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University of Minnesota
March 12, 2013
Cloud Cult began as the manifestation of Craig Minowa's solo work, but as the years have passed the band has grown, and Cloud Cult now counts eight members on stage. (Minowa is seated.)
Alumnus Craig Minowa lends his lyrics to the U
These are busy times for Craig Minowa. The U alumnus recently put the finishing touches on his band Cloud Cult’s latest album, “Love,” which had its formal release March 5.
Now there’s a tour to plan (including two dates at First Avenue at the end of April), two young children to look after, and the environmental causes that he espouses. His life is a marriage of passions and pursuits that has earned him a growing legion of fans.
Even if you’re not familiar with Cloud Cult, you may have heard Minowa singing “There’s so much energy in us” in the University’s current “Discovery Illuminates Everyone” television ads.
Getting people ‘fired up and inspired’
That line, “There’s so much energy in us,” climaxes a lush anthem by the same name on Cloud Cult’s 2010 “Light Chasers” release. It’s a perfect fit for a campaign built around showing how the University nourishes the light of discovery and the energy of its students.
When he was originally approached to have his music used, Minowa was wary, “just because we’re really, really particular about what types of commercials our music is used in. We’ve said no to a lot of potentially lucrative advertising offers,” he says.
“But then when they showed me what their intention was and also showed me the videos for it, it felt completely in the vein of what we feel our mission is these days, which is to get people fired up and inspired, and help them realize there’s a whole lot of strength on the inside that’s waiting to be tapped, and this world is in need of people to tap that deeper energy.
“I felt like this campaign was all about that, and reminding people of the importance, too, of having a strong state-based research [university].”
Spoken like a true spokesperson.
Formed by his days at the U
From an early age, Minowa has been attuned to environmental issues as keenly as to music. He started at the U majoring in music composition, but decided to change course.
“I felt the calling to switch my major to environmental science (with a focus on water resources), and that was mostly because I didn’t feel like I could do as positive work with music. It felt like [music] was more of a personally focused thing, and I wanted to have a career that felt like I was bringing about positive change in some kind of way.”
He’s managed to meld both careers without missing a beat.
“I think ego is the biggest disease of the music industry, and if you get up on stage and you’re too caught up in yourself you block the flow of what I believe are deeper, more powerful energies out there." — Craig Minowa
Around the time Cloud Cult’s first record was released, Minowa noticed a music industry “that was really far behind on the whole practice of integrating environmental friendliness into their product line,” he says. This was in the waning years of the long box CDs.
So he formed the nonprofit enterprise Earthology. It gave him a platform for pursuing environmentally conscious behavior in the music industry; as well, Earthology doubles as the epitome of an independent music label.
“It was natural to take a lot of what I learned and apply it to the new business—and that was where the [reuse of] CD jewel cases came into play,” he says. (Minowa and his wife Connie were at the leading edge of collecting discarded CD cases from college campuses—including the UMD and UMTC campuses of the U.)
At first, the green movement in the music industry sputtered a bit, but with time that has changed. Says Minowa, “Everybody’s kind of waking up to the fact that you can reduce your impact on the environment while maintaining your profits.”
Tapping the energy
Minowa is grateful for the space he enjoyed at the U of M to both work and create.
“I ended up doing a lot of independent study coursework through the U so I could have time to do internships and pay bills with different jobs around the city, but also to have enough studio time to keep working on the albums,” he says. “So that flexibility that the U provided was really critical for me to be able to continue music and balance [my] schedule.”
He’s also complimentary to the U for providing an environment for the student-led Radio K to flourish, and recalls the thrill of hearing his own songs played on Radio K.
For that matter, he enjoys hearing Cloud Cult music on other stations, especially NPR, which both he and Connie are big fans of. “It’s kind of neat when you’re in the kitchen … and all of a sudden you hear a little piece of your song in the background of a program.”
But he’s not one to bask in the adulation of screaming fans in a venue like First Avenue.
“On stage the best performance is a performance where you are not conscious of yourself,” he says. “I think ego is the biggest disease of the music industry, and if you get up on stage and you’re too caught up in yourself you block the flow of what I believe are deeper, more powerful energies out there. …
“There’s a lot of mystery and energy in this universe that’s happening around us all the time, and we’ve got to learn to step back and let that manifest itself.”