An interview with Craig Minowa of green-leaning band Cloud Cult
By David Roberts
18 Apr 2007
Imagine the soaring tribal rock of Arcade Fire, the head-nodding beat-pop of Postal Service, and the arty skronk of Modest Mouse, strung together in a loose-limbed, lo-fi pastiche. Toss in half a chamber orchestra and some found-sound collages, and top it off with vocals of almost childlike guilelessness and yearning.
That, in a nutshell, is Cloud Cult, a quirky little band out of Minnesota that in the last few years has emerged from obscurity into improbable indie success. Their last album, Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus
, was an out-of-nowhere college-radio smash that brought major labels courting. That interest is only likely to increase with the release last week of the band's new album, The Meaning of 8
, an artistic leap forward that melds the eccentricities beloved by long-time fans with accessible, unshakeable melodies.
Rarely has major label pursuit been so futile. Cloud Cult's DIY values go well beyond home-studio noodling into deeply committed green territory. The band records and produces its music on the organic farm of band leader, principal songwriter, and singer Craig Minowa. The northern Minnesota farm -- also Minowa's home and the offices of his nonprofit music label Earthology Records
-- is heated entirely with geothermal energy. Early albums were shipped in recycled jewel cases, cleaned by hand by the band; since then, Earthology has developed a full range of eco-friendly packaging and reproduction services that it offers to other bands.
Minowa and crew are now headed out on tour in their biodiesel
van. Grist will be co-presenting (with radio station KEXP) the band's shows in Portland
. I caught up with Minowa by phone.Q. Which came first, environmental awareness or love of music
A. I've been directly involved with music for longer. I took piano lessons as a little kid, and didn't work in the environmental movement until early high school. But the passion for both grew together. I love both of them so much; I just don't feel like a complete person if I'm not doing both.Q. Were your parents environmentalists?
A. No. They weren't specifically environmentalists; it was a conservative Christian family. The birthing ground for the environmental tendencies was when I was young. I was kind of a freakazoid of the community, one of the kids that got picked on and beaten up by everyone. So I would go hang out in the woods. There's a tree I could climb but no one else could climb, so I spent a lot of time up there. Over the years I found a lot of solace and friendship out in the woods, and as I got older it felt like something I wanted to protect -- my sacred ground.Q. You got your degree in environmental science. How much experience did you have in the movement before you jumped over to music professionally?
A. All through college I was doing volunteer work with environmental groups, trying to find my niche in the environmental field. I ended up working with nonprofits, doing environmental education, even some work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources -- all over the place, testing different things out. I found my niche working with smaller nonprofits. That's where I've been ever since, and I love it.
To read the full article, listen to some of their music, and check out some more pics click here.