Thursday, April 15, 2021
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An Interview with Cloud Cult

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Cloud Cult is hitting up Urban Lounge on Sunday, April 18 as part of their U.S. tour, and it’s likely their last appearance in Salt Lake City for a while. So, whether or not you’re familiar with Craig Minowa’s labor of love circa 1995, now’s the time to start.

Last month, the experimental indie ensemble brought us their 10th full studio release, The Seeker. It accompanies a feature-length film of the same name, due out later this year. I chatted with the frontman and environmentalist on the LP, “greening” the music landscape, and what’s in store for SLC.

CC: Many bands are reticent to cross into other media, but you actively release your music across platforms, with a movie coming out to complement your album. How do you feel about branding?

CM: I think we’ve always tried to combine a lot of visuals with the music onstage, like having live painters onstage. I started doing a lot of scoring work for National Geographic documentaries and independent films. I wanted to continue that flavor of music, where you can have long instrumental periods in an album and not worry about just having formulaic, 3-minute verse-chorus-verse kind of thing. Of course you have that on the album too, but it was less of a concern.

CC: What was your goal in making The Seeker (film)?

CM: I’ve wanted to do a film with an album for quite a while, and when I realized this one had a storyline and what it was, it was feasible. On top of that, the music industry has changed dramatically with the popularity of Spotify and other streaming services. CD sales are, across the board, down 80%. We needed to do something original to get people on the train. So I also released a chapter every single week so people grab on to the storyline and are hungry for what’s gonna happen next.

CC: How can the film and the album be appreciated respectively and as one entity? 

CM: Part of the intention of not releasing both at the same time was to allow people to have their own personal relationship with the songs. We’ve had a few sneak peek screenings so far and from what I’ve heard, people who have listened to the album got something totally different from the film. A director of the film has fraternal twins on the way, so I think it’s a somewhat similar analogy. They came from the same womb and have a lot of similarities, but their own personalities.

CC: What was it like working with Jeff Lipton (Bon Iver, Arcade Fire)?

CM: He’s great! I think the better mastering engineers out there are really transparent about their strong opinions about design. A lot of people go to one with the intention of getting as much volume out of the album as possible [for] the radio, and he’s really good about not playing that way. 

CC: What topics do you find yourself gravitating towards when you write? 

CM: It comes back to exploration; why we’re here; what’s our purpose; what the whole God thing is all about; how can we get in touch with the afterlife. Big cosmic questions. For me, the most powerful things I’ve experienced from music is that feeling of connecting to something bigger than myself. That’s what attracted me to music a long time ago, and it still does today. I feel like I’m looking for some kind of solution with each album, and that the question is phrased a little bit differently each time, but ultimately, I think when an album’s finished, I always end up back in the same spot, which is right here and right now. You have this moment and nothing else, so what are you gonna do with it?

CC: Your music is interestingly tied to a lot to environmental causes. Are those two things you’d initially planned on meshing?

CM: No, in fact, I was actually an environmental scientist for a living, and music was just a side hobby. It wasn’t until things really started to take off with the music that I felt like we could do positive work with Cloud Cult too. It required new models that weren’t available as far as environmental CD manufacturing.

And it’s not just environmental. I used the music for our grieving process when we’d (he and wife/fellow band member Connie Minowa) lost our son a few years back. The music ended up being something that other people who were going through loss found some kind of medicine in. That unintentional positive effect is something we now really put a lot of focus on.

CC: You and your wife had a child in 2009, right? 

CM: Yeah, we’ve got a 4-year old and a 6-year old now. 

CC: Has that changed things? 

CM: There’s literal changes, like you can’t stay up until 4 o’ clock in the morning in the studio and still wake up and be a good dad. It’s been rare that we’ve come to Salt Lake City, just because those drives are really hard on the kids. With this tour, unfortunately, it might be quite a while before we get back to Salt Lake City because we’re shifting to doing more flights.

CC: I read that you were approached by a lot of major labels but you insisted to stay with your own (Earthology). Why was that important to you?

CM: The songs are children and we’re putting them out there into the world. When a major label owns the publishing, there’s more pressure to allow those songs to be used in commercials of products you don’t agree with. We recently had an offer from Coca-Cola for a big campaign in Latin America, had done some work done there and saw Coca-Cola’s privatization of the limited water supplies, and what that was doing to the natives. We just didn’t feel comfortable signing on. I think it ultimately ended up working in our favor. Because we’ve really focused on having everything be as ethical as possible, we’ve got a lot of long-term stability.

CC: How have your efforts at “greening” the music industry panned out? 

CM: This album is the first time we’ve done a vinyl product. We haven’t done records in the past ‘cause they’re made out of polyvinyl chloride. The production of PVC creates dioxin, which is one of the most potent carcinogens out there. We’ve been trying really hard to work with companies to grind up old albums and make a recycled album, and right now, it’s falling pretty flat, ‘cause we got our first shipment of albums and they’re all scritchy-scratchy and don’t sound good so we’re trying to figure out what we’re gonna do (laughs).

CC: What can we expect at your upcoming show?  

CM: Knowing that we don’t know when we’ll get to come back to Salt Lake City again, we plan to do an extra-long set – really incorporate a lot of the new album with past ones and acoustic material, and really start the evening on a journey together. 

Visit Cloud Cult’s official site to listen to The Seeker and purchase tickets for their upcoming show. Click here to preview the film.

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