By Andy Mannix
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Nova has already been on the road for some of Cloud Cult's Midwestern shows in the spring and early summer. "He's more of a people-person," Connie smiles, holding a cup of coffee with both hands as she walks alongside the stroller. "He likes to charm up the ladies and things like that. Especially the elderly ladies. He's got a thing for those grandmas; he can win their hearts over in no time."
When the walk is over, the Minowas lay out a blanket on West's front lawn and sit down in the shade of a crabapple tree. Craig sits with his legs folded and Connie lays down on her stomach to play with Nova. He's beyond relaxed for a baby of his age and has large, hazel eyes that peer out from his small, round face. Connie offers him toys, reads to him from a book, and makes baby noises. A small water fountain bubbles softly and steadily over by the stoop.
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Craig happily admits that he's gotten so comfortable with the new family dynamic that it's virtually impossible for him go through even the briefest of separations.
"We had a show down in Kentucky where Connie and Nova weren't able to go, so I got to go in the van for the first time in a while," he recalls. "I had a lot of fun, but I missed these guys so much. I was at the festival at this playground area just watching kids and going, 'That kid looks like Nova. That kid looks like Nova.'"
"Yeah, he called me and said he'd been following around pregnant women and people with dogs," Connie adds with lighthearted embarrassment. "It was like, 'Uh, honey, it's been a couple of days, you can do it. Have fun.'"
They laugh in unison—Craig leaning back with his hands behind him on the ground, Connie resting her chin on her palm—and both turn their gaze contentedly toward Nova, who lies between them calmly looking up into the bright, cloudless sky.
BEING PARENTS IS a gift that Craig and Connie likely appreciate more than most.
They were parents once before, but that life was cruelly torn apart one cold winter night eight years ago when their first son, two-year-old Kaidin, died in his sleep. Kaidin's loss was so devastating that the Minowas separated for a year in an attempt to reassemble their lives, but eventually they both found an outlet for their grief through their work—Connie with her painting, Craig with his music.
Craig's output at that time was staggering—at least 100 songs—and the results were raw, unflinching, and sometimes unnerving documents of a broken man frantically seeking answers. Some included recordings of Kaidin's voice, others meditated on Craig's estrangement from his high school sweetheart, and on one occasion he wept disconsolately into the microphone. Bit by bit, the intensity of those emotions subsided, but the legacy of Kaidin's departure has never left Cloud Cult's music.
Light Chasers is no exception to that rule. However, its songs are invigorated by a newfound sense of hope, a rejuvenation of spirit that, as Craig himself puts it, results from "literally a rebirth." Recording began around the time he and Connie moved to Viroqua from their previous home in Hinckley, Minnesota, in August of last year, two months before Nova was born. Nova, quite naturally, had an enormous influence on the new material.
"Ninety-nine percent of this album was written when we were either pregnant or he was a newborn," Craig explains. "So the thought process and the lyric writing was really focused on bettering myself so I could prepare to be a better dad, and then also wanting to leave behind lyrics that maybe could be helpful for him down the road. Like fatherly advice, I guess, in a way."
The joy of parenthood is palpable in many places throughout Lights Chasers, whether in the exuberant, stadium-sized sprawl of "You'll Be Bright" or the tender acoustic ballad "You Were Born." Yet even now the Minowas haven't escaped the past, a fact that grips the album with an inescapable and restless inner conflict.
"Both Connie and I feel Kaidin's presence so much and on such a powerful level that a lot of the advice on this album was asking Kaidin what kind of advice you want to give his little brother," Craig says. Connie and Nova have left to visit the zoo for the afternoon and he now sits on the stoop, speaking softly and leaning forward with his arms resting on his knees.
"Then there's the other side of it where it was obviously a really tragic and difficult thing we went through with the loss of Kaidin. And so a lot of the songwriting that happened with this was late at night where neither of us, Connie nor I, are able to sleep because we're so afraid to wake up in the morning and have—you know, to relive that."
Such sleepless nights inspired Craig to construct a concept for the album around a tale of spiritual "light chasing": Just as the newly born emerge from the light, so those departed must return toward it, leaving their loved ones to find their own light in the here and now. As is poignantly illustrated on the song "Blessings," the record's emotional centerpiece and dramatic climax, it's a concept tinged with fear and anxiety, the likes of which—regardless of the reassurances from oneself and from others—may never fully be overcome.
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