Craig Minowa has been writing songs in an attempt to understand life for years. The mastermind behind indierock band Cloud Cult, Minowa didn't stop searching for answers until he wrote the set for Cloud Cult's most recent release, The Meaning of 8.
"I realized it's about embracing the mystery," Minowa said over the phone, taking a break from the road trip he and his wife, Connie, were taking to celebrate their anniversary. "When our son left us, the universe woke us up to the beauties of the present moment and taught us to understand that there is no answer. The birds, the bees, and the fish don't have to come up with answers; they just live," he continued. "Humans distract themselves with finding answers when they should just be enjoying the moment."
The loss of their son, Cayden, is felt throughout The Meaning of 8. "This is the dance that brings the dead to the living/Just say, I miss you every day, you know," he coos achingly on the fragile, lilting "Dance for the Dead." "They say, I'm with you every day, you know."
Minowa speaks with a smile and an open heart of his lost son, who died suddenly as a toddler in 2002. "He's with us all the time," he said. "He speaks through the music. He travels with us on the road."
What began as Minowa's studio project in 1995 has since morphed into a full band comprised of: Dan Greenwood (drums/vocals), Matthew Freed (bass/keys), Sarah Young (cello/vocals), Scott West (trumpet) and, of course, Minowa (singer/songwriter/guitar/keys). Cloud Cult—which brings the edgy otherworldliness of groups like Modest Mouse and Flaming Lips to mind—has independently released five albums and has, over the years, deservedly garnered a cult following.
The Minneapolis-based band has also become known for their creative live performances, which feature videos and live painting by Minowa's wife, Connie, and trumpeter West. "It gives the show a creative visual experience," Minowa said. "Our overall intention is to leave people with inspiration and optimism; to strum on the chords of their souls."
Minowa—known for his environmental activism and organic farming—then handed the phone to his wife. "As soon as the drums kick in, we kick in with our brush strokes," she said. "The activity of our painting is based on the song that's playing. The painting expresses the music and the experience of traveling."
After the show, the paintings are auctioned off to the highest bidder. "They get to take them home for a memory or a souvenir of that evening," she said.
The Meaning of 8 deals mostly with mortality and celebrating both life and death. "I was looking at the various angles of who we are and why we're here," he explained. "Why some are allowed to stay and others have to leave? We also wanted to celebrate life and the lives of deceased loved ones, and how to bring deceased loved ones closer through ceremony, music, and coming to terms."