Cloud Cult's new album will be heavy on the "new"
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It's only fitting that a new batch of songs, a new round of recordings, and everything else that goes into an album will reflect a band's recent personal upheavals and artistic changes. But Light Chasers, the new album Cloud Cult will complete soon for release later this year, will have to absorb a ton of change in the lives of leader Craig Minowa and his wife Connie. (An EP called Running With The Wolves, due out April 20, offers something of a preview.) After years of having so many of the band's songs interpreted as grieving over the 2002 death of their infant son Kaidin (with good reason), Connie gave birth to their second son, Nova, last year. The couple also moved from their longtime home in rural Minnesota to a new piece of farmland near Viroqua. In other words, they're a little closer to Madison, but still have a way to retreat from the world and music industry at large. That may help to keep the searching, endlessly vulnerable quality in the band's increasingly orchestral psych-pop, and will also help Minowa stick to the band's famously eco-friendly approach to touring and releasing CDs. While preparing to debut at least a couple of new songs—"Running With The Wolves" and "The Day We Gave Ourselves To The Fire"—during Friday's show at the Majestic Theatre, Craig spoke with The A.V. Club in Spring Green about all the new he and Connie have encountered in a relatively short time.
New Wisconsin studio digs
Craig Minowa: That was one of the first things we did when we got there, built the studio. I knew that the winter was going to be time for working on the album. It's awesome, 'cause it's got a great view of the backwoods area. Being out there during the day, I can see deer go by or a raccoon, and it's super-inspiring. It's built in a rock quarry, so the topography's just crazy. There's cliffs in the back. We're trying to figure out how to reintroduce some of the native plant life and see what happens with that.
New kid, and playing sober
CM: Preparing to have [Nova], there's a lot of drive for personal growth, where you want to be the best parent you can be. Last spring, since we were pregnant, Connie obviously wasn't able to drink, so I wanted to do that with her. I've always had a lot of performance anxiety, so I'd gotten used to having a couple of drinks before I go onstage over the years. The spring touring, knowing that I had to approach it all totally clear-headed, was a motivation to really get into some regular meditation and get on top of dealing with my own demons and whatnot.
Scoring National Geographic documentaries
CM: I had thought that I would break it down and get more acoustic-y, with [Nova being born], but I've been scoring music for National Geographic documentaries, too. I've been really enjoying the composition process and bringing in all these different—"oh, I want a clarinet," or "I want a trombone." It's been just so fun to do that the two have overlapped and it's become more of a composition process for Cloud Cult, too.
When I was in high school, I wanted to go to school for music composition—to write music for National Geographic documentaries—but my high-school orchestra conductor said that I shouldn't do that, it was way too competitive of a field, and that I should go to school for instrument repair, because I'd be able to get a job in that. I was so bummed out about that that I changed my college plans to environmental science. Years later, the producer of this National Geographic documentary was a Cloud Cult fan, and said, "By any chance, is there a way that you would compose for us?" I've done four for them so far [including the episode of Expedition Wild highlighted below], and I've got three more left to do this year, and I totally love it.
Taking the trendiness of "green" in stride
CM: It's weird in the sense that when we first started off, there were a lot of reviewers that actually made fun of us for [having eco-friendly business practices]. At the time, unless you were in a hippie jam band or a preachy folk act, the idea of the environmental pursuits wasn't a cool thing to do.
At face value, I think that's annoying, but if being "green" becomes a cool thing and that helps the movement, then it's better for the planet. Of course, terminology like "green" or "sustainable" or "organic" is getting so watered-down. Popularity for a movement like this is important, so irritation will be set aside as far as those that are jumping on the bandwagon.
Balancing songwriting and parenting
CM: It's been a really neat writing process, because it was a lot of night hours where I just walked around with Nova. [Nova starts crying in the background.] He's gonna be a vocalist.
The A.V. Club: So you've managed to be productive during the sleepless new-parent period?
CM: Yeah, it's a great time for writing. We kind of approached it a little bit different too, where I realized that I want the final product to be something that he can listen to if I'm not around anymore. It's different, too, in the sense that before, the writing process was something that if you had the inspiration, you'd go into the studio, but now, studio time is [more scheduled]. You learn how to turn it on and turn it off. I couldn't do that before.