Annie Humphrey: Taking the right steps each day

Annie Humphrey
Annie Humphrey (Press photo)
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  • Annie Humphrey on the value of cursing 01:13

During The Current's spring member drive, we're highlighting eight Minnesota artists – from newcomers to veterans – with new music you need to know. We asked each artist to talk about their history in music, their new songs, and their hopes for the future.

My name is Annie Humphrey and I am from up north in Minnesota. I started out as a folk singer, but I guess I don't know what category I fall into right now, so take a listen and you can decide.

At one point I played solo all the time. I'd travel with just me and the guitar, me and the piano. I took this long long break from music, then I came back and I made three records kind of close together that got me playing with other people. You get a real guitar player, you get some percussion, and you get different ideas. So instead of the flowy, slow--if I knew I was going to be working with other musicians I'd say hey let's get a driving beat, like Pretty Woman or something. I think it changed for me after I did a record called Uncombed Hair, The Beast And The Garden, and then Eat What You Kill. They all kind of happened really, relatively close for making records. It was in that time I felt a little more free and not so folksy.

When I very very first started, my dad, he played guitar and sang in our kitchen--played country music. I learned to play guitar from him, just a couple of chords and I was probably like eight or nine years old. But doing it to try to make a living happen--when my adult kids were little, we were on welfare. We had food stamps and there came a time when there were changes in welfare coming about. They were going to be sanctioning and making it more strict and trying to get people off. So I felt--oh my gosh, it's coming. I'm gonna have to figure something out. I had to think of a way to make a living without taking my kids to daycare eight hours a day. I remember thinking, "I think I'll play music." So thank you welfare reform. That's what kind of made me like, I have to make it work. I have to.

A recent song I wrote that I'm proud of is a song called "Aadzookaan". It's on the record Eat What You Kill. On this Eat What You Kill record there are swear words on it, and I've never written like that in the past. I just felt, I don't know. I'm not sure why I did it, but I wasn't trying to just, "Yeah I'm gonna swear and let people know I curse." It's never come out in my music before and I felt like the whole record is very intense. It's the most intense writing I've done. I was in the Marine Corps and when I wanted to get my guys to do something, I had to use a different kind of language to get my point across and so I would say it like that. That was kind of the same reasoning, and it was the delivery of the message.

Swearing can be like a social construct, right? My disclaimer on stage, as I always say, you can swear without being profane and you can be very profane without swearing. "Aadzookaan"--I wrote that for my grandsons and "Aadzookaan" is my grandson's Indian name. It means the sacred essence of the story. In Ojibwe, the word is really big--the name means the story, the teaching, the lesson, the storyteller, the person being told the story--it's all of that. I'm really proud of that song because it's very short. The words are few, but it talks about the prophecies. It talks about--don't be fearful because these things are going to happen--these floods and fires. You can't stop storms, so don't be afraid. "But the giant is waking/The earth is quaking/towers are crumbling," these things are happening and it can be very scary. But in the song it says, "Aadzookaan have no fear," because I'll always be near. So I hope it'll encourage my boys as they grow, and their boys. The last verse of the song is about how everything we need is on our land. Everything we need. The medicine, the resources, the food, everything we need--the animal, it's about that. This is where we're going to be okay. It's almost apocalyptic, and it talks about the system and that's where the F-word the F-bomb drops, but it's really about this generation coming up. It's not me and my children, it's the next one that I'm talking to.

People say, where do you see yourself in five years? Well, I don't know. I see myself with my family, and musically? I write, and I play when people ask me, but I don't have an aggressive marketing strategy. I have a lot of other things going on. I'm a tattoo artist, and I'm getting yoga certified. I might have a little bit of ADHD. Where you can't finish stuff and you're distracted easily, I think I have that.

Anything I get into doing--as soon as it turns--I make bent willow chairs, and people are like, "Oh, beautiful, can I buy it?" I'm like, "Yeah!" and then, "Oh can I order a loveseat?" I'm like, "Okay." So I make it, sell it, and then I quit making chairs. Because it turns into something else really fast, right? I don't have any expectation about the music or where I should go with it, or the art because I pray and I'm like, "Help me take the right steps in this one day." It's a day to day thing.

As told to Jesse Wiza.

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