To Craig Minowa, the Owatonna native and singer-songwriter behind Cloud Cult, the Minnesota-formed band’s most recent album has parallels with the color indigo.
“Indigo, on a quantum physics level, has a wavelength where it can go through just about anything,” Minowa says by phone. “We are going to grow into the potential that humans are here for. We have to see though the really obvious things in front of us.”
In the experimental indie rock band’s 11th studio album, “Metamorphosis,” that kind of clarity is key. Minowa partially rewrote the record after the pandemic hit, and it dropped this past March. “This is the only album in [the band’s] history that can be played front to back on an acoustic guitar,” Minowa says.
It has been six years since Cloud Cult, which Minowa started as a studio project in Duluth in 1995, released its previous album, “The Seeker,” along with its award-winning feature-length film. That album was performed with the Minnesota Orchestra. With “Metamorphosis,” the music works not only while accompanied by an orchestra or a full band, but also when completely stripped down. The band has spent the past few months performing on a nationwide tour, and they have a show at Canterbury Park in Shakopee on Aug. 19.
During quarantine and the making of the new album, Minowa cocooned himself in a cabin where it was only his family, an acoustic guitar, and the woods. “If you look at how music has been used by humans for the last tens of thousands of years, the vast majority of the time, we, as a species, have used music to heal, as a medicine—to connect with things inside and outside of ourselves,” he says. “Our approach to the music is to try to concoct a personal medicine. For me, songwriting has saved me many times. When I’ve hit many bad lows, different pieces have kept me from falling off the edge.” The album’s lead single, “One Way Out of a Hole,” debuted during a live-streamed concert in the thick of the pandemic earlier this year.
On “Metamorphosis,” it feels as though a therapeutic experience is hidden in each song. Minowa’s favorite song on the album is “Back Into My Arms,” with its splashes of folk and lyrics about Minowa’s family—the children in his life especially. He lives with his niece, nephew, and his two kids with wife Connie Minowa. “My whole day is surrounded by family,” Minowa says. And so, with this song, he looks toward the time when he and his wife will become empty nesters. “I can play it and remind myself it’s not about frustrations about children fighting; it’s about trying to be present in the moment—in the golden years.”
Eight members form Cloud Cult, and most still live in Minnesota, although Minowa and his family currently live in Viroqua, Wisc. Minnesota is still a big presence on “Metamorphosis,” factoring in as a special element behind the scenes.
“There was an intention of recording in places in Minnesota that reflected what was being said in the album,” Minowa says. With one song about his father’s passing, the band traveled to his father’s office in Minnesota and recorded the song right there. The drummer, Jeremy Harvey, sat exactly where Minowa’s father had sat in his desk chair. Minowa focuses on harnessing the energy in those spaces and letting emotions take over. “Each take is a Polaroid of a vibrant emotive moment,” he says.
From a similar creative standpoint, Minowa is fascinated with candid sounds. “Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed hearing the room in which something was recorded, something that brings you into that exact moment,” he reflects. It started out with video recordings of Minowa in the woods: The listener would be able to hear the birds chirp and the dogs run by. Now, whenever Minowa is recording, he points a microphone out the window, trying to capture a “fingerprint of sound.”
In the spirit of those candid moments, I will share that I am listening to “Metamorphosis” on repeat as I write this. I announce to my family that “Back Into My Arms” is starting to play. My father, an empty nester himself, closes his eyes to bathe in the music and listen to the lyrics.
“Back Into My Arms” reveals a common experience among parents. From Minowa, a parent whose future is empty nesting, to my father, who has already experienced that goodbye, there are shared emotions through the moving lyrics. One that resonates with me, as a daughter, is “I gave you your roots and I had to give you wings / But watching you fly away is a heartbreaking thing.” Knowing that it is inevitable, while the pain is inescapable, is difficult. Ending on hopefulness and Minowa’s seemingly unchanging positivity, he sings, “I choose to believe that good things never end / Come back into my arms again.”
With live shows, expect the signature Cloud Cult concert experience. Minowa’s wife, Connie, is part of an artistic feature unique to the band’s performances. She and Scott West are artists who paint on canvases on opposite ends of the stage during Cloud Cult shows. The stories that Connie and West paint differ from show to show, based on what has happened that day on the road. The origins of this Cloud Cult staple date back to when Minowa was forming a solo studio project, before Cloud Cult’s 1995 formation, and Connie—then his girlfriend—and his best friend, West, were studying at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. While Minowa wrote songs, the two artists would paint, and that became a joint creative process. “When creating a live band, it felt scary,” Minowa says. “I’m a shy, bashful person and have performance anxiety.” The cure was having the two of them on stage with him, painting. “[They] helped me feel like I was at home.”
Minowa is also still involved with environmental and inner-development work through his record label, Earthology Records. At the current location in Viroqua, Wisc., Earthology opened a retreat center in 2014, where folks can reside in cabins and connect with the land to rejuvenate their body and soul. “The Earthology work, as a whole, has morphed into being supportive of inner work,” Minowa explains.
Earthology Records kicked off around the time Minowa was finishing Cloud Cult’s first album, while he was living in Duluth and working for nonprofits to help Lake Superior thrive. He realized that no record label fit his expectations, so he founded Earthology Records in 1999, an organization that advocates for environmental sustainability. Through Earthology, Minowa was able to co-produce the first 100% post-consumer recycled CD packaging. Earthology Records’ home was moved to a farm in Hinckley in 2002, and it is powered by geothermic energy in a building resurrected from reclaimed wood and recycled plastic. The organization has also planted thousands of trees and donates to Native American reservations for the building of wind turbines to act as revenue generators. “If you help the person really wake up their heart, the way they treat the environment and people around them changes,” Minowa says, of Earthology’s focus on inner work.