Unique music style collides with art

Laura Lucas

Laura Lucas

The Volstroff Ballroom in The Union was filled with couches, tables, chairs and music on Nov. 20.

At 7:30 p.m., Sioux Falls native John Goraj was the opening act. He took the stage with his acoustic guitar and was accompanied halfway through by banjo/mandolin player Kevin Jansa. Goraj described his music as “folk, indie and bluegrass.” His songs are inspired by love and faith.

At 8 p.m., the Minneapolis band Cloud Cult took the stage. The band consists of Craig Minowa, vocals/guitar/keys, Sarah Young, cello, Dan Greenwood, drums, Shannon Frid, violin, Connie Minowa, visual artist, Scott West, visual artist/trumpet, and Shawn Neary, bass. Greenwood described their music as “unpredictable, challenging and experiencing weird rhythms of electric with rock flavor.”

According to their Web site, they have been described as “insane genius” by Pitchfork Media and have been compared to Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips and Beck.

Craig Minowa, the founder, said the shows he did prior to Cloud Cult’s formation in the early ’90s were often disappointing. He was also pursuing his degree in environmental science. “I had a lot of unrealized dreams about bringing environmental education together with music and art,” he said.

The first album titled The Shade Project came out in 1995, and Minowa was the only member. The budget was very low and Minowa used household items like buckets, pans and couch cushions to substitute for instruments.

After the album was released, several record labels expressed interest. Minowa refused all offers and in early 2000 he released Cloud Cult’s second album Who Killed Puck? This album also introduced cellist Young on several tracks. Since the album did not have much promotion, it received little fanfare.

Shortly after the album was released, Minowa’s son was born. This transitioned them away from live performances to strictly a studio band. “I had sort of lost my confidence in my ability to survive in the music world, given how little came out of Who Killed Puck?,” he said.

From 2000 through 2002 he spent his time focusing on his family and recording. Tragedy then struck in 2002 when his son unexpectedly passed away. Over the next year, Minowa spent his time dealing with the loss and grieving by writing over 100 new songs.

“I just needed the medicine that writing music provides me,” he said. “I was obsessively writing music, working from home for a couple of environmental groups and trying to come to terms with all the pain I was drowning in.”

During this time he also formed Earthology Records. His record label has been recognized by major media ranging from National Public Radio to the New York Times as “the world’s most environmentally friendly not-for-profit record label.”

In 2003, Dan Greenwood added his drumming skills to the album They Live on the Sun. “We were a three-piece band for a while,” said Greenwood.

Six months after the release of They Live on the Sun, the band released Aurora Borealis in 2004. The album debuted at number two on North America’s college radio charts and quickly went to number 19 on the national college radio Top 200. As a result, the band went on a nationwide tour including Connie Minowa, Craig’s wife, and Scott West as visual artists. They received national reviews calling the band a “literal cult phenomenon,” and newspapers and music publications began rating the album as one of the best of 2004. The Minnesota Music Awards also nominated the band “Artists of the Year.”

In 2005, Cloud Cult added Shannon Frid to the line up and released Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus. The Minnesota Music Awards nominated the album for “Pop Album of the Year.”

The Meaning of 8 is the newest album, released earlier this year, and is as diverse as the band. The newest member, Shawn Neary, was added six months ago. “I’m pretty shy, but while I’m on stage I let my creative juices out. I love being a part of this,” Neary said.

The band is currently playing more regional shows. “We play anywhere. We love playing small towns and traveling across the country,” said Greenwood.

“They sounded amazing, phenomenal,” said Brittany Brimmer, a Huron native.

After the band was done playing, the two paintings were put up for auction. Minowa’s painting went for $700 and West’s went for $250.

“They were really good. The music had a bit of everything you wanted,” said Jackelyn Severin, a senior journalism and global studies major.

#1.883044:4164834730.jpg:cloudcult painting.jd.jpg:Scott West likes to create abstract art while on stage as part of his creative expression.:John Dahmen