"With the first Cloud Cult album, it was really immediately apparent to me that there wasn't really a CD-replication solution out there that I was comfortable with," explained Minowa. "There were places that offered CDs that might have some recycled content, to a degree, but the vast majority was still virgin material, and I was really uncomfortable with the idea. With a band, you'll hopefully, ultimately, be selling thousands and thousands of CDs. ... It felt like, well, I can't pursue this if I'm uncomfortable with the crap that I'm creating."
So Minowa did something about it. All Cloud Cult albums use recycled jewel cases, nontoxic shrink wrap and recycled paper. They even recycle the leftover plastic from the actual disc-cutting process into milk crates. Cloud Cult records in a green studio, and when the band goes on tour, they make an honest effort to be responsible for the energy they consume and carbon they produce. They subscribe to a green energy service that, for a small fee, will create the same amount of energy using wind turbines that the band used off the grid.
"It's not like we have a wind turbine on top of the van or anything like that," said Minowa, "and when we go into a club, we're feeding off of the grid that everybody else is; it's just a matter of feeding back into the system with a positive source."
Cloud Cult also keeps track of how many miles they travel and how much gas they consume, and then plants enough trees through an organization called American Forest to absorb all of the carbon dioxide they've created.
And the social responsibility doesn't stop there: Both band and label are not-for-profit endeavors, and Earthology is in the process of applying for official nonprofit status so that they can more easily apply for grants to do advocacy work.
All this, and we haven't even begun talking about the music. Despite their environmental work, Cloud Cult does not sing about wind turbines.
"In early Cloud Cult days, I thought that in order to do good things with music, the songs would have to do this, do that, or destroy this, destroy that," said Minowa. "I think that has its place and everything, but I feel more now like it's important to try and live an ordinary life but figure out all the methods that you need to make it as saintly as possible, but not in a preachy kind of way or not in your stereotypical kind of hippie jam-band way."
Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus, released last year, is 20 songs of strange stories about hearing a dead grandfather in a transistor radio, a hippopotamus that sleeps under the bed and moving to Canada. Strings give way to electronic beats; quiet guitars explode into balls-out rock; and no song is even remotely like another.
"I like to keep it really diverse; I don't want to get trapped in any specific genre," said Minowa. "Some of my favorite albums are mix albums, so I'm always trying to keep a good mix going on in there."
Their music is as thoughtful and reflective as the band is responsible. "Every album has a connection to death and mortality and trying to understand what life is all about and what death is all about," said Minowa. "Happy Hippo is a progression. ... The whole album is focused on that fine line between that moment when you're alive but you're on the brink of death and trying to analyze that and what it's like and the meaning of it and everything."
And it's completely unmacabre: "You Got Your Bones to Make a Beat" has a giddy chorus of "da-dum diddy diddy" and a flute solo, and "That Man Jumped Out the Window" implores him to "come back in the window."
"Songwriting and composing in general is my favorite thing to do on the planet, and it's the only thing that--I think it's kind of kept me alive," said Minowa. "It's usually best when you're sitting outside and staring at the stars and playing and writing what you honestly feel and think and not playing or writing anything to try and be cool. I'm kind of grossed out by how many bands seem to be a band because it's cool."
When you think about the music in this way, then, the environmental work of Cloud Cult seems a natural outgrowth.
"You just really have to hold yourself accountable for what you're creating, and fix it," said Minowa.