Cloud Cult, Handpicking Cities (Including Philly) and Working with Moving Pictures

On April 7th longtime PHILTHY friends and exceptionally-environmentally-progressive indie rockers Cloud Cult will play their biggest-ever local headlining date at The Foundry, in the newly-opened Fillmore of Philadelphia.  Over...

On April 7th longtime PHILTHY friends and exceptionally-environmentally-progressive indie rockers Cloud Cult will play their biggest-ever local headlining date at The Foundry, in the newly-opened Fillmore of Philadelphia.  Over the past two decades the Duluth, Minnesota-based band has made a name for themselves not only making some of the most poetically poignant music of our generation; but also for their multi-media live shows, consisting of live painters, videos, and performance artists; in addition to their entirely “postconsumer recycled CD packaging,” recording on their very own organic farm, and their “zero net greenhouse gas practices for tours.”  Over the past half-decade the band has been one of PHILTHY’s most covered and have the distinction of being the subject of the first-ever article I wrote for the blog (long before I obtained the title of “Executive Editor”).  This February Cloud Cult released The Seeker, a concept album, which inspired and soundtracked a feature film of the same name, starring Josh Radnor, best known for his portrayal of the protagonist of How I Met Your Mother.  Cloud Cult founder/singer/songwriter/guitarist Craig Minowa and I recently got a chance to catch up for the first time since the band’s epic (in both length and profundity) 2014 acoustic/electric show at the Prince Music Theater.

Izzy Cihak: The last time we spoke was almost exactly two years ago, so I’m curious what have been some of the highlights of the band since then.  You’ve not only made a film and recorded a new album, but done quite a bit of touring.

Craig Minowa: Yes, we’ve been pretty busy in the recording studio. We did a full original score to a movie called The Great Alone, which is the story of a man who overcomes brain cancer and wins the Iditarod four times in a row. We also just released our new album, The Seeker, and made it into a feature-length fiction film, starring Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and Alex McKenna (What Women Want).

Izzy: Where did the idea to make a movie come from? And what is it that particularly attracted you to working with Josh Radnor?

Craig: About two years into the album writing process I realized it was shaping up to be a story. We’ve had past albums, like Light Chasers and Who Killed Puck, that had narratives to them, but we never had the means to make the actual film. This particular storyline seemed like it was doable. I also wanted to be able to release the album in a new way, with weekly “Chapters” and by making it a film, we were able to release one song, one chapter of the film, one week at a time, so it was three months of engaging with our supporters prior to the album even coming out.  As for Josh, he and I connected a few years back, as he’s been a big supporter of the band. We had talked about doing a film together back when I was working on the Love album, but it didn’t work out. This time it did! He’s a beautiful being and a fellow seeker, so it worked out well.

Izzy: What can be expected of the movie?  What does it draw inspiration from?

Craig: We are doing the film festival circuit with the film for a while, so it won’t be released until later this year, although the album is out now. The album stands on its own and isn’t a literal narrative or typical score, so if someone was listening to it and didn’t know there was a film to it, they’d think it’s an album like any other. The inspiration of the film originally came from my own dad being in the late stages of a terminal illness.

Izzy: Are there any cinematic works that you find to be especially inspiring or just cool?

Craig: Anytime the visuals and audio of a film has a perfect marriage, I think there’s a state of elevation for the viewer. I’ve scored a dozen National Geographic documentaries and a couple of other feature films, so I’m really trying to gradually strive to hit those moments.

Izzy: And how do you feel like the album compares to previous releases?  Did you try anything on this one that you hadn’t in the past?  I mean, I assume the very notion of scoring/soundtracking a film would make you consider compositions in a slightly different way.

Craig: The two big differences were how we released the album, as previously mentioned. I’d love to do that for future albums, as well, because it gave each song a chance to stand on its own. As for the creation process, it was fun to write an album and a basic story and then have the talented Jeff D. Johnson screenwrite and direct the film, and to come back in and massage the music to better fit the story as visually translated by him and his team.

Izzy: You’re in the middle of a lot of live shows.  Are there any venues or cities you’re especially excited to play, or just revisit and hang out in?

Craig: We have two young kids now. They are four and six years old, so it’s tough to have tours as long as we used to, since they travel with us for most of it. So, knowing we were going to need to cut back on the number of venues, we intentionally handpicked the cities and venues that we are doing on this tour, so the whole tour is the pick of the litter and cream of the crop.

Izzy: And you’re going to be playing Philadelphia again in the very near future, in the largest room you’ve played in quite some time.  What can be expected of the live experience this time around?  I’ve seen you a handful of times and it’s always cool and dynamic, but it’s also always a little different from the last time.

Craig: Yes, this will be our largest Philadelphia venue. Our first show in Philadelphia had two people in attendance (our publicist at that time and her husband), so it’s nice to see the crowd gradually growing. We will be doing a long set there of new songs and older songs with BBgun opening up the night. Both Cloud Cult painters will be there, and Scott is now painting with a new concept where he starts with a black canvas and gradually paints in reverse to bring it to life.

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for Cloud Cult?  How do you hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2016?  I’m sure there’s a lot that goes into releasing and promoting a film…

Craig: When this tour is done, we’ll be doing the film festival circuit for a while, summer festivals, and we have another film to score. We’ll release The Seeker in late 2016 with another round of shows where we hope to perform the whole score front to back as the film plays behind us.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.