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Cloud Cult's Craig Minowa discusses death, grief, and his new film, 'The Seeker'

Cloud Cult

Cloud Cult Graham Tolbert

Cloud Cult have always made visuals an essential part of their live show, whether in the form of abstract films or onstage painting.

The Duluth-born orchestral indie rock band has taken its eye candy a step further with The Seeker, an hour-long, dialogue-free movie set to Cloud Cult’s 2016 album of the same name. Directed by Jeff D. Johnson and shot in rural Wisconsin, the story follows a girl named Grace through three stages in her life as she comes to terms with an excruciating loss. Cloud Cult founder Craig Minowa, who wrote the film, is no stranger to tragedy: His 2-year-old son, Kaidin, died in his sleep in 2002, and grief has informed many a song since. The 13 tracks on The Seeker score are sonic powerhouses, imbued with the grit, ferocity, and desperation inherent in a spiritual quest.

Ahead of the June 13 digital release of the film, Cloud Cult will perform the full score plus an additional set at the Northrop on Friday. We asked Minowa about the film’s origins, themes, and symbolism.

City Pages: The Seeker deals with death and grief -- two things you’re certainly familiar with -- which can be messy and unpredictable. How did you fit those concepts into a film structure, which is more formulaic and has a linear narrative?

Craig Minowa: Wow. That’s a really good question. I think the fact that we leaned away from having dialogue allows the viewer to ride the roller coaster of emotions that you tend to go through over years of grieving. You’re following a character from the time that she’s born to sometime in her 30s or 40s. You get the roller coaster ride of interesting ups and downs and the chaos that goes along with the long process of trying to heal after a hard loss like that.

CP: In the beginning of the film, the depiction of the family seemed almost Pollyanna. As a parent, that just didn’t resonate for me. You have a couple of children as well. Why did you decide to go with such an idyllic vision of family?

CM: The film is from the perspective of the girl. The loss is particularly hard because she’s so close with her father. Our approach to it was not the literal up-and-down hardships of parenting but more from her short memory that she had of her dad. I have kind of the same thing: I lost my grandpa when I was in fifth grade and my memories of my time with him are kind of Pollyanna like that. There’s something that happens where, as a child, you distill those memories into a sacred, refined memory experience. We really only had ten minutes or so to summarize the story of their time together while he was alive. In order to harness the emotional aspect of that in such a short period of time, we had to focus on the good memories that she had of her father.

CP: There’s a spiritual element to the film. At the end, it’s revealed that there’s been “a presence” throughout the main character’s life. Is that something that you and your wife believe happens after people die? That they watch over the living?

CM: We’re really careful in the film, and in Cloud Cult in general, to not go down a specific pathway of a religion. Our intention is to respect all beliefs, or lack thereof. Throughout the album, with each song, we harvested different types of prayer and ritual from different cultures all around the world, from completely different religious belief systems. Within each song, buried in the background, is that kind of prayer. The general, overall intention is a unified feeling of awe for the great unknown and the mystery that is out there. The overall intention was not to be exclusive and not tell people what the answer is.

But on that level of energy and the hereafter, scientifically speaking, the major fundamental principle on which all of physics is built is the Law of Thermodynamics. That loss of energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed. So whatever that means or however you want to translate that, our actions and the energy that we put out every single day and our lives overall resonate in some way in the universe. That never changes.

CP: The cinematography in the film is really stunning. How did you pick the locations?

CM: The setting was picked out to be transcendental of any specific time period. There’s so much symbolism that happens with the use of water and all the religions around the world that we needed that to be a major element. As far as exact specific locations, the director [Jeff D. Johnson] lined up all those. He had the inspiration to go Lake Superior and found all the locations based on the storyline.

CP: In the song “No Hell”, there’s a line that goes, “The best things we’ve learned we learned from the wreck.” My question is: do you also learn things from happiness or from stability?

CM: You have awesome questions. I appreciate that. Yes, definitely. I think that especially in modern artistic context, there’s a belief that you can’t create a good song without an incredible broken heart, that you can’t have true wisdom without that balance with the yin and the yang. You’re right, you can learn from happiness and good experience, but unfortunately, in this life it seems that the true wisdom comes not only from the wonderful bubblegum flavors but from the things that have burned us, too. That’s what makes us richer, deeper people.

Cloud Cult
Where: Carlson Family Stage at the Northrop
When: 8 p.m. Fri. June 9
Tickets: $30 - $40; more info here