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Published October 04, 2010, 12:51 PM

Cloud Cult returns with the epic ‘Light Chasers’

An interview with Cloud Cult bassist Shawn Neary.