Cloud Cult: Interview
“Knowing that that there’s radio play now and that a larger audience is hearing it means that I feel responsible for what I put out there.”
Cloud Cult are one of those infectious bands that you constantly listen to, and before too long, you realize you know all of their songs. The genius of what they create sneaks up and sucks you into a world of both breathtaking beauty and unbearable pain. I sat down with four of the members: Craig and Connie Minowa, the band's singer/songwriter and artist, respectively; Sarah Young, their cellist; and Arlen Peiffer, their drummer. At heart they are Minnesotans traveling around a world that is overdeveloped compared to their scenic home, but their tenacity and honesty force the inhabitants of that unnatural world to reconsider the destruction we create.
Unlike the other Cloud Cult albums, all the songs on the new album have consistently positive lyrics. Was that intentional?
Craig: Yes. When I was writing the album, I was really focused on rebirth. The message is more intentionally positive, because I'm at a time in my life when I'm realizing the power of perspective and the necessity of looking at negative things in a positive light.
The album is also a lot shorter and composed of full songs without any of the interludes that other albums had.
Cr: We really wanted to do something shorter and more succinct, even leave our fans hanging a little bit more. Our time to finish the album was also shorter, which rushed it. There were other songs I wrote for it that I thought of including at one time or another, but when all was said and done, the complete project felt like it needed to be a little shorter.
“Story of the Grandson of Jesus” is a unique Cloud Cult song in that it carries a third-person narrative and is sort of a complete story. Is that something that you're finding yourself doing more, as opposed to the more personal songs that comprise most of Cloud Cult's repertoire?
Cr: I have a friend in San Francisco who met this homeless man who actually claimed to be the grandson of Jesus. The friend believed him for awhile and followed him around. It seemed like an interesting story and a good vehicle for the messages that we usually like to have in our songs. I really just found the character very interesting. The album was actually going to be called “Stories from the Pleides,” and every song was going to be a narrative. But after writing a couple songs, that changed right away.
"The best performance is when you can have a personal catharsis. It's tough to do that a lot without feeling you're going to turn into ash."
What do you like about having such a large group?
Sarah: I like the people! It's been an evolution into this current group, and I really like the dynamic. We've got everything covered for touring too -- some of us are strong, some of us are good drivers. Some of us are sassy also.
Arlen: It's really fun, too. Lately we've been having these band-wide laughing fits. They're not really triggered by anything in particular, but they go on for about 20 minutes. The giggling fests are awesome.
The aspect of environmentalism is really important to the band. How do you balance that with the music?
Cr: We try to incorporate it as much as possible into our business model, though lyrically not so much the music. I do write most of our stuff on our farm in Minnesota, though, so it's impossible to ignore the beauty of that in the music. It gives it a sort of organic feel, which I like a lot.
Coming from such a small town and a natural place, was it a hard adjustment to start playing in huge metropolitan areas?
Cr: Definitely. The first few tours were really grueling. The demand of being on all the time and going directly from the van to a show and then back to a van and doing it all the time was really hard. We got sick almost the whole tour. We really wanted to go home.
Co: For a lot of us, it's still like that, but we know what to expect. A couple of the members live in Minneapolis, so they're used to it. We also have day jobs working for environmental nonprofits, so it's hard to not feel like we have to get stuff done all the time. We do like being homebodies, and we want to spend some more time working on the farm so we can get off the grid.
Your music is often very intense and cathartic. How do you keep the energy up?
Cr: Because the music is so intense, we have to get deeply involved in it. The best performance is when you can have a personal catharsis. It's tough to do that a lot without feeling you're going to turn into ash.
A: This is my first tour ever, and I'm really starry-eyed. It's a dream come true, so being able to do this is inspiration enough.
S: it's just an honor to be able to play this. I like 98.9% of Craig's songs, and he writes a lot of songs!
You write a lot of songs that don't make it to albums, then.
Cr: It varies album to album. They Live On the Sun was 100 tracks, and it's only 21 on the album. Usually there's one track ditched for every song that makes it onto an album.
"Lately we've been having these band-wide laughing fits. They're not really triggered by anything in particular, but they go on for about 20 minutes."
With all that unreleased material, do you ever think about making a B-sides album?
Cr: Yeah, actually. We want to work on starting a family and having a baby, so we have a lot of songs saved up that could take the form of an album while we're doing that. I think we're going to take a break from these long tours and start being more strategic about where we play.
S: That's really awesome for me, because I have two kids and I travel with them, so I have to pace myself. It's hard.
Co: Craig, I'm going to remember that. On the next tour, I'll remind you of when Sarah talked about how hard it is to keep a kid with us on tour. And you'll have to listen to me. Sarah and Craig and I have all been on the road for five years, and we're ready to slow down. The newbies are like “Gotta go gotta go!” and we just sit here and say “Nuh-uh, we're tired!” We're the geezers of the band. The energy has shifted, and the driving force has changed. It's nice to have the new energy to keep us going. Arlen is like a new set of eyes to look through.
“The Ghost Inside Our House” has a line about starting a family. Is that song about what you two are trying to do right now, then?
Cr: Yeah, it is. The ghost in the house is Kaidin [Connie and Craig's son who passed away when he was two]. We always feel like he's around, and there's a desire to see that ghost because we want to have that tangible experience and say ‘Yes, he's still alive, the other side exists and he's there.' We have a need to believe he's with us and still in our family.
Connie, your painting is really unique to the band. What do you like about doing it?
Co:Well, I love painting period. It adds a unique visual element. I went to art school and have been doing it all my life. I'm also huge music buff, and it's nice to combine two of my biggest passions. It's a visual expression of the music that's being performed. Craig and I are celebrating our 10-year wedding anniversary. We've been doing this relationship for a long time. He's a musician and I'm an artist, and it's nice that we can combine our art forms and be creative together. That's what I like most is being able to be with my honey. A lot of it is also inspired by the journey we go through on tour.
Cloud Cult has been making a lot of music for quite awhile now. Craig, how do you feel you've progressed as a songwriter?
Cr: I focus a lot more on lyrical content. Early on, whatever came could be, and it was more freeform. Knowing that that there's radio play now and that a larger audience is hearing it means that I feel responsible for what I put out there. It needs to be positive because I want to propagate something good.
This album was a process of sorting through lyrics very meticulously, making sure that every line had something positive and empowering and helpful. If you go back to Who Killed Puck?, it's a very dark album and was reflective of what I was going through at the time. There was no intent for people to listen to it. It was more for me, because I had the need to vent. They Live On the Sun was the same way. It can be good music, but I feel like if I'm doing this for a living, I want my career to be something that's positive.