Annie Humphrey Q&A

Annie Humphrey trusts the spirit.

“Songwriting is a very personal and spiritual deal for me. It is something that is only mine. I mean, I don’t need anything or anyone to do it. Not even a pencil. Just me and the spirit who is whispering lines to me.”

You started out as a folk singer but broadened your music with “The Beast and the Garden.” Is folk still your first love?

I do think that I have fit into the folk category for a long time. As for the sound on “Beast and the Garden,” I think the fact that Mark Shark, of John Trudell’s Bad Dog Band, was one of the main guitar players on it. A lot of times the players on a record fill in the colors, you know?

I feel like “Eat What You Kill” also moved away from what I am used to doing. I wrote this record in an angry time. Sometimes I feel rage, but I keep it in check by writing about what is bringing that feeling up.

You grew up on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. What kind of music did you grow up with?

There was live music in my house. My dad and his friends would sit together in the kitchen playing guitars and singing Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Charlie Pride. The old-timers. We also had a hymnal my mom would sing from. My dad taught me to play E, A and D. With those three chords I could play anything in the hymn book. When my parents split, my mom would stack six records on our record player at bedtime. Each of us kids got to pick an album to hear. I picked the Carpenters, John Denver’s greatest hits. One would play, the next would drop and play and the next and the next. It was like that every night. We fell asleep to music.

You spent time in the Marine Corps. How did that experience influence your music?

The Marine Corps influenced me as a person. I sang in a rock ‘n’ roll band in Japan. That was fun. I was singing Judas Priest, Skid Row, White Snake, Tesla … I was drinking a lot at that time so I would go pretty hard. I could hardly talk the next day. The Marine Corps makes everything relative. My endurance, expectations, of myself and others, patience and tolerance for adults acting like high schoolers, my time in the Marine Corps showed me that a large group of people can work together. We all were accountable and we didn’t let personal beliefs affect our work. Ever.

You’ve said that your song “Aadzookaan” is an Ojibwe word that contains everything in it: the story, the teaching, the lesson, the storyteller, the person being told the story. I love the song. Is there an English word that resembles it?

I guess Aadizookaan could mean Legend. It’s what I named my first grandson.

You’re also a visual artist and have spent time making chairs and other artifacts. How does the creative process in the visual and tactile arts inform your musical output? Or does it?

The visual art that I do comes from the same place as the music. But the music is its own island. Does that make sense? Songwriting is a personal and spiritual deal for me. It is something that is only mine. I mean, I don’t need anything or anyone to do it. Not even a pencil. Just me and the spirit who is whispering lines to me.

What is next for you?

I am organizing against the Huber Mill.  It is to be the largest OSB (particle board) plant in America. It will take too much from our woods, it will put greenhouse gasses and particulates into the air, it will take two active eagles nests, it will fill in wetlands for a railroad spur into the factory, it will take 400,000 cords of wood annually from a 70 to 100 mile radius … all of this Governor Walz approved with no tribal consultation. For more info visit:

I have been writing some here and there and will record a record this fall. I want to bring back the lines and voice of John Trudell and so he will be on it with me. I miss him and I feel like my world isn’t quite the same. But I still hear him. He is spirit now. One of the spirits that whisper lines to me.