Annie Mack, rising singer-songwriter, honors her own journey with 'Testify'

AnnieMack
Annie Mack is a singer-songwriter based in Rochester, Minnesota.
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Minnesota singer-songwriter Annie Mack’s EP, “Testify,” mixes blues, country, rock and soul. It’s a beautiful combination.

Host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Mack ahead of her two shows at the Minnesota State Fair, Monday, Aug. 29 and Tuesday, Aug. 30.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Click the audio player above to listen to their conversation.

Tell me a little bit about Walking Around, the song.

I wanted to write a love song that was for myself and to encourage other women to think about ourselves in a loving way. I think on the radio and just kind of what we're accustomed to, we hear a lot of love songs about somebody else. How cool would it be to write about myself with my head in the clouds, it'd be kind of mushy. I'm not the most mushy person, but I took a stab at being kind of whimsical and loving and romantic just with myself — what would it feel like to just have these really great things to say and just to take some ownership of my own path and journey and to be grateful for that.

What does that feel like?

It feels really good. I was thinking about the words of what I wanted to say to myself and then also make it accessible to others. Like, for instance, there's a line that says “I'm not giving my energy no more to what no longer serves me.” I'm choosing to let things go, just really speaking edification to my spirit and honoring my journey. And that it’s not perfect, and it's mine. I get to claim it.

You started production on this EP in February of 2020 but you went back into the studio to finish it after George Floyd was murdered. What was that like?

It was powerful, humbling, beautiful, intense — it was really important to me to create something that was beautiful and Black from Minnesota. And it was really important to me to honor my contribution to liberation, my contribution to encouragement and my contribution to my own way of saying, you know, as a Black woman, I am here and I won't be silenced by violence and murder. And so it was my own declaration, my own militancy if you will.

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You grew up in Minneapolis. Now you're based in Rochester. So that was a fairly big move, right?

I went to school at the Minnesota Bible College. At that time, I was going to school to study Christianity and spirituality, and I thought I was going to be a missionary worker and all these things. And I ended up staying, it was a very big change of scenery. I think it was important for me to kind of get out of my environment.

Has the move been positive for you?

It was a really hard adjustment. At first, there weren't a lot of people of color or a lot of Black people. It was not the established city that it is now, it's come a long ways. As a matter of fact, I don't even think the buses ran after 6 p.m. and this is a place that has the Mayo Clinic and IBM and it was not accessible to me.

Can I ask you about your musical influences?

I love truth tellers. I love people that push the envelope in their innovation and creativity. So I'm a big fan of Taj Mahal and Etta James and Ray Charles. Individuals that can kind of do everything. And then you know, I love Valerie June and Ruthie Foster. You know, these are some of my favorite artists that just kind of pay attention to,

The Star Tribune, as you know, called you, Minnesota's heir to the Mavis Staples throne, which I thought was actually a very apt description of you, but what do you think of it?

I have a good sized ego on me, but I'm not foolish. I struggle with that tremendously, especially if I'm on the same lineup, which did happen when I was down in Florida. But you know, I'm honored. I walk in those realms of a truth teller but I have my own distinctive voice and delivery. But you know, I am so inspired by her, but I made sure to do my own thing.

I was also really pleased to see that you were on the Star Tribune list this past February of 10, current black Minnesota musicians you need to know.

I am so grateful. I'm grateful that I need to show up and that's good enough. It’s just really beautiful, it speaks to my spirit. And just to continue, you know, showing up. I tried to play the game, whatever that is, for a while and it didn't feel right. It wasn't authentic. I love all kinds of music. I love pushing myself as an artist, I'm inspired by these local peers, whom I've come to respect and just really admire. And so it's always an honor and privilege to be here to share space with creatives.

Now, I mentioned to folks that you have got to State Fair shows this week. So what should people expect?

It's gonna be hot, sweaty, soulful, loud — we are here to take care of business, we are here to handle it. We do not phone it in. We really try every show, maybe the first song or two I'm going to ease into it but then after that, I'm the hot sweaty mess. And I love that, I love that we have a reputation for being live performers and that really means a lot to me.

And there's an art to that. There's an art to live performance.

