Pop Culture: The Green Invasion

From eco-friendly films to progressive podcasts, Plenty picks the best in summer entertainment

By Stephen Camelio

The music industry may be stuck worshipping false American Idols, but floating above the glut of prepackaged pop tarts is Cloud Cult, a band that’s just as easy on the environment as it is on the ears. This Minnesota-based quartet melds the activism of Woodstock-era folk singers with a Modest Mouseesque indie-rock sound.

When environmental scientist and lead singer Craig Minowa founded Cloud Cult in 2000, he was disappointed to learn he couldn’t manufacture his band’s compact discs in an eco-friendly way. Taking matters into his own hands, he founded Earthology Records, a studio built from recycled materials that’s powered by wind-generated electricity and geothermal heating and cooling. There, he creates and packages CDs using only recycled jewel cases, 100-percent postconsumer recycled paper, non-toxic soy ink, and biodegradable corn cellulose shrink-wrap instead of the usual toxic PVC. The scraps left over from cutting the CDs are recycled into plastic milk cartons; for shipping, Earthology packs boxes with dried leaves instead of Styrofoam.

But recycling doesn’t stop at home for Cloud Cult, whose growing popularity owes much to its live shows, which are known to feature painters, interpretive dancers, and video art. While touring, the band calculates how much electricity it uses during its shows and hotel stays so that it can buy the same about of green energy credits from Native Energy (see page 26 for more about this practice, known as carbon offsetting). “We know we’re using power from the grid,” says Minowa, “but we pay to have it fed back by supporting wind power.” Also, to compensate for the 800 gallons of gas guzzled while traveling during its last tour, the band planted 200 carbon dioxide–absorbing trees in its home state through American Forests.

With such a direct sense of purpose, you might expect Cloud Cult to forfeit musicality for songs about using coffee mugs instead of paper cups or riding your bike to work, but that is decidedly not the case. The band’s last two albums, 2004’s Aurora Borealis and 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus, debuted at #2 and #3 respectively on CMJ’s college music charts, and in 2004, Cloud Cult was nominated by the Minnesota Music Academy for Minnesota Artist of the Year. (Prince won.) “Our lyrics focus on celebrating and cherishing life,” Minowa says. “We hope people will see us as a model, without having our message forced down their throats.” Like a pop tart.

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Issue 25

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