Wednesday night at the Riverview Theater, Cloud Cult is hosting a sneak-peek screening of The Seeker, a feature-length experimental art-drama written by the local indie-rock favorites. It was produced/directed by Jeff D. Johnson, and stars Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and Alex McKenna (What Women Want).
Although its official public release date is late 2016, the film is a sister piece to Cloud Cult’s new album, also called The Seeker, which drops this Friday. Ahead of the screening, which will be followed by a meet-and-greet/Q&A with the band and Johnson, frontman Craig Minowa fielded questions about his ambitious new projects.
City Pages: The Seeker is a film with no dialogue and 12 chapters. Each chapter plays out to the soundtrack of a song from your forthcoming album. How and when did you decide to make this manner of film?
Craig Minowa: It’s a very atypical film. In the early stages, there wasn’t a plan to make a film out of the album. It wasn’t until most of the album was written that it became clear that it was a story that could be told in a movie format. In that sense, the album isn’t a traditional soundtrack but stands as a collection of songs on its own.
CP: You've scored music to over a dozen feature films, but this process was different. How so?
CM: When you’re scoring music to film, you want the music to embellish the scene but not distract the viewer from what is happening. In a traditional film, what is happening visually in a scene is where you want the viewer’s attention. It was challenging to do the reverse of that, where the visuals have to tell the story of the song yet not distract from the song.
CP: Two of your previous albums were concept albums with storyline narratives. How might a movie made to supplement either of those two albums differ from that made to supplement The Seeker?
CM: The other albums that could potentially have a film telling the story are Who Killed Puck? and Light Chasers. Light Chasers would be way out of our budget realms, as there’s a pretty major science-fiction element to that storyline. As for Who Killed Puck?, I think it could have been filmed in a way similar to The Seeker, and in fact I had more of the actual screenplay written for that album, but it was back in 2000 when no one knew who Cloud Cult was, and where there was no budget for film, so that visual element never manifested.
CP: Is the movie first and foremost a supplement to the album and the story that it tells, or can each one be treated as a self-contained work of art?
CM: I think both elements stand on their own. One reason we are releasing the album prior to the film is that we want people to have time to personalize the music before seeing the story. You wouldn’t have to see the movie to get connected to the album, because the album doesn’t literally lyrically tell a story.
CP: Is there any one song-to-chapter transition with which you were particularly pleased, and if so how so?
CM: Jeff D. Johnson did a stellar job taking my storyline and writing the screenplay. I was particularly blown away by what he did with the song “Everything You Thought You Had.” And Alex McKenna’s acting in that chapter is off the charts.
CP: This Friday’s album release date would have been the 16th birthday of your son, Kaidin, and the film tells the story of Grace, whose life is turned upside-down by immense tragedy. On your website you have shared that “tragedy has the unexpected side effect of creating a constant reminder of the preciousness of the present moment, simply because you're overtly aware of how quickly and unexpectedly things can change.” How does The Seeker seek to convey that awareness to listeners and viewers who may not have experienced immense tragedy?
CM: Everyone has their own story of loss, pain, joy, and the mystery of life. The journey of life inherently has struggle embedded in it, and no one is immune to that. In that sense, everybody out there has their own stories of challenges they’ve had to endure and overcome.
I think that first and foremost, The Seeker is the story of reestablishing wonder and awe in life. The universe is vast and predominantly unknown, and our journey through it can either be that of surrender and appreciation for the moment, or we can choose a life of covering our eyes because of the pain of the past and fear of the future.
CP: The eighth song on the album is titled “The Time Machine Invention.” Could you expand a little more on what The Seeker has to say about time and our relation not just to the present, but also to the past and the future?
CM: It’s totally natural for the pain of the past or fears of the future weigh us down in the present moment. In this particular story, Grace’s loss in childhood was heavy enough to weigh her down in a life of cynicism for decades.
I don’t think that’s really all that unusual, as we all still carry emotional baggage from childhood. Ultimately, the only way to work some of that stuff out and get back to being fully here in the present moment is to dive deep inside the stormy and timeless layers of the inner self and pull that stuff to the surface.
CP: You have shared that the 11th chapter, “You Never Were Alone,” is informed by an understanding that space is curved and that time does not exist. That comes through beautifully in the chapter. How does that understanding inform your approach to life and your songwriting?
CM: Given the curve of space, if you removed the element of time, which by the way does not exist on the level of quantum mechanics, and you looked as far out into space to see the “end” of the universe, you’d see the back of your head. What that says to me is that at the end of the journey, you’re still here right now.
The only guarantee you have is this moment. So it’s a constant reminder in life to try to be fully present, even if the moment doesn’t at face value appear to be something of particular noteworthiness. As far as songwriting goes, it applies in the sense that if I’ve got the moment and one song to sing, I’d better make it meaningful.
Sneak-preview screening of The Seeker
With: Q&A/meet and greet with Cloud Cult and director Jeff D. Johnson
When: 7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 10
Where: Riverview Theater, 3800 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $15; more info here.