I mean to engage and to tell stories and to know what to do with your energy and your stamina that comes with time. I work with amazing musicians and it feels good to get hired to do my thing. Eighty percent of songs we do are all originals. And I'm so incredibly grateful for that. In the covers we do our own obscure things to pay respect. When people hire me or they want to work with me, they know exactly where they're getting.

Do you have anything you’re looking forward to?

Yes, I am excited about live music I do have some really cool opportunities. We're just going to continue to have a good time and show up and work on an album in the fall and winter.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] ANNIE MACK: (SINGING) I'm walking around with my head in the clouds. Ain't never had no love, but it sure feels right.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, what a voice. That is Minnesota singer-songwriter Annie Mack with her song "Walkin' Around." Her EP Testify was released last January mixing blues and country, rock, and soul. It's a beautiful combination. Annie is playing two shows at the Minnesota State Fair tonight, Monday, August 29th and tomorrow Tuesday, August 30th. She's with us to talk a little bit about what she's doing and what inspires her.

Annie, how have you been?

ANNIE MACK: I've been really excited to start this new chapter and keep making music and being in community. So thank you so much for having me.

INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. Hey, tell me a little bit about "Walkin' Around." That's the track we just heard. What inspired it?

ANNIE MACK: I wanted to write a love song that was for myself and to encourage other women to think about ourselves in a loving way. I think on the radio and just kind of what we're accustomed to, we hear a lot of songs, a lot of love songs about somebody else, and things of that nature, and I thought how cool would it be to write about myself with my head in the clouds. It'd be kind of mushy. I'm not the most mushy person, but I took a stab at being kind of whimsical and loving and romantic just with myself. What would it feel like to just have these really great things to say and just to take some ownership of my own path and journey and to be grateful for that?

INTERVIEWER: What'd that feel like?

ANNIE MACK: It felt really good. When I was thinking about the words of what I wanted to say to myself and then also make it accessible to others, like, for instance, there's a line that says I'm not giving my energy no more to what no longer serves me and I'm choosing to let go of things. Just really speaking edification to my spirit and honoring my journey and that it's not perfect and it's mine and I get to claim it.

INTERVIEWER: Now you started production on this EP in February of 2020, but you went back into the studio to finish it after George Floyd was murdered. What was that like?

ANNIE MACK: It was powerful, humbling, beautiful, intense. It was really important to me to create something that was beautiful and Black for Minnesota, and it was really important to me to honor my contribution to liberation, my contribution to encouragement, my contribution to my own way of saying as a Black woman I am here and I won't be silenced by violence and murder. And so it was my own declaration, my own militancy if you will.

INTERVIEWER: And you said that this is you following your own path. You grew up in Minneapolis, now you're based in Rochester, so that was a fairly big move.

ANNIE MACK: Right. I went to school with the Minnesota Bible College. At that time, I was going to school to study Christianity and spirituality, and I thought I was going to be a missions worker and all these things. And I ended up staying. It was a very big change of scenery, and I think it was important for me to get out of my environment and just to experience different aspects.

INTERVIEWER: Has it been OK? Has that movie been a positive one for you?

ANNIE MACK: It was a really hard adjustment at first. There weren't a lot of people of color, a lot of Black people. It was not an established city that it is now. It's come a long ways. As a matter of fact, I don't even think the buses ran after 6:00 PM, and this is a place that has the Mayo Clinic and IBM. And it was not accessible to me, so it was actually really tough those first few years not having a car and not having a big support system.

INTERVIEWER: And so now you are where you are. Can I ask you about your influences, your musical influences?

ANNIE MACK: I love truth tellers. I love people that push the envelope in their innovation and creativity. So I'm a big fan of Taj Mahal and Etta James and Ray Charles, individuals that can do everything. And then I love Valerie June, Ruthie Foster. These are some of my favorite artists that I just pay attention to.

INTERVIEWER: Of course, we're in a place of Mavis Staples here who I adore.

ANNIE MACK: Mavis Staples, absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: Mavis is amazing. So we ask all of our musician friends to tell us what's inspiring them, and you sent us a song. This is Mavis's song "Never Needed Anyone." let's hear it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MAVIS STAPLES: (SINGING) I missed everything I'd ever lost. Started over many times. Now I'm-- I'm paying the cost. I never needed anyone. I never needed anyone. Never needed-- needed anyone like I need you. I need you. Seems like so long--

INTERVIEWER: Why'd you pick this track?

