:: Cloud Cult :: Larimer Lounge :: May 17 and 18 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
Of all the hot topics in today’s society, it’s our country’s concern about the environment that has steadily been gaining momentum over the last decade. Politicians and scientists are of course involved, but musicians seem to have a unique ability to reach out to the masses. In April, hundreds of thousands of music fans turned out to hear nearly 50 bands that were featured at the Green Apple Festival that was held in eight cities around the country. The performances were free and the intent was to celebrate Earth Day in landmark parks with art, music and educational programs.
While each of the bands who played the Green Apple festivals volunteered their time, and the events were very successful, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Events like this raise awareness of the global environmental problems we are facing but they do very little to actually act on the problems. While both aspects are critically important, it is people like Craig Minowa and his band, Cloud Cult, that are taking things to the next level and beyond.
“My first year of college I was studying music composition and then I found myself trying to decide what I was going to do with my life,” Minowa said in a recent interview with The Marquee as he was driving through Brooklyn, NY. “I just felt like I wanted to leave the planet a better place than if I hadn’t been born at all. I’d always been really passionate about environmentalism so I switched and ended up getting my degree in environmental science. I did a lot of internships with various non-profits and have been doing that as my day job ever since.”
For those familiar with Cloud Cult, it might come as quite a surprise that Minowa has a day job, as he has been cranking out albums at the pace of nearly one a year for the last eight years, but he swears it’s true. “I contract for the Organic Consumers Association as an environmental scientist,” he said. “I review different scientific studies that are coming out, specifically on pesticides, sustainable agriculture and food safety issues. I also write their newsletter, which has a quarter of a million subscribers, and do a little of their campaign organizing and that kind of thing.”
Minowa doesn’t keep the environmental issues relegated to his day job and instead prides himself on being an environmentalist in every aspect of his life. “We both would like to be as self sufficient as possible, so we have goals to be able to grow most of our own food and get off the grid and just be close to the land,” Minowa said. The ‘We’ that he is referring to is himself and his wife, Connie who is also the painter in Cloud Cult. Together, they live on an organic farm in Minnesota that is also home to their own environmentally friendly label, Earthology.
Earthology has released every Cloud Cult CD since 2000’s Who Killed Puck, and has proven a rare model in the music business. Major labels are now knocking on Minowa’s door asking for help to “green” themselves. Even Universal Records called to get advice on what kind of shrink wrap they could use on their CDs that would be more ecologically friendly, and that is just the beginning.
The fact that majors are looking to Earthology for advice must feel rewarding to Minowa, because Cloud Cult has sat at the negotiating table many times with major labels and each time, to the dismay of the label, walked away without a contract. “They just haven’t been able to be as environmentally friendly with the manufacturing as we would require,” said Minowa. “We are also very touchy-feely about everything that we are doing. For example, we get lots of offers to use our music in different types of commercials and those can be really good-paying endeavors, but we are so particular about what we will endorse that we have to say ‘no’ to the vast majority of them. If we had the label pressure we would probably lose more control over that and how our name is splashed around. It is really good to have autonomy and complete control and though it restricts our growth to a large degree, we all feel better about ourselves and about the project as a whole. It is better to die with that feeling than to die with a fat wallet.”
This altruistic attitude that seems to pervade Minowa’s persona is also exemplified in the fact that he and his wife are about to turn their focus from music to a non-profit that they have dreamed about together. “Earthology Records has been a side project for a while but we have both had the bigger goal of an Earthology Institute for as long as we can remember. We’ve been talking about it for a long time and we’ve acquired some grant funding, but we’re finally getting to the point of being able to be a bonafide non-profit and launch the full manifestation of that dream,” said Minowa.
In order to realize this dream, and others, the Minowas are going to ratchet down the intensity of Cloud Cult’s touring. “We are both healthiest when we are out in the country and working closely with the land. Touring is kind of the polar opposite of that, which is good too, but only in doses,” said Minowa. “So, we’ll still do shows, but they will be built on a different model, I think. As we go through this tour we are really analyzing the markets and seeing which ones are really strong where we might be able land shows that we could fly out to. We’ll just try to build the touring in a different way so that we aren’t out for such an extended period.”
Though the touring will slow down in the latter part of this year, Minowa does not think that his musical output will diminish. “Writing is something that comes really naturally and prolifically to me. I think we are just going to approach how it all gets disseminated a little differently. There have been traditional models of how you do the brick and mortar release, and the radio release, and how you build that whole paradigm. But, with the internet, there are some new creative ways of getting the music out there and we are dreaming up some fresh new ideas for that with the intention of doing more of it from the studio,” he said.
This may be a disappointment to many Cloud Cult fans, as their live shows are quite the spectacle. With live painters, video screens and a lineup that features two string players, the Cloud Cult stage show would be considered elaborate even if the band was playing venues twice the size. It’s “a true multi-sensory experience,” according to Minowa.
If you do experience a Cloud Cult show, be sure to enter the venue with an open heart, an open mind and, if you appreciate painting, an open wallet. “We have an auction at the end of the show for the paintings that are done while we are playing. There are some nights where we are lucky to pay for supplies and there are others where we paid for gas for a good chunk of the tour. Most people don’t come out to a club planning to buy something like that so it varies a lot, but (Connie) did sell a piece for a couple thousand on this tour and set her personal record. It’s a fun way to get a unique product out to someone’s home and a lot of times they’ll take a picture of it in their living room and send it to us and we can cherish the idea of a piece of Connie being out there.”
:: Cloud Cult ::
:: Larimer Lounge :: May 17 and 18 ::
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