep it fresh and I like to do that. I see that they feed off that and really like it. It is fun when you are front of a band that nails stuff and you can just change it around in a second or change just a little bit. Before the show you can talk about it how the show is going to be done, that is a good thing I like to choose great musicians who do their homework at home we don’t really have a lot of rehearsals. We do when the new record comes out, we do use every sound check to address stuff, but absolutely no long rehearsals for days. I expect them to do all of that at home.
BD: With your new album Like It On Top Me released last Autumn which I am sure will be part of the live event will you be playing music from previous releases or covers?
AP: Yes, it is a whole new sound. As with every record, I don’t want to repeat myself but bring out something new for my fans who have known me for a long time. I want them to look forward to the new sound and the new record and go and see what Ana has new for them. This last record I did with Keb Mo a really different sound, to what I have done before but we absolutely find a way to incorporate it into the set, it is a breath of fresh air. The songs are quite different from anything before. The Trilogy was based on the groove and old school soul and funk. This is a little cleaner sound, a little Nashville sound, I think the songs are catchy so we give them both fun to change the sets so the songs don’t sound the same, that is what we what to bring to the people.
BD: During your travels, performing music how often (if ever!) have you experienced sexism, and how do you deal with it?
AP: Yea, you know in the beginning when I started back in the day it was much more difficult to be a female front’man’. I don’t know if it was just because I was female or even because I was coming from Eastern Europe and going straight to America trying to record records there and tell producers what I want and tell the band members what I want. I experienced it but it is becoming way easier. There are still lots of things up in the air and people just won’t accept any more certain things that were just kind of hush-hush back in the day. Now it is all out in the open thanks to #metoo campaign and I support all the changes in the film industry and the music industry is all for the better. More of a variety more acceptance of female leaders in politics, you find it everywhere. It is wonderful to be part of that change building on something our Mothers started in the sixties and seventies it took a long time and still not there. We were watching a documentary yesterday about a successful Japanese artist/painter talking about how difficult she had it back in the sixties being a woman and an artist among the males. My daughter was six-years-old she was watching with us she was like “what what wha…” and I said don’t worry by the time you are grown up and if you want to be an artist it is going to be way easier. It is hopefully going to be all out of the way that is what we all hope. I had it difficult when I started, but I also was very determined to have my own sound. So when I came to the States I didn’t want to copy anybody I don’t need to sound like anybody because I come from Eastern Europe this is what I do and it is going to sound different from American or European blues artists but I am going to insist on my sound some people did have a problem with that. I will very rarely make compromises but I did make compromises if I needed to learn, I gladly learn from people that are better than me. I still learn from them I love to learn from and work with people who are inspiring. But somewhere you still need to make a decision as a band leader when making a record, working with the band or putting on a show. I give myself full right to do it my way for better or for worse. I surround myself with people that accept this that it is going to be my decision. It has become way easier. At the same time I love to encourage my band to play, they are great musicians and I feed off their talent, I love my band to have a spark it is not just ‘the band’. All members have a presence, trumpet player, saxophonist, Hammond organist, drummer. I am very big on drums, very tough on drummers I want it a certain way as a team we are all very proud once we as a team reach a certain level that we want to reach. I don’t like being called the boss because I am not it is a democracy but I just want the option of having the last vote. So each player has own personality of the band, it is not just me leading the band and they are in the shadows I want each of the players to have their certain personality and working to the crowd so the crowd can recognise them as being part of Ana’s band.
BD: Sexism in society needs to be challenged whenever it arises or it will creep back in, Men do need to be reminded. AP:Absolutely, and it is going to be a long process and way after our times sadly, but the change is good. The record I just did, Like It on Top, talks about more women in politics, in business, more leaders, and more ladies out of the corner offices that is what this record is about. I would like to say this is not a female record, we got the females already we need men that are not afraid to give women that chance. They are strong men, independent men that don’t need to keep a woman down. We need those to understand this is a record for them and thank you for giving our sisters and daughters our mothers their chance. You are one of those, you are on the right side because that is where the world is going.
BD: Ana do you see yourself as a guitarist who sings or do you see both roles as equal and how would you describe your style of the Blues?
AP:Guess maybe both important both are as important. My style of blues Ana Popovic!
BD: Final question, a new one for 2019. You are told that you can only save three albums from your collection what would they be?
BD: Final question, a new one for 2019. You are told that you can only save three albums from your collection what would they be?
AP:Jimi Hendrix – Bold As Love
BB King – Live At The Regal
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather
|The Globe, Cardiff||Friday 3 May|
|The Live Rooms, Chester||Saturday 4 May|
|The Deaf Institute, Manchester||Sunday 5 May|
|The Cluny, Newcastle||Tuesday 7 May|
|Oran Mor, Glasgow||Wednesday 8 May|
|Brudenell Social Club, Leeds||Thursday 9 May|
|Rescue Rooms, Nottingham||Friday 10 May|
|Borderline, London||Saturday 11 May|