Sun amid the clouds

Cloud Cult’s consciousness and vulnerability make for musical gold.

Grant Tillery

The mid-March slush was set against a sky colored what Pantone would call Vaporous Gray. The austere scene was an argument between winter and spring, as the end of loss and cold blossomed into promise and rebirth. It was the perfect mood to listen to Cloud Cult.

The band was formed in Minneapolis nearly 20 years ago, and their ability to remain relevant can be credited to the vulnerability engrained in their music.

“For the type of people feeling cynical about life, it’ll take them a while to understand it’s not a Pollyanna message we have here,” lead vocalist Craig Minowa said. “We have a lot of pain in our roots as a band and as our philosophy — that was there before we could show the flowery things in life.”

Minowa knows pain. In 2002, his 2-year-old son died in his sleep. Minowa channeled his pain into his music, and the reminder that life is short and precious began permeating his music.

The frontman couldn’t stand performing for a crowd during Cloud Cult’s early days, but his son’s death gave Minowa a new take on playing his music.

“When we lost our son, it suddenly made everything else dim in comparison, so getting on stage is like, ‘I don’t care if you throw tomatoes at me. I don’t care if you think I’m doing something freaky. I’m going to write this and do this how I feel like how this needs to be,’” he said. “And that’s been my personal medicine to get through this tragedy. I lost all necessity to impress anybody else.”

This brutal honesty hasn’t always sat well with the music community at large. Minowa said certain parts of the music community slight the band’s work, especially its lyrics.

“Some people are really turned off by needing to discuss spirituality and life lessons,” Minowa said.

But he’s able to tune out the critics, and life lessons still pervade Cloud Cult’s mission. The band is firmly rooted in environmental causes.

Minowa and his wife, Connie, run the Earthology Institute in their adopted home in Viroqua, Wis. The small town is a hotbed of sustainable living, as several notable organic farms that provide produce to local co-ops are based in Viroqua.

The Minowas’ institute is a catalyst for sustainability and environmental change. Many of its core values influence how Cloud Cult operates, despite challenges presented by touring.

“Touring is difficult — when you’re traveling with 10 people and you’ve got a lot of gear you’re hauling all the way across the country, there’s no way to do that in a battery-powered vehicle,” Minowa said.

But Cloud Cult does what it can to counteract the environmental impacts of touring. For example, band members plant trees to offset their carbon footprint on tour, aiming to make up not only for their travel but for the electricity they use in hotels and on stage.

Though their music emanates earthiness, Cloud Cult doesn’t seek to overplay their environmentalist leanings.

“I try not to get too literal about environmental messaging in the music,” Minowa said. “People are aware of the issues, and I don’t want to be on stage pointing a finger.”

Yet, their new album “Unplug,” set for release April 15, feels true to the earth. An acoustic affair replete with guitars, accordions and glockenspiel, the album succeeds without amplified or synthesized tones.

The songs are reorchestrated interpretations of Cloud Cult classics that were recorded live in December 2013 at the Southern Theater, a venue picked because its intimacy would lend a studio-like feel to the tracks.

Minowa revealed that Cloud Cult already has a new album on the horizon, which he said could be a double-disc LP with one half of the album being entirely instrumental songs.

“It’s at a stage where it has to take as many directions as it can,” Minowa said, noting that listeners can expect both acoustic affairs and harder-rocking cuts evoking their early albums.

This Taoist musical division succinctly sums up Cloud Cult. They’re an earnest band that succeeds thanks to a time-honored recipe of making music from a place of vulnerability and honesty, something few acts achieve.


What: Cloud Cult
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: The Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
Cost: $25