I find it hard to characterize Cloud Cult as a “band.” Cloud Cult are eight really cool environmentalists from Minnesota who travel the country in a solar-powered van, putting on multi-media indie rock spectacles. Cloud Cult also hold a special place in my heart, as a preview to their last Philadelphia show was the first piece I ever wrote for Philthy Mag (Which was, at the time, Philthy Blog.)
Cloud Cult began as the solo project of Craig Minowa almost twenty years ago. In 1999 Craig and wife, Connie (one of the band’s current live painters), formed Earthology, a non-profit set on making the music industry a little more environmentally-friendly, which also serves as the band’s record label. A decade ago Minowa took Cloud Cult live, beginning to perform and resemble a more traditional (…Wait, that’s definitely the wrong word.) musical act. Ever since they’ve been garnering praise from some of the most influential musical publications, yet the band remain doing-it-themselves, on their own terms.
Last month Cloud Cult released their tenth album, Love, and they’re currently on tour. The band will be making a stop at our very own Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, April 12th, bringing their needing-to-be-seen-to-be-believed live show to the smallest Philadelphia stage it’s seen in quite some time. I recently got a chance to chat with Craig about what you can expect.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask: What are your thoughts on the city? You’ve played here a number of times.
Craig Minowa: We love the history and character of the city. It’s really inspiring to visit some of the historical sites that have been maintained all these years. So much of the U.S. is built with the idea that it will only be standing for a few decades, but Philly has areas built with the European mentality of “long-term.” I remember our first show there about ten years ago and there were only two people. It sounds like this show is a few tickets from selling out, so the fan base has really been good to us in Philadelphia.
IC: I’m curious to hear about your writing process, as you tend to churn out full-lengths rather quickly and regularly. Is there a particular process you have, when it comes to conceptualizing your music?
CM: I’ve got a recording studio at home, so I work on the albums gradually, over the course of a couple years. They are developed very thoroughly before we get to the stage where the rest of the band records, so it expedites that process. The long digestion of the project allows me to crank out a ton of material over time and get rid of everything that doesn’t make the grade or fit the theme.
IC: What are your biggest influences and inspirations, whether musical or otherwise?
CM: We have two young kids, so family is my current biggest focus and influence. Being an engaged parent means allowing yourself to get completely overcome by the flow of the everyday family flow. This album is called Love, because it is a recognition of the importance of facing one’s own inner demons, so we can be more present and loving in our everyday lives.
IC: How would you characterize it, compared to previous releases?
CM: The previous 9 albums really focus on the big exploration of trying to figure out why we are here and where we go when we die. They all are one giant chase after the meaning of life. This one embraces the present moment and says “Okay, I’m here right now for some reason, so how do I be the best I can be in this moment?” It’s about creating heaven in the moment, with the realization that all moments live forever.
IC: Do you have a particular favorite track, or a track which you feel best represents your current musical mindset? “You’re the Only Thing in Your Way” and “It Takes a Lot” definitely stand out for me.
CM: “The Calling” has been the one that we’ve all been most passionate about performing, because it has so much musical energy and an aggressive message of understanding that we all have purpose. But “The Show Starts Now” really hits me on a daily level, because it is all about how the real show isn’t when we perform on stage or in our careers. The real show is how we perform with the little things in everyday life and around the ones we love the most.
IC: You’re very conscious of preserving the environment. Are there any individuals or organization that you feel are doing an especially good job at that, that you think our readers should consider looking into?
CM: We run our own environmental nonprofit, Earthology Institute. I am also a big fan of Pesticide Action Network, not just because of their focus, but with how they use pure science to fuel their actions. I’m not a fan of overly reactionary or sensationalized messaging in the movement.
IC: What are your plans and hopes for the rest of the year?
CM: When this national tour is over, we will return to Wisconsin and really focus on the nonprofit work, including accelerating work at Earthology Institute, which will involve a lot of work outdoors. We will do some more national touring in the fall, and then I will be scoring music for a film in the winter months.
IC: You have quite a dynamic live show, especially for an independent band. What does it draw inspiration from and what can fans expect of your upcoming Philadelphia show at Johnny Brenda’s?
CM: We will have two live painters on stage who have toured with us for nearly a decade. We will also have a new all-encompassing projection system that surrounds the band. For the music, we have eight people on stage, juggling all different kinds of instruments.