Cloud Cult

Monday, 26 March 2007

“Music is the ultimate medicine for me and if I started being dishonest with it, then it really wouldn’t be medicine for me anymore,” says Cloud Cult’s Craig Minowa over the phone from his hometown in Minnesota. “It’s saved my life so many times. There’s been times when everything falls apart and there’s no safety nets left—everything else is gone and you’re in a freefall. Wherever it comes from and whatever it is, I don’t know, but I am in love with it.” That love invariably bleeds from the part-story, part-concept album due out in April, The Meaning of 8.

Cloud Cult’s albums leading up to this one have leaned more on the darker side, dealing with despondency and sorrow—not exactly joyful subject matter. Isn’t great art supposed to come from great pain? Unfortunately, Minowa knows great pain. In 2002, he and his wife Connie lost their 2-year-old son Kaidin, which led to a temporary marital separation that stemmed from the severe emotions of the loss. The next few years would be spent writing—literally—hundreds of songs, cutting the ribbon on his new studio, Earthology Records, and dealing with a pain that would leave most in hole too deep to escape. However, the time spent writing and reflecting has allowed Minowa to emerge mentally nourished.

“The nice thing with this album is I’ve probably been in more a healthy mental state than I have been in my entire life,” Minowa admits. “I was kinda scared about that before. Like on [Previous albums] Who Killed Puck? and They Live on the Sun, they were really hard hard times in my life, and I thought you have to be struggling to create something. For this album I was kinda scared because I was thinking, ‘I’m happy and I’m back in my relationship with my wife and I’m totally in love. I feel alive. I feel close to my son again.’ And at the same time, the writing still comes and I’m really thankful for that.”

Not knowing all there is to know about Minowa’s tumultuous past, The Meaning of 8 could appear to sound like a love story with a slight obsession with death. Minowa admits that this album is an analysis of mortality and what the hereafter means and how it pertains to everyday life. It’s not preachy, but expresses how deep he took this idea of death and how that interconnectedness with the afterlife and with his son allowed him to break through and grow into who he is right now. “I think at the latter part of writing [Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus] and then coming into this album,” Minowa explains, “it was like coming back to life again. In a way, coming back from that thin line between the two worlds and seeing life in a whole new way. I feel like The Meaning of 8 is a reflection of that celebration of ‘Alright, you get a second chance. That’s death and this is life.’”

The album began to materialize while Minowa was spending time alone in the basement room on his Minnesota farm where he worked on the albums. He drew on the walls as part of his creative process and couldn’t stop doing 8s and equations of 8s, which generated this need to do an analysis on 8. “That’s when I was getting intrigued with 8 and all the different things where I was looking for 8s in life,” says Minowa. “And writing The Meaning of 8, there are just 8s all over the place. I was kinda feeling where the album was, and realizing I knew where the theme of this was going.”

Although the songwriting had not truly begun at this point, he at least had a direction. “The first song written for the album was ‘The Deaf Girl’s Song,'" Minowa explains. “I was taking a long drive to visit a friend of mine and I was thinking that all I wanted it to be was quiet, and what could I write that better than something being quiet. So I thought, if a deaf girl wrote a song and she totally felt it—her whole insides and her pores are screaming it—deep down, would you be able to feel it? That’s how the album started off.” It’s a pretty peculiar idea, but after hearing the song, he somehow makes it feel more than feasible.

Despite a positive and healthy frame of mind, it would be asking a lot for an artist to fend off all doubts and negativity. “Two months before the album was done I was having total panic attacks because I really wasn’t happy with it,” Minowa says. “We were kinda recording in a new way, recording at our bass player Matt Freed’s studio and he was using a totally different software and I couldn’t figure out how to mess with the songs. But I figured out the software and it ended up coming together after 2 months of all-nighters and pounding the crap out of it until I really liked the shape of it.” Minowa also noted that Freed’s expertise and assistance with implementing more advanced recording and production techniques helps this album stand out from the past discography.

Part of the album was recorded at Minowa’s studio and part of it was recorded at Freed’s studio. There were a few tracks on the album where they decided to start from scratch and really utilize the technology and the high-quality gear that Freed’s studio afforded. But they were getting frustrated because there was no feeling. “There are a couple of tracks, like ‘Purpose,’” he remembers, “that we rebuilt and recorded there and I was livid because we spent so much time on this, and it sounds effin peachy clean, but I can’t feel anything anymore. There’s something to be said about crappy recordings that can actually capture a feeling.”

If there’s a need for feeling and authenticity, The Meaning of 8 is brewing with it. Beyond the sincerity oozing out of each and every song, on one track you can hear a pen drop, another you can hear a cell phone ring, and on “Pretty Voice,” you can hear Minowa clear his throat. It’s genuine and has character, but at the same time is flawless in so many ways. Minowa has taken the love he has given to himself and transferred that into his music. There is emotion inside and out, but the end result is a reflection of what his heart is feeling.

Songs like “Your 8th Birthday,” “The Girl Underground” and “Take Your Medicine” all hover above pain, happiness, suffering, love and any other emotional growth period Minowa experienced over the past few years. It’s a form of dark pop, where the song could sound sad, but the lyrics are happy and vice versa.

“2x2x2” is the perfect example of that, as well as the song that tied the entire project together. “That song was one of the first written, but it was an instrumental piece,” says Minowa. “The album was almost done, but I didn’t feel like I was getting my personal philosophical resolution that I needed from that album—I didn’t have the meaning of 8 myself figured out yet. There was all the Jungian stuff and the obvious feeling of infinity and the gateway between 2, but there was still that search for divinity and God that I felt I was still missing. Just as the album was ending, I was falling into this thick lyrical mode and I had tons and tons of lyrics coming out of me. ‘2x2x2’ was the meaning of 8 for me—the resolution of the album for me. Basically, for years I’ve been trying to find God, feeling like I had to be in some extreme state of being, whether it’s really focusing on mortality or in this really deep place with music. I felt the divinity that I was finding in music is that same divinity you could find in your relationships. I found divinity with my wife. I found divinity with my son. I found divinity when I had a really good one-on-one conversation with my best friend. I don’t need to be in hell or in some extreme deep trance to get that feeling. I can get that from my family and my loved ones. So the meaning of 8 shaped into: The gateway to the bigger picture is through love and those people who are really close to you.”

It’s this unbridled candor that makes the album so powerful. Its sincerity and honesty reach out and grab you on each of the album’s 18 tracks. Minowa has opened his heart to whoever is listening and pulls you right along with him on his journey. After a few listens you’ll feel like you know him, as he’s not afraid to let you know how he feels, even though it’s masked a bit within the story of 8. Minowa creates such expressive art that remains above and below the surface. Cloud Cult’s The Meaning of 8 will penetrate your heart the same way an old friend comes back into your life and it feels like not single a moment has passed. It’s about living life, not giving up, and most of all, realizing that growing is life and you’re not truly living if you deny it.

The Meaning of 8 is out April 10th on Earthology Records and Rebel Group.

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