The Instrumental Women of Cloud Cult

When you think of female musicians, you usually think of singers whose voices are the focal point of their music. That’s not the case with the women of Cloud Cult.

Shannon Frid-Rubin, Sarah Elhardt-Perbix and Connie Minowa make music with more than their voice – Shannon and Sarah are instrumentalists, while Connie is a visual artist. These three strong and powerful women make up the female backbone of Cloud Cult, a Minnesota based experimental art pop indie band.

Cloud Cult is currently on tour in support of their 10th studio album, “The Seeker.”   The concept album is accompanied by a feature film of the same name starring Josh Radnor of “How I Met Your Mother.” Cloud Cult’s music has been strongly inspired and influenced by real and relatable issues many people go through in life: “who are we, why are we here, where did we come from, where do we go.”

We sat down with Shannon and Sarah to discuss their history with Cloud Cult, female instrumentalists in music, and their personal inspirations before the bands performance at The Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles on April 19th.

Cloud Cult has a really interesting inception story — being formed by Craig Minowa as a solo project but evolving into something bigger over time. How did you both join the band?

Shannon: It was 2007 — I saw a Craigslist post that Cloud Cult was looking for a violinist. So,  I auditioned that way. The audition process was easy for me.

That’s a really cool way to join a band! Were you in other bands prior to this one?

Shannon: I was in one other band – I was dating a guy that was in a band and he had asked me to play some violin and that’s how I got interested in it. I had been trained classically as a kid, so it was nice to make that transition.

That’s really fantastic. What about you, Sarah? How did you join?

Sarah: I was kind of the same in the sense of being from a classical background – I played keys and horns. It was 2010 for me,  I saw a post a friend forwarded that Cloud Cult was looking for a multi-instrumentalist so I auditioned that way – in front of Shannon and the rest of the band. I had heard of Cloud Cult before and it was already a well known band. It was very fun thing to be a part of.

Were you both nervous during the audition process?

Shannon: Yes, but I feel like Sarah’s audition process was more intense because the whole band was asking questions. I didn’t have that in beginning. I feel like with each member that has come in since then — their audition process has gotten more and more intense.

Sarah: For the last audition — we added a new drummer 2 years ago — there were 200 or more applicants and that definitely wasn’t the case with me.

You mentioned multi-instrumentalists – there’s not a lot of female musicians who play a variety of instruments. Do you have any insight on why there currently is a lack of female multi-instrumentalists in the music industry?

Sarah: You gotta be a band geek or an orch-dork. That’s how it often starts – I mean I just started playing piano and I was just such a freak about music growing up that I just added on and added on. Never with the idea that it would become anything I did on stage in this capacity.

What genres of music of music influenced you?

Sarah: Well, when I was a kid we listened to a lot of classical  — and then we listened to a lot of jazz and a lot of folk. My parents are musicians so that kind of led me down that path.

Shannon: I wasn’t interested in classical music until I started the violin. I was in fifth grade and I remember the music teacher brought in a bunch of instruments and the violin stuck out to me. That’s when I started listening to classical music. When I was growing up I loved Annie — that soundtrack – as well as Whitney Houston and Phil Collins.

Are there any particular artists that have had a great impact on you?

Sarah: Nowadays I think — I really do look to other musicians and other bands that have really strong female leads. That’s huge. That’s what we often listen to when we’re listening to music together.

I know that your band turns down a lot of major record companies that want to sign you. Is there any specific challenges Earthology Records faces being an independent record company creating it’s own albums?

Sarah: Oh, I am sure — luckily we don’t have to see many of those problems. Craig Minowa does so much of that but it is a harder process. It’s more fulfilling in the end because you reap all the rewards of the work you put into it versus having to deal with a record label that might have different goals than you do. But we’re really thankful – I was in another band that did have a record label and it just seems if – if you can hang onto it and afford to do so — keep independent. You don’t have to answer to anyone and you don’t have anyone else kind of driving.

You’re able to stay true to your art and your message.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Especially with females in music – record companies tend to want to convey the message they think will sell.

Sarah: When I was in that other band that had a record label – I just remember all the record execs we would meet with – it seemed like what they were most concerned with was what I was wearing on stage more than what we were playing and what we were doing. I was the only female in that group but it felt like every conversation with me involved looks – which is so frustrating.

Record executives are missing out on the point of the music.

Sarah: Yeah, we feel like equals in this thing we have here – what we’re growing in the band. We haul gear just the same – and we make music just the same and contribute just the same ways. To have this feeling  — that in the end you’re just the looks up there and all the guys are doing all the work is so completely wrong.

Can you tell me a little bit about your new album “The Seeker?”

Shannon: It has a story line of a young girl who loses her father. The tracks take us through her journey of getting through that and discovering herself and becoming enlightened in a way – we follow her journey through the music.

Sarah: It’s a concept album and there’s a story line – not all our albums are this way but this one happens to be. You can still listen to it if you don’t know the story.

“The Seeker” film, an hour-long dialogue free project, follows a girl named Grace going through a journey filled with loss and tragedy —  Has the film resonated with you?

Sarah: Oh yeah, I think all of us experience loss in life – whether it’s the loss of a loved one or another kind of loss. It’s really relatable in that way. The search and seeking of who you are is something that I think we all deal with either on a daily basis or monthly basis.  It’s just a conversation that continues.


Do you have a favorite song off the album?

Shannon: There are a lot of good ones. I really love “No Hell.” I think the lyrics are beautifully written and I think they strike a lot of people. I also like the instrumental tracks on it [“The Seeker”] too.

Sarah: There are a lot of ones I love doing live – I like “Through the Agest.” That is a fun one to belt.

You’ve both been in other bands. Do they have a different tone than Cloud Cult?

Sarah: Yeah, I would say so. This is a very unique band with a unique seeking element to it and a spiritual element to it that very few bands have and so — the other ones can feel very fun and jovial but they definitely don’t have the same purpose and messaging behind it. It’s fun to play with different people, too – I think it’s healthy.

Shannon: I play in a side project with Molly Dean – she’s a singer-songwriter. She plays acoustic guitar and it’s a much smaller band. When we play shows it’s interesting to just play with a couple people on stage.

Is that easier?

Shannon: It can be yes, I’m an introvert so I like the feel of the smaller – you know – less crowded.  But I also love Cloud Cult, so it’s a nice balance.

Sarah, you have a music school as well. Do you have a lot of people that listen to the band come in and want to take your classes?

Sarah: Yeah, it does happen. It’s pretty common that they come via Cloud Cult and sign up for whatever instrument. It’s not necessarily that they take from me but it’s kind of just the notoriety.

How has this tour been for you?

Shannon: It was really cold on the East Coast so we’re enjoying this hot weather.

Sarah: There was a blizzard in Denver just a couple days ago — I  just felt like I hadn’t left home [Minnesota] at all. Shannon and I flew out to L.A. straight from Denver and we’ve been enjoying the hot weather ever since

Who are you currently listening to?

Shannon:I like Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins — they are my go to.

Sarah: I’ve been listening to The 1975. Also —  Lizzo and Caroline Smith — some strong women.

Strong women are a recurring theme – it’s very empowering. Who personally inspires you in your day to day life?

Shannon: My mom and my grandmother for sure, they were both very patient women — always there for me and my brother.

Sarah: I was probably going to say something of the same with my mother. I really admire her strength — she always balanced work and children. We never doubted the idea that she was her own person, her own character and had her own life. It was not like — my kids are my life and I become my kids.

She has her own identity.

Sarah: Completely. I love that about her.




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