ANNIE MACK: It's so intimate, and it's so I can relate to the words and just-- Mavis is such a truth teller. She reaches down into the depths of you, and you don't have to be a religious person. You don't have to come from the same walk of life. She has this way of just being accessible and just the spirit about her and this-- and so when I hear it, you're completely-- I come undone because it's just so deep. And the lines are beautiful, and Ben Harper actually produced this album and really just showcased this-- it's this wisdom and experience. Mavis is just-- I call her Saint Mama Mavis.

And because I think she embodies all those things and she's-- and she's real and raw. So I love that. And so soulful.

INTERVIEWER: See I'm glad you picked this because "The Star Tribune" as you know called you Minnesota's heir to the Mavis Staples throne, which I thought was actually a very apt description of you. But what do you think of it?

ANNIE MACK: I have a good sized ego on me, but I'm not foolish. I'm not a fool. So I struggle with that tremendously, especially if I'm on the same lineup, which did happen.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, lord.

ANNIE MACK: When I was down in Florida-- I'm like there's only one Mavis. But I'm honored the sentiment. I know I walk in those realms of a truth teller and having a soulful-- but I have my own distinctive voice and delivery. But I am so inspired by her, but I made sure to do my own thing.

INTERVIEWER: I was also really pleased to see that you were on "The Star Tribune's" list this past February of 10 current Black Minnesota musicians you need to know alongside other folks that I just love-- Pavielle, Ondara, Lady Midnight. That is a heck of a list and congratulations.

ANNIE MACK: Right. I'm so grateful. I'm grateful that I get to show up, and that's good enough. That's just a really beautiful-- it speaks to my spirit and just to continue showing up. I tried to play the game, whatever that is, for a while, and it didn't feel right. It wasn't authentic.

I love all kinds of music. I love pushing myself as an artist. I'm inspired by these local peers whom I've come to respect and just really admire. And so it's always an honor and privilege to share space with creatives.

INTERVIEWER: Exactly. Now I mentioned to folks that you have got two state fair shows this week, so what to people who haven't seen you perform live for a while expect?

ANNIE MACK: It's going to be hot, sweaty, soulful, loud. We are here to take care of business. We are here to handle it. Good time. We do not phone it in. We really try every show I'm going to work. Maybe the first song or two, I'm going to ease into it, but then after that, I'm the hot sweaty mess.

So-- and I love that. I love that we have a reputation for being live performers, and that's-- that really means a lot to me. Strong live performance.

INTERVIEWER: Exactly. And there is an art to that. There's an art to live performance.

ANNIE MACK: Absolutely. To engage and to tell stories and to know what to do with your energy and your stamina, that comes with time. Great musicianship, I work with amazing musicians, and it feels good to get hired to do my thing. I-- 80%, 90% of the songs we do are all originals, and I'm so incredibly grateful for that. And so-- and the covers we do are obscure, just more to pay respect to inspiration. And so it feels really good that when people hire me or they want to work with me, they know exactly what they're getting.

INTERVIEWER: Is there any of the shows you're looking forward to as the summer winds down, which I can't believe it's winding down, but we're heading into fall?

ANNIE MACK: Yes, I am excited about going to see live music. I do have some really cool opportunities. I'm doing the Alan Page I get to perform at that. That's a little bit more of a private one, but I think anybody can go to raise money for the Alan Page Educational Fund. So that's always a lot of fun.

The fair is pretty great. I always appreciate that. Yeah, we're just going to continue to have a good time and show up and do some really great things in the fall and the winter, work on a new album.

INTERVIEWER: Oh! I'm so happy to hear that. Good.

ANNIE MACK: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Good. Well, you know what, we need to go to some more music obviously, so this is going to be a bit of another song from your new EP. So let's go out to that. Annie Mack, all the best to you. You are fantastic. I'll be in the audience at the fair cheering you on.

ANNIE MACK: Perfect. Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing you and thank you so much for having me.

(SINGING) You gotta testify, tell the truth, stand on the rock for what it did for you. You gotta testify.

INTERVIEWER: That is Twin Cities-based musician Annie Mack. You can catch her at the state fair tonight and tomorrow night at the Shells Stage.

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