May 4th, 2008
It’s a grey Monday morning in Seattle, and I’m waiting by the phone. At 10 o’clock sharp, it rings. It’s Craig Minowa. He’s in the midst on his spring tour, and I have fifteen minutes on the line with him.
Minowa is the mastermind behind experimental-rock-indie band Cloud Cult (you can read more about Minowa and his band in ‘A Deeper Dive Into Cloud Cult’, posted in anticipation of their 2008 release, Feel Good Ghosts). Minowa’s work is ingenius, and as I’ve encountered with artists like Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes, engaging in anything Cloud Cult is engaging in something philosophical, spiritual and esoteric.
Minowa’s work has been primarily fueled by grief and loss. Since 2002, the underlying theme in his albums stems from the unexpected and accidental death of his two-year-old son, Kaidin. Though his music is brooding, his personality is upbeat and gracious, and he’s easy to talk to. What’s fascinating about Craig, like many extraordinary artists, is that pain and suffering have been the driving forces in unleashing his brilliance. Minowa’s poetry is open and honest, and when stitched together from album to album, reflect his progressive journey through time. Minowa says that all of his albums reflect a paradigm shift in his life. Starting with They Live On the Sun (2002), each subsequent album has been a process of grieving and healing, each a step along the path to recovery. Thankfully for Minowa, Feel Good Ghosts exudes a light at the end of this tunnel. Recovery and reawakening are exactly what we get from this release. The album still has Minowa’s signature existential and eccentric nature (it wouldn’t be Cloud Cult otherwise), and it continues to shell out plenty color, character and imagination (one look at the cover art confirms this). However, Feel Good Ghosts explores a newfound energy compared to previous albums. It reflects the closure of one life chapter and the start of another.
It was the final track in Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus (2005) where Minowa began the awakening process. In The Meaning of 8 (2007), he taps into this process more fully. The meaning of life, he laughs, is not found in secluding oneself from the world and obsessively grieving in solitude. The pursuit of life and happiness is found in family and friends. He states it was track “2x2x2″ on The Meaning of 8 where he finally pulled his head out of the water. While it’s fitting to assume 8 serves as the climactic point in his grieving, Minowa points out the album introduces his gravitation towards aliveness, a concept he realizes much more fully in Feel Good Ghosts.
What’s fascinating about Cloud Cult albums is that they heavily revolve around universal symbols and metaphorical meanings. For example, among the themes within The Meaning of 8, the most obvious one centers around the infinite nature of the number 8. Minowa shares his comprehensive study of this cosmic symbol on the inside sleeve of the album jacket, where various cultural, religious and scientific interpretations are printed. It’s one example of how his albums are each an ambitious endeavor, and reflective of his struggle with the meaning of existence. Minowa comments the themes found in his albums aren’t contrived in advance. During the inward process of his writing, which takes place quietly and alone on his farm, the universal and/or metaphorical principles found within his albums are secondary attachments. He states that creating an album is very much a hermitic experience for him. Each a journal of his feeling and thinking at a particular point in time, and each a means of relaying the types of encounters and intense periods of grieving he’s undergone.
When I ask him about his environmental roots and the drive behind his eco-consciousness, Minowa remarks his natural way of living has been a process of evolution for him. At around 19, he felt a need to become more environmentally aware. The steps he’s taken since have been a nagging reflex for him. Craig and wife Connie live on an organic farm, Cloud Cult tours on a biodiesel bus, and all Cloud Cult albums are produced from 100% recycleable materials and recorded using geothermal power. In addition, Minowa has declined signing with any major or indie labels (he has his own label, Earthology Records), and he predominantly listens to NPR, jazz and bluegrass. It goes without saying that Minowa is thoughtful and conscientious not only in his work, but also in his everyday living.
What’s in store for Cloud Cult next? Minowa says the future holds positive change, which comes as no surprise, given the uplifting and joyous energy felt in Feel Good Ghosts. Craig and Connie (who also tours with Cloud Cult as a performing artist and painter) plan to start a family again and focus on their farm. Music is most certainly in the picture; however, touring will focus more specifically on major market areas to better accommodate band members’ family lives, as well as the Minowa farming schedule.
As we enjoy the buoyant energy in Cloud Cult’s most recent release, we will no doubt continue to look forward to whatever touching journeys they embark upon next.
Cloud Cult will be in Seattle on May 9th at Neumo’s, and performing at Sonic Boom in Ballard at 5pm the same day.