Cloud Cult, a Minneapolis band with a deep commitment to the good, green life we’re all about here at elephant, is bringing its music—frequently compared to the sounds of Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips and Postal Service—to Bluebird Theater this Saturday (the 11th) and Boulder Theater this Sunday (the 12th). We’re pretty excited and had Christopher Smith ask frontman Craig Minowa a few questions.
CS: How much of Cloud Cult’s music is about environmentalism or social issues?
CM: The first official Cloud Cult album — “Who Killed Puck” — was an environmentally themed album, but since then, we don’t directly sing about the topic. I was feeling too preachy when I sang directly about it, so we just focused on our environmental work.
CS: When Cloud Cult formed, was there any discussion about what types of messages you wanted to convey through your music or was it something that developed naturally through out the years?
CM: Cloud Cult started as a solo studio project. It was quite a few years before I started to form a live band to replicate the albums on stage. I still write the albums on my own in the studio, so the messaging is more a victim of circumstance than preconceived planning.
CS: Most of your CDs have been released on your own record label, Earthology Records. What exactly is Earthology Records and what types of projects do you work on?
CM: Earthology Records was created in 1999, because, at the time, there weren’t any CD manufacturers making CDs in environmentally friendly ways. So we developed our own green CD manufacturing system. Over the years we expanded on our models of green music products and green touring. A few years ago, the green movement finally started to get hip, so we had bands and labels coming to us asking advice on how they could green their projects.
CS: On Cloud Cult’s website, it says that Craig and Connie started Earthology (or Earthology Institute) in 1999. What specifically motivated you to go beyond music and the arts and found an environmental nonprofit?
CM: When we originally founded Earthology, the scope was much broader than just the music industry. Earthology Records is a sect of the overall nonprofit Institute.
CS: Besides Earthology Records, what other services does Earthology provide?
CM: Earthology Institute advocates positive environmental change with a focus on sustainability, environmental toxins, human health, ecological integrity, proactive and positive living in the 21st century, advocacy through the arts and tools for green living.
CS: Who funds Earthology?
CM: The bulk of Earthology Institute, in these early stages is grant funded and volunteer work, but as the network grows, we look forward to more private donations.
CS: What do you see as being the greatest challenges facing the environment in the next few years?
CM: Apathy and pessimism. I think people are inundated with all that is bad and they are not given enough positive tools to make them feel optimistically that we can actually make a difference.
CS: Is there any current or historical figure that has influenced the way you think around issues of the environment?
CM: Interestingly, I think the figures that have had the biggest impact on our environmentalism are the spiritual leaders. From Jesus to Buddha and everywhere in between, you find that respect for all living things goes hand in hand with the spiritual quest.
CS: According to your website, Craig and Connie live on an organic farm and the band tours in a vegetable oil fueled van. What role do you see people’s personal behavior contributing to environmental problems? Do you think that if people changed their personal lifestyles that it could have a significant impact?
CM: Yes, our goal, through Earthology Institute, is to help educate people about the various lifestyle changes that can have a significant impact. For example, cutting meat consumption by a third is equivalent in personal greenhouse gas reduction to buying a prius. There are simple affordable steps people can take to have a huge impact.
CS: What do you think about the current environmental movement in the US? How is it successful and how could it be better?
CM: We need to drop the outdated attack methods of the 1960s and 70s. Finger pointing and the blame game won’t get us anywhere. Propagate the positive by finding real solutions and teaching people how to use them.
CS: Do you think your fans share your values around the environment? As a follow up, do you do anything to encourage awareness for these issues among those who follow the band?
CM: Some of our fans have expressed that they’ve made changes in their lifestyle as a result of Cloud Cult, but I think the bulk of them are there for the music and less for the eco-aspects. We’re really just getting Earthology Institute rolling on the level we have longed planned for, so over the next couple of years, we see incorporating its educational aspects with the Cloud Cult tabling at shows and through our newsletter.
CS: In your mind, how does the arts contribute to, interact with, or influence people’s values and help us deal with such issues as environmental sustainability and social justice?
CM: Musicians, artists and actors are put on pedestals in Western society. So I think the individuals can choose to create and live a positive message, or make art that is negative. Both are equally contagious.
CS: If you could ask your fans to all do one thing to help the environment, what would it be and why?
CM: Be an educated consumer. Money is power in that every time you buy something, you are supporting that company’s practices and how that product is made.
CS: Where do you see Cloud Cult in 5 years?
CM: Still creating albums.
CS: Where do you see Earthology in 5 years?
CM: I think we’ll have the environmental educational retreat center up and running in the woods of Wisconsin.