“Cloud Cult” has 8 members in the band: Craig Minowa (Lead Singer); Shannon Frid-Reubin (Violin), Shawn Neary, Arlen Peiffer, Sarah Elhardt and Daniel Zamzow and both Connie Minowa and Scott West as on stage painters.
“Cloud Cult” was also part of the nomination of “The Minnesota Music Awards” as “Artist of the Year” along with Paul Westerberg and Prince.
In January of 2004, “Cloud Cult” added Mara Stemm on bass.
Then, in 2004, they added two live painters on stage, Connie Minowa, and Scott West.
In 2007, they added Shannon Frid-Reubin on violin.
The band received offers from major labels but continued to turn them down in favor of maintaining control of their art and environmental efforts.
Craig: “Hi, how are you?”
Craig: “It’s finally a fantastic day here in Wisconsin. I’m just happy to be going down the street.”
Jenn: “So living in Wisconsin, how does that work?”
Craig: “Most of us live in Minneapolis that’s why we get called the ‘Minneapolis Band’.”
As the interview got started up, he began to continue his search for the meaning and truth in life. And that comes through in his music.
Craig worked the next four years on a new studio project that would be the first official Cloud Cult album, "Who Killed Puck?" which came out in 1996.
In reminiscing over the contrasting possibilities of helping planet earth, it was overwhelming that “Cloud Cult” desired to give a such a huge lending hand.
In speaking with Craig, I realized everything about him is earthy, humble, and serene. I asked of course how they came up with the name, “Cloud Cult”.
Craig: “I came up with it one day without thinking of a band name, as music is a sacred expression.”
In 1999, Craig and Connie Minowa formed “Earthology” [Records], a not-for-profit environmental organization. Craig worked on developing the “Earthology Records” branch; focused on getting the music industry more “green”.
The band's merchandise is made of certified organic materials and 100% postconsumer recycled materials. It includes recycled CD packaging in the U.S. market.
“Cloud Cult” planted several thousand trees to absorb the band's CO2 output.
Talk about some recognition deserved for their triumph on the ecosystem. It may seem small, but think about if every band did this: Helping out the atmosphere; recycling; “Earthology” is good to the earth.
Jenn: “I was watching an interview of you, where you said you were Buddhist. Are you still practicing Buddhism?”
Craig: “I am influenced by a lot of different worlds. I wouldn’t say I’m a Buddhist. But definitely a lot of things evolve my spiritual self.”
Jenn: “In part of this spirituality, would you say anything ‘guided’ you to write music?”
Craig: “It’s just been a part of my ethical make-up. Ever since I was a kid, I always just felt more at home out in the trees than out in the public. When I grew older, I learned about environmental issues in Junior High and High School. I felt like it was a major part of my life. I went to college for Environmental Science. To the band it turned out to be a good tool for public education and for using income from shows and merchandise to fund the movement.”
Jenn: “Are you still doing the van with the solar panels?”
Craig: “The weight of the batteries for the solar panels to charge increased gas consumption. So we removed the solar panels. We figured out it would be worth it to use the panels in a stationary setting. But the studio here is totally solar powered. We have our non-profit, ‘Earthology Institute’ and we are launching a public eco park this year that has a chunk of land being treated and a lot of old trees. It’s open to the public for hiking and retreats and whatever people need to get out in nature.”
Jenn: “That sounds awesome. Where is this Ecopark at?”
Craig: “It’s just down the road from Earthology Records here.”
Jenn: “You are part of the making of ‘Earthology Records’ with Connie?”
Craig: “Yes, Connie and I created the overall Earthology organization, and that tied over into the whole umbrella thing, that includes the non-profit, the retreat center, and I took care of the Earthology branch.”
Jenn: “It’s rad to go that route. For you to continue on especially pulling out the solar windows from an ecological perspective.”
Craig: “Sometimes you think, it’s a great solution, we just keep trying to get better and better and we find that a big part of the ‘Earthology Institute’ is that it is celebrating some of the newer discoveries in it, some of the beneficial things for the environment.”
