Rising victoriously after 14 cancer treatments, Ana Popovic continues to push the boundaries of blues-rock. Her latest album tells the tale of strength and perseverance. Full-throttle blues-rock guitar stylings intertwine with funk, R&B, and gospel – but Power is more than a guitar-centric tour de force; it’s a call for brotherhood, empowerment, and love.
How did the process begin for Power?
Buthel Burns is my music director and bass player. He never wrote songs before. The way he talks is funny and incredible, and different. At some point, I thought, “He has some valuable sentences. Let me start writing them down.” I explained to him how songwriting works, and we were off and running. I don’t want cliché writers. I worked with Nashville writers, and I don’t want to hear sentences they use in other people’s music. I want something new.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was ready to put the whole thing on hold. That’s when Buthel said, “We’re writing. We gotta touch people with our music.” So we scheduled a Zoom meeting and started writing that same day. We spent a lot of time on the road with the band, and there’s no subject we can’t talk about – from racial issues to homelessness. These are things that touch us. We love what we do and how we are toward life. We want to live our lives to the fullest so that one day we can look back and say, “Damn, maybe we didn’t do it, but we gave it a good shot.” All these thoughts are in these songs.
Your cancer diagnosis brought fire to this record.
The biggest thing was realizing that you might not be doing this forever; maybe I’ll give myself this one record, then retire and see what I’m going to do. Approaching the record with that idea was like, “Oh my God! What do I want to tell the world? What is the message? What do I want to bring out?” Cancer treatments taught me that we have so much time on our hands and use so little of it.
Power goes from funk and R&B to blues. Then there’s “Flicker & Flame,” which is so heavy.
I wanted every song to be different. I wanted a rock tune – “Flicker & Flame” – like Hendrix. It’s just bass drums and guitar and rocking out. It’s about two people who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other. I have friends like that, which is where I got the inspiration. They push each other’s buttons. They live for years like that. So we went edgy and did it Hendrix’s way.
There’s also gospel music on the record. I discovered gospel in the Detroit church scene. They play so incredibly. I would move to Detroit in a second. We recorded many of the songs there with Chris Coleman, an incredible drummer who played with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Chaka Kahn. It’s a rich musical place around Detroit.
Are you concerned about losing fans because you’re stepping outside blues-rock?
If your fans are unwilling to evolve with you, they should look elsewhere. We just played a tour, and I’ve never seen such excitement about the new songs. They usually want to hear something from the past. Not this time. It’s bluesy enough – the Detroit sound. It’s the Stevie Wonder thing we all heard growing up. It’s a big part of American culture. Maybe they didn’t expect it from me, but so far, the feedback from the new songs fit right in – the soul, funk, and blues.
Was there a main guitar for Power?
I used my ’64 Strat, my two reissue Strats, and a Les Paul, which is very unusual. I have to look into Gibsons. Robben Ford let me borrow his on the previous record. I love Les Pauls. I used a D’Angelico on a few tracks for some jazzy licks on “Recipe Is Romance.” That track has a combination of the D’Angelico and a Yamaha nylon-string. Mainly, though, it’s my ’64 Strat.
What’s your favorite effects pedal?
I love the original Tube Screamers. I have two and don’t leave the house without them. I have an MXR Super Badass Distortion I use with them, and also like the old Boss chorus pedals, delay, and wah. I’ve played a lot of wahs in my life, but unfortunately, they have a short lifespan.
“Rise Up” is such a big song.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd wrote that. It has such urgency as far as lyrics. I made it into an anthem. I’m bothered by social issues and don’t have the stomach for injustice. I raise my children to treat everyone right and be open-minded. We kept the lyrics and did something different with the music. It’s my favorite bass line on the record. I wish I had written that song, but it was such a good match.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.