A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE: Cloud Cult

Published on Blurt – Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010

Soaking in the rhythms of birth and renewal, the beloved indie rockers’ latest album shifts towards newness while retaining a satisfying familiarity.

BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA

A little over two years have elapsed since Cloud Cult entered 2008’s Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) into the ecumenical musical library, and almost a year since they’ve performed live. This may not seem like a mammoth deal in the grand scheme of things but, when it comes to a band that’s released nearly an album per year since unleashing their official debut, Who Killed Puck?, in 2001, and has hit the pavement roughly non-stop for six, you can’t help but wonder what’s up.

“We had a baby and moved the Earthology farm to [Viroqua, Wisconsin],” says Craig Minowa.

The outfit’s lead singer and chief architect is, of course, referring to the October 2009 birth of his second child, Nova, with Cloud Cult’s visual artist Connie Minowa, and the relocation of their small, organic homestead, which houses their not-for-profit environmental organization, Earthology, established in 1999. He publicized the pregnancy during the chamber-pop collective’s stint at the 2009 Coachella festival, with the eight-piece – now comprising the Minowas, Arlen Peiffer (drums), Sarah Young (cello), Shannon Frid (violin), Shawn Neary (bass/trombone), Sarah Elhardt (keyboard/French horn) and Scott West (visual artist/trumpet) – touring close to Connie’s due date. After welcoming their new youngster to the family last fall, Cloud Cult took a reprieve from the road, affording Craig time to focus on what is now their eight studio full-length, Light Chasers, which arrived earlier this month on their Earthology imprint, Earthology Records (over the two years, Cloud Cult released a full-length DVD on the band, No One Said It Would Be Easy and reissued 2003’s They Live on the Sun and 2004’s Aurora Borealis as a double-disc in December 2009).

Written through both the childbearing and early childrearing stages, Light Chaserssignals a notable shift from anatomizing life’s master plan and coping with grief – the unforeseen 2002 death of the Minowa’s two-year-old son Kaidin informed both They Live on the Sun and Aurora Borealis – to chronicling the voyage of embracing new life while, as Craig puts it, “keeping close attention on those that are chasing the light as the deceased.” There were countless nights, admits Craig, when he composed while pacing in the dark, trying to soothe their baby to sleep, and other times, he mentally pieced arrangements together because his studio access was limited during the move. “In having a new baby and a second chance at being parents, there was a lot of inner work going on during the pregnancy, and I’ve always used music as a self-help and spiritual tool,” says Craig, who started Cloud Cult as a solo studio project in 1995. “Cloud Cult’s music has always been really motivated by the spiritual journey of our current lives, so the birth of our new baby was a huge influence on this album.”

At its heart, the overall crux of Light Chasers stands as a highly wrought epistle exploring concepts of joy and rebirth. And, like the releases that preceded it, this latest addendum to the Cloud Cult index reassuringly channels the organic rhythms the group is known for and has featured on Weather Channel’s Forecast Earth, on The CW’s Gossip Girl, and in an Esurance TV campaign. “We’re woodsy, earthy people,” says the frontman, who also composes music for National Geographic’s Expedition Grizzly series. “My church is in the woods and under the stars. And music is very spiritual and sacred to me, as a tool to get in touch with something bigger, so that natural theme will always be there.”

Considering Cloud Cult’s ecological background and where Light Chasers manifested – on the Minowa’s Midwestern farm-home, surrounded by hushed wilderness, powered by geothermal energy and partially constructed from recycled plastic and reclaimed wood – it’s almost a given that such lofty and transcendental diapasons are instinctive for the Cloud Cult engineer. It’s an inmost connection that bodes well for the band, and makes listening to Light Chasers, and all of Cloud Cult’s excursions, a more gratifying, if not intimate, experience.

You can say that’s somewhat necessary for an album that spans 56 minutes and is devoid of any audio breaks. Structured “like a book” (as Craig puts it), with each track flowing seamlessly into the next, Light Chasers is meant to be absorbed as a whole, rather than consumed as singular refrains, which he equates with “catching a chapter.” “A lot of music critics have claimed the album is dead,” he adds. “Most people listen to one or two songs off an album or listen to a random mix of songs on their iPods. I think that’s great, but I also think there’s something to be said about the full album experience.

“I just really personally enjoy the amount of artistic space a full hour of music can give you. It lets me take one central concept that is key in my life and spend a couple of years really trying to figure it out. I like the process of trying to see how all the songs play with each other into one large piece. I think it’s probably the classical background I have.”

While this isn’t the only musical work crafted by Minowa during a pregnancy (he wroteWho Killed Puck? when Connie was carrying Kaidin), it is contradistinctive to who he and Cloud Cult were nearly a decade ago. According to Minowa, their first official studio album was fashioned with the idea that “no one would really care to listen to it,” other than family and friends, since Cloud Cult’s recognition was nil at that point. In other words: It was a labor of love made by someone who loves to write and record music. But, with Light Chasers, he was aware of Cloud Cult’s fanbase, something he tried overlooking because he didn’t “want to write to try to fit whatever might be considered hip for the moment.”

But it’s much more than the record’s execution that’s divergent. “I’m a totally different person than I was 15 years ago,” says Minowa, who, with the other members, will head out on a Stateside tour in late October in support of Light Chasers. “The band has changed a lot of faces over time, but I think it really has gradually just come into its being, and now we’re here. This is a very orchestral album. I spent a lot of time composing. I spent four years on Who Killed Puck?, so that’s the closest album I can think of that came close to this. But even that was a different type of composing.

“This was a much more spiritual experience.”

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