Before she even hit high school, Mina Moore had rocked downtown clubs, been shopped to major labels, and recorded at Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ hitmaking headquarters, Flyte Time Studios.
That’s back when the Twin Cities native was part of the Sugar Divas, an all-girl rock band she co-founded in the mid-’90s.
“I think it was ‘girl power’ before that term was heavily marketed,” says Moore. “Though I don’t know how intentional our feminism was.”
Then, as the Divas split while departing for college, Moore stopped singing. For years.
Raised by two deeply cultured and politically charged academic parents, the one-time theater kid dabbled in photography as she bounced between colleges, struggled with depression, and endured “a disaster of a relationship.”
Eventually, though, music pulled her back into its orbit.
Around 2011, Moore joined local rocker Al Church in the experimental electro-pop act Dear Data. That’s when her rolodex of collaborators and friends began ballooning.
“I’ve done a fantastic job of surrounding myself with such great musicians—all these branches, I’m kinda weaving in and out of everyplace,” Moore says, name-checking GRRRL PRTY rapper Manchita, who’s also her best friend, and bassist-about-town Casey O’Brien. In 2014, Moore received a text message from Caroline Smith: an invitation to join her touring band.
“I really studied Caroline as an artist, entrepreneur, and as a woman,” Moore says of her three-plus years on the road with Smith. “I learned so much—how to run shit.”
Getting fired from a profitable restaurant job earlier this year sparked something in Moore: “I’d never given a solo career a fair chance; I was like, ‘Take yourself seriously, Mina!’”
Her debut EP, Amongst Ourselves, dropped in September. On it, Moore’s effortlessly smooth and emotive vocals glide over jazzy, lightly funk-spiked neo-soul arrangements. Strongly inspired by D’Angelo, the 11 tracks are punchy and polished. They’re also years old, Moore laments, and emotionally guarded. She says she’s already over the project, and plans to knock that lyrical obliqueness “down with a bulldozer” on the next release.
First, Moore gets to wrap up a successful run of tribute shows at the Dakota Jazz Club, where she’s been performing Amy Winehouse’s Back in Black with a diversely curated backing band. Seizing the spotlight, she makes sure to pepper her stage banter with messages of social justice and civil rights.
Two decades removed her Sugar Diva days, Moore says she’s feeling genuine momentum again.
“When I say that all chips are in, totally,” Moore says. “But if it doesn’t work out as an R&B singer, that’s OK. Having a creative career is what’s most important to me—I can tell a story a million different ways.”