The Cloud Cult

The Cloud Cult

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

“Best learn to live while you’re alive” is a line from the song “Happy Hippo” on Cloud Cult’s new album Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus. It shows the death and rebirth theme that Craig Minowa’s environmentally friendly band has adapted. He talked to me about the theme saying, “Over the past couple of years, I feel like I've died hundreds of times and in hundreds of different ways. I've been haunted by mortality and the constantly distorting silly-putty philosophies tied to it. This album is a literal waking up. A rebirth.”

Cloud Cult is almost a Duluth folk band from outer space. Their sound is like some mystical music meeting of Radiohead, Fat Boy Slim, and Phil Spector all producing Jane’s Addiction in a spaceship. Craig’s voice on “Washed Your Car” especially had a Perry Farrell like sound, with Dave Navaro chords chiming away. More modern, “Car Crash” had a simplistic Meg White singing range that broke into a Bealtesque “She’s So Heavy” classic guitar creepyness at the chorus. Even the artwork of the new album will make you stop and notice that the themes of the pictures reflect the songs. Craig told me of this, “The art was all done by Scott West out of Milwaukee. He's as obsessed with creating visual art as I am with making music. While I was alone spending all-nighters writing and recording the album, he was doing the same, about 400 miles away. It was nice to have a long distance creative project going on together, where I could call him at 3am and know that he had been working on the art as emphatically as I had been on the music. As for how the actual art pieces came together, he listened to the songs I was writing and came up with the visual ideas. The various art panels of the CD correlate directly with lyrics in the songs, so instead of getting a lyric booklet, you get a visual gallery of the album.”

Cloud Cult’s music is only one aspect of the band. When they perform live there are usually visual projectors dancing, and a painter brushing up a masterpiece to the music. I asked Craig if the painter would be back and how to obtain the artwork from the shows. He told me, “Yes, there will be painters at every show for the next couple of months. In fact, for the Minneapolis First Avenue show on June 3, there will be six live painters. Kinda nutso, but there are a lot of artists interested in being a part of the project, and I'm not about to keep anyone from being creative. It kind of makes the live shows a sort of communal creative experience. The paintings are always available for sale right after the show. It's just a matter of making an offer to the painter, and the highest bidder wins. The money covers the painters supplies, plus, hopefully, a little extra to cover some of their road expenses. The pieces typically sell anywhere from $50 to $250, depending how much demand there is for that particular piece.”

There is almost a revolutionary zeal of environmentalism that comes with Cloud Cult. This goes even to buying wind-credits, which Craig explained, “We figured out how much energy we would be consuming on stage with our gear for each show on the tour and added that to the number of gallons of gasoline consumed with both the auto and air travel. With that data, we then pay for a company to make an equal amount of energy with wind power and feed that into the power grid. We are also planting nearly an acre of trees, which is what it will take to absorb the CO2 we put out on this tour. Then we've also got new solar panels mounted on the van for powering laptops and cell phones on the road, so we can keep doing our eco-activism from the vehicle, as we travel between performance locations.. “

People sometimes have trouble thinking of a band that is environmentally friendly and not assuming they are a jam band. Craig said of this, “I don't like sticking to any single genre, because I love too many different types of music. I think the perfect album is a good mix album, so I like to write the Cloud Cult albums in the same way. You never know what you're going to get from track to track, and most songs blend multiple genres, as well. It's funny, because one of the few genres I haven't really hit is the jam-band kind of flavor. Despite that, just because we pursue a lot of environmentalism in our business practices, there's a weird cultural stigmatism to that, so I still get people saying to me, ‘Oh, yeah, Cloud Cult, I've heard of you guys, aren't you like some kind of hippie jam band.’ I have nothing against hippies or jam bands, and, in fact, love the heck out of 'em, but I'm wondering how long it's going to take mainstream culture to understand that environmentalism can span all genres. Going even beyond that, environmentalism in our business practices, but if you listened to the music, you'd never guess it. I'm not really a fan of directly preachy lyrics, so I just try to stay away from that lyrical topic altogether.”

Speaking of lyrics, the song “Happy Hippo” is based off of a hippo in Craig’s dreams. He said of her, “The hippo is a reoccurring figure in my dreams. She's been coming around for years. It's a weird relationship. There's no talking, but she has a way of planting advice in my head to help me get through my days. It's kind of weird, but what in life isn't weird?”

We talked about the re-emergence of bands like NIN, Green Day, Gwen Stefani, Modest Mouse, Audioslave in Cuba and other recent oldies coinciding with modern bands like The White Stripes releasing a CD. I asked Craig if it seems like there is another music moment that has been building. He responded, “I think that music, like any art, is a reflection of the culture around it. In that sense, some of the good music coming out right now is really reflective of our society, which, I believe, is on the eve of revolution, both culturally and spiritually.”

Touring can be difficult. We talked about the pressures of touring and I asked if he heard that LOW canceled their tour? He said, “ I think everyone has beauty and anguish that they have to deal with in their lives. I know there are many people that have had it way worse than me. Everyone's circumstance is different. That also holds true for the differences between Low's circumstances and Cloud Cult. For example, they are WAY bigger than Cloud Cult, they've been around way longer than Cloud Cult, and Alan is a much more talented songwriter than I am. Beyond those differences, I can empathize with his current inner struggles to a degree. He's a kind-hearted Northern Minnesotan who's soul just may not fit in real well with the crass face of the mainstream music industry. We haven't been around nearly as long as Low, but I can already say that touring is not something that fits me well, as I'm pretty hermitic and am a rural kind of person. I don't do well in intensely urban settings and would much prefer to stay on the farm and spend my nights writing music than to be forced in and out of the anal cavity of countless mega-cities around the planet. The West Coast tour dates are really a highlight, because we'll be able to play a show, get the heck out of the city and camp for the night.”

Cloud Cult comes to Pizza Luce this Saturday, June 4th and will be releasing their new CD. It also is available through their web site: and at the Electric Fetus. The music of Cloud Cult is refined and ahead of it’s time with no single genre. Their live show is always a sight to see and hear. As Craig would say, “I think the only thing I can expect is the unexpected, and that's what makes living so friggin' exciting.”