In an unusual 2½-year lull between albums, two of Cloud Cult’s members married their sweethearts. The two who were already wed had another baby. The band itself added a new member, who calls it a dream gig. And when they finally all got together to work on music again, they did it around a campfire bonding over the new songs.
No wonder they wound up titling their new album “Love.”
“It’s sort of a loaded title,” frontman Craig Minowa said with a smirk.
Cloud Cult’s mystical mastermind and the rest of his orchestral rock band — minus the two members whose job it is to paint during performances — took a break from rehearsals last month to talk about the new record and the shared love that clearly still spreads through the group, now in its second decade.
When “Love” earned prime promotion on National Public Radio’s website as a “First Listen” streaming selection a week before its March 5 release, writer Stephen Thompson aptly summed up the record by declaring Cloud Cult “quite possibly the least ironic — and least cynical — band in existence.”
Proof of that description came firsthand from keyboardist/French-horn player Sarah Elhardt-Perbix, who recounted the emotional flood that overcame her last summer while the band worked out vocal arrangements for “Meet Me Where You’re Going,” truly the loveliest song on the record.
“It happened to be two weeks before my wedding, and as we were singing it I just broke down and couldn’t stop crying,” she said, clarifying: “The good kind of crying.”
The song goes: “Will you be the rest of my life? Every day with you I say ‘I do’ / And it means so much more each time.” Minowa wrote it for the wedding of the band’s tour manager/sound engineer, Jeff Johnson. Violinist Shannon Frid-Rubin is also newly married.
“There was a lot of that kind of mushy emotion going around,” Elhardt-Perbix said, laughing.
Last month’s rehearsals weren’t in nearly as serene a setting as last summer’s woodsy, campfire pre-recording sessions in Viroqua, Wis., where Minowa lives with his wife, Connie Minowa, one of the band’s painters. However, the group did find a space in northeast Minneapolis with big windows to let in sunlight — seemingly a crucial element for Cloud Cult’s recent music.
The last record was even called “Light Chasers,” and it became their most successful, with the urgent tracks “Running With the Wolves” and “There’s So Much Energy in Us” garnering TV and radio play. The subsequent tour sold out many mid-sized venues.
The demands of touring, though, led to the departure of one of the group’s co-founders, cellist Sarah Young. That left painter/trumpeter Scott West as the only original member besides the Minowas.
At the same time, Cloud Cult locked down one of the most visceral rhythm sections in Minnesota music, drummer Arlen Pfeiffer and bassist Shawn McNeary. And it found a new cellist in Daniel Zamzow, who played with Adam Levy’s Liminal Phase and Molly Dean — but still had to endure quite an arduous audition process. While Craig Minowa may be a sweet-voiced, hippie soul-searcher, he can be quite rigid and picky as a bandleader.
“It was pretty intense,” Zamzow said, “but it was worth it. I can’t tell you how in love with this band I am.”
While much of “Light Chasers” was written while awaiting the birth of the Minowas’ son, Nova (now 3), “Love” was largely conceived after the December 2011 birth of daughter Iris. Some lyrics were even written the day she was born. Others “came while I was walking laps with her,” Craig Minowa said. Listen closely to the rousing, marital-bliss-inspired track “Good Friend,” and you can hear a baby monitor hissing.
That’s all a sharp contrast to Cloud Cult’s albums of the ’00s, which were defined by the Minowas’ sorrow and reflection after their first son, Kaidin, died in his sleep in 2002.
“After Kaidin left us, I spent a lot of time — years — not being a father, and I sort of reverted back to being a little too absorbed in myself, with free time again to ponder everything,” he said.
That explains one of the key lyrics on the album. In the elegant, children’s-choir-accompanied closing track “The Show Starts Now” — featured in a video filmed by TPT’s “MN Original” crew — he sings, “I wanna be the guy who lives in the moment, not so lost in my mind.”
Minowa, who turned 40 in February, put it more bluntly in our interview: “This album is really about cutting through a lot of my own personal crap.
“After ‘Light Chasers,’ I realized so many of our songs are about that constant search to explain the unknown, the afterlife, all that stuff. But there’s a lot to be sorted out right in front of our faces, the things we can all do to be better friends, better spouses, better human beings. I wanted this record to be more about being in the moment, and making it count. A lot of that, of course, starts with love.”
He didn’t actually think of that as an album title until near the end of recording, when Nova bum-rushed the home studio and started chanting, “Ladies and gentlemen, I looove you” — a moment captured in the instrumental track “Catharsis.”
On a more pragmatic front, Minowa got to thinking about all the ways an album title matters to a band. “I knew that there would be all these posters and T-shirts and articles about us where the word would appear,” he explained, adding with a laugh, “It’s sort of like we’re branding ‘love.’ ”
Turns out, the hippie soul-searching bandleader also has a shrewd marketing mind.