Cloud Cult started as a solo music-making project by Owatonna’s Craig Minowa in the mid-90s. He seemed torn then as to whether to make it a career or to dedicate his life to environmental activism. In the past 20 years he has found a unique way to have his cake and eat it too, blending his activism with his music in ingenious ways. Just as the music industry collapsed around them in the last ten years, Cloud Cult have been groundbreaking in every facet of the process of music-making. Trying to record and tour with a negative carbon footprint, they have set the bar high for others to follow—from recycling CD cases to creating their own environmentally-friendly studio and record label.
Another unique feature of the band is that they have two painters on stage with them at each show, and they now sell those paintings afterwards which helps support the group’s process. One of the painters is Craig’s wife Connie Minowa. When they had a baby in 2000, it seemed to spur Craig’s creativity—with the album Who Killed Puck? starting to get his name around the Minnesota music community. But in early 2002 that son, Kaiden, died of unexplained causes, prompting Craig and Connie to go their separate ways for a while and for the band to be put on hold.
The Minowas’ son’s passing, however, inspired the 2003 album They Live On The Sun and seemed to convince the couple that making a go of the music career would be their best way to stay connected to their lost son. A drawing that Kaiden made has become the band’s symbol, and his effect lives on in many of their songs. But Craig and Connie have grown beyond and through that tragedy too, as a couple and as a band. They’ve given birth to five-year-old Nova and two-and-a-half-year-old Iris, and with a string of ever-improving albums have cemented themselves as local heroes and an indie (still totally indie) powerhouse.
Some point to 2007’s The Meaning of 8 being the band’s most accomplished work, bringing a lot of the thought-provoking spiritual references that Craig has always made in the work to a finer focus conceptually and establishing their sound as a mature combination of ethereal electronic depth balanced with the organic string section and Craig’s soulful delivery. Few bands have their ninth album celebrated as their best work, which was what happened in 2013 with Cloud Cult’s Love. It was in my top ten for the year and was featured in many critic reviews. NPR called Cloud Cult the least ironic indie band around. What a compliment to their stamina; and, I think, to their connection to their fans.
I had a wonderful experience at the Amsterdam in October of this year, when Mark Allister’s book about Cloud Cult was released. The band performed and I did a Q&A with Mark Allister and Craig Minowa. Allister called the book Chasing the Light and was so moved by some of the fan stories he read that he included some testimonials in the body of the book and asked a few fans to read that night. There were more than a few tears as fans described the very special connection that they felt to the band, describing Cloud Cult shows as spiritually moving: “my church, or what church should be like!” Parents talked about sharing the love of the band with their children, from kindergartners to teens. Cloud Cult are a band that brings the generations together through their music. No wonder they fit our mission!
I was honored to write the foreword of that book; I detailed the few memorable experiences that I’ve had meeting the band over the course of their career, both here in Minnesota and in Austin, Texas, when they played on the Current’s stage for our second year at SXSW. The most staggering, in so many ways, was the set they played at our eighth birthday (remember, eight is a big number to them!) when they were able to curate a special set of songs that they and/or their fans connected with the Current.
“Pretty Voice,” for example, is one of the most-watched studio session songs we’ve ever done with anyone. “There’s So Much Energy In Us” from Light Chasers is the longest big hit for us, at over seven minutes. 2014 saw the band release a live album recorded at three shows in the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, solidifying their relationship with the city and confirming that—even though the Minowas now reside on a farm in Wisconsin—they deserve to be celebrated as November’s Local Current Artist of the Month.
Previous Artists of the Month:
January 2013: Andrea Swensson on Dan Wilson
February 2013: Barb Abney on Low
March 2013: David Campbell on 12 Rods
April 2013: Bill DeVille on the Jayhawks
May 2013: Lindsay Kimball on the Hopefuls
June 2013: Steve Seel on the Hang Ups
July 2013: Jon Schober on the Soviettes
August 2013: Mark Wheat on the Suburbs
September 2013: Mac Wilson on the Replacements
October 2013: Walt Dizzo on Charlie Parr
November 2013: Andrea Swensson on Information Society
December 2013: Andrea Swensson on Sounds of Blackness
January 2014: Jay Gabler on Lookbook
March 2014: Jim McGuinn on Jeremy Messersmith
April 2014: Ali Lozoff on Lifter Puller
May 2014: Mark Wheat on Atmosphere
July 2014: Jay Gabler on Prince
September 2014: Bill DeVille on Trampled By Turtles
October 2014: The Current staff on Bob Dylan