Jenn: “You have your stuff together. So to switch gears a bit, when you were nominated for the ‘Minnesota Music Awards’ as ‘Artist of the Year along with Paul Westerberg and Prince, how did that feel being nominated?”
Craig: “A lot of the accolades feel unreal to me. I tend to keep them at a safe distance. I’m really happy when we get positive reviews from critics, and what not, but I also know the more that I rely on that type of thing, the more difficult it when there is a negative review. The more I stay benign to that, the more art can just be art.”
Jenn: “With Shannon Frid-Rubin. So with your music you also were saying it was a sacred expression. I have heard from many artists that their music is ‘sacred’. Could you elaborate on that? The spirituality that seems to ground you and your performances. It is very refreshing and it comes from a very pure place.”
Craig: “Thank you.”
Jenn: “When you guys get together is this a collaboration, pieces that each member selects to try out, or is this on you?”
Craig: “For the majority of it, it’s written at ‘Earthology’. Also the rest of the band lives in Minneapolis so we are separated by four hours. I have a full studio and I also do composing for movies, so I have the tools to orchestrate something, then I give them [the band] sheet music, and they will come here, play it with instruments, instead of the emulated strings and horns and stuff. We adjust in certain spots.
In the unplugged album it was different. It was an acoustic album, and it was us together basically taking older pop cult songs than working as a group to arrange it. That was a first for ‘Cloud Cult’ the most recent album.
The other albums are written and recorded at ‘Ecology’ and they learn their parts.
Jenn: “So you have 8 people in the band including yourself. That’s impressive as you come up with the sheet music; the arrangement. The lyrics as well?”
Jenn: “Where do you write your music?”
Craig: “The preferred spot is outside and when I come up with an idea late at night, I go into the studio.”
We have three young kids a 2 year old and a four year old.
Jenn: Have your kids picked up some music from you? Even at their early age?
Craig: “I think they are more into the visual arts. My wife paints on stage and he loves that. She’s got a real talent for visual out there. This is the four year old.
Last month we were doing a show and he came out onstage ad did drawings all night and painted.”
Jenn: “This painting on stage I thought this was a great flavor to be different and paint so people enjoy the audio and visual performance in a new light. Can people bid on paintings?”
Craig: “Yes, absolutely. You are a painter and writer I've read?”
Jenn: “Yes, I paint, I draw, I write, I used to sing. I did Concert Photography as well as some more abstract. The abstract didn’t pan out that well, but I have fun. For me, I experienced a lot of stage-fright. Does stage fright ever take over for you?”
Craig: “I get some stage-fright when I started doing shows in High School and college, I had so much stage fright that I had to quit playing in bands. That’s when I decided I was going to write and record on my own and record music on my own, just for the love of music.”
It took years and then one album caught a labels interest, I put together a live band via request, and I still experienced stage-fright and I just didn’t’ want to live a life like that.
We lost our two-year old son in 2000, and after that, I kind of changed how I felt in what I was afraid of, and that’s all relative. All of a sudden, you could care less if a crowd was laughing at you, or something. There is just a lot worse things that can happen.
Even if I feel the anxiety, I tell myself that it’s not that, it’s relaxed anticipation, and I feel better.
I also know that the performances of any artist comes from setting yourself aside, and you’re not setting yourself aside when you are part of worrying about things people are thinking or doing.
The quicker I can forget about who I am then just channel things that are much bigger than me, the much better the show is going to be.”
Jenn: “For you, overcoming that fear is realistic given all of the information, and it’s truly remarkable.”
Do you have a routine you do before stage?”
Craig: “A half hour to twenty minutes before stage time, I really focus and try to punch as much energy through me and basically if you were giving your spiritual cavity an enema forcing the energy through your body so you are not as much on you.
I have a physical ritual where I put a sleeping mask on my head at that point, for myself, I tell myself that I am no longer ‘Craig’ but that I’m connected to the dream world.”
The dreams and ambitions of Craig of “Cloud Cult” are realistic, it’s happening, and they are obviously in the ‘now’. Part of Craig’s rituals on-stage as well as his ambitious choice to help ‘green’ the world makes for one remarkable person, band and sense of togetherness.