Music
10:58 am
Sun May 19, 2013

Ana Popovic Shreds The Belgrade Blues

Originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 8:24 am

Ana Popovic's fiery technique on her Fender Telecaster has earned her an impressive nickname: "The Serbian Scorcher."

Popovic grew up playing the blues in Belgrade during the turbulent time of the fall of communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Her furious fret work and singing brought her to the attention of blues fans, first in Europe and then the United States. She lives in Memphis today, and has just released her ninth album, Can You Stand the Heat.

Here, she discusses the new record and falling in love with American blues as a kid — well before she could understand the words — with NPR's Scott Simon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ana Popovic is known as The Serbian Scorcher. Her Fender Stratocaster practically spits flames.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Ana Popovic grew up playing the blues in Belgrade during the turbulent time of the fall of Communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Her furious fretwork and singing brought her to the attention of blues fans, first in Europe, then the United States. And today she lives in Memphis. She's just released her ninth album. It's called "Can You Stand the Heat."

And Ana Popovic joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANA POPOVIC: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: So how do you get to the blues in Belgrade?

POPOVIC: I grew up listening to that probably before a lot of American kids did. And I grew up listening to blues in my home in Serbia. My dad has a huge selection of records from Delta stuff to Chicago blues and Texas blues and West Coast blues. So I like all shades of blues.

SIMON: What do you think the reached into your soul about the blues?

POPOVIC: I would think probably had to be, you know, the beat and musical parts. Since I was a kid, I couldn't understand what I was singing about. But I think the whole thing about being so stripped down and naked as a musical form, and the grooves, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES FOR MRS. PAULINE")

SIMON: Let's listen to a little bit of "Blues for Mrs. Pauline."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES FOR MRS. PAULINE")

POPOVIC: (Singing) Next time you go and see my baby it'll be the last thing you'll ever see. (unintelligible) The next time you go and hang around at my baby, I'm telling you, woman, it'll be the last thing that you'll be. If somebody is going to teach my boy a lesson, watch out, that somebody better damn well be me.

SIMON: "Blues for Mrs. Pauline." So is there a Mr. and Mrs. Pauline?

(LAUGHTER)

POPOVIC: No. This blues came about as a story of a kid - it's a true story - who was caught, being 10 years old, in a grocery store stealing a little cake. And his neighbor saw that. She decided she's going to, you know, bail him out. And then she made him work all summer long in her house doing the yard and doing grass and in all these things, without giving him nothing for it.

And finally, his mother found out that she's been using him and for the simple cookie that cost 10 cents. And this is the rage of a woman just found out that somebody has been mistreating her boy. And I loved the story so much I decided I'm going to write lyrics for this slow blues.

I think when it's about the blues you have to bring out that, oh, some emotion. You've got to find that through, you know, anger in you or whatever that emotion is, and bring it out if you want to go deep. But if you listen to it, it's a six minute-long slow blues you're going to find in a woman full of rage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES FOR MRS. PAULINE")

POPOVIC: (Singing) You better leave my little boy alone. Love is heartache, baby. Oh, and I go and do something wrong. Did you get that? You understand me now. I thought so. Now, come on, Tom. Let's go home.

SIMON: When did you leave Serbia?

POPOVIC: Well, I went to study jazz in Holland when I was 22. It would probably be '98, if I'm not mistaken - '99.

SIMON: So you were there during some very rough times.

POPOVIC: Yes, I was. Yes.

SIMON: In fact, you were there when NATO warplanes bombed Belgrade.

POPOVIC: I was just in Holland at that time.

SIMON: You were in Holland then.

POPOVIC: Yeah. But my family was there, so it's very hard times for us - and my dear friends and my band and all, you know. Basically all the people that meant a lot to me and luckily they're all safe and sound now. But it's been a very frustrating at time for them.

SIMON: Now, we'll mention the CD isn't just blues, that you've got sort of soul, rhythm and blues and funk.

POPOVIC: Yes.

SIMON: How much of the Memphis influence might be...

POPOVIC: A whole lot. A whole lot. This is why we picked Memphis to actually do the whole thing, that's actually the reason why I'm there for a longer time. Actually this idea about the CD came from Tony Coleman who is the drummer of BB King for many, many years. And Tony said, well, we've got to go back and put on a blues record the way Albert King had it back in the day. And Albert Collins, when you listen to those records, you see they are so groovy and so much influenced by the '70s funk and jam bands, that you can't stop shaking your head when you hear that. You know, and nowadays nobody plays like that. But there is a place where people play like that, and that's Memphis. And that requires a horn section and that's what we wanted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOYS' NIGHT OUT")

POPOVIC: (Singing) That's not all right no matter what they said. It's up to you to do it right and all the way. To love someone you've got it set him free. I've got to let him go so he can come right back to me. It's a thing that you scream and shout 'cause the boys need a man night out. Ladies, don't leave us (unintelligible). If you cash that check, watch your mouth. You got to let your man have a boys' night out...

SIMON: You pour yourself into every song, don't you?

POPOVIC: I do.

(LAUGHTER)

POPOVIC: I do. They're all different sides of me actually, musically and lyrically. Yes.

SIMON: I gather you're a mother of two young children.

POPOVIC: Uh-huh, that's right.

SIMON: Is life on the road and in clubs of a blues musician, is it always a good thing for family life?

POPOVIC: I then you've got to, if you want to make it work, you've got to put the family first, on the first place. And I think that so we try to do. And, you know, my agency knows when I'm traveling with my 10-month-old daughter and five-year-old son and when I am not. I try to have them not separate from me for more than six days.

I think it's wonderful for them, as well, to be around music and to travel and that's what they are used to since they are born, both of them. And they are really, you know, grow up to be really open minded and love music and love people. But then we also try to make it a really nice for them. We always have help from her families. It takes a lot of organization, but this what we do.

And I think we are using the times now because they are still young. When they've got to go to school full-time, I think I'm going to cut down on shows and be more at home with them, which I look forward to, as well. However now, we just travel together and that's what we are used to. And when I'm with them, give them 100 percent of their mom. So if you ask me how it looks like being on the road, I know every Chuck E. Cheese in the country.

(LAUGHTER)

POPOVIC: And I know every children's museum in the states and I've seen them multiple times. That's while my band is doing sound checking and doing sound check. I think I love the twist in my life. And I think I've got two separate lives at the same time. And I think the combination of two is really what gives me inspiration.

SIMON: Ana Popovic, her new CD: "Can You Stand the Heat." She joined us from New York. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

POPOVIC: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you can hear a few tracks from "Can You Stand the Heat" at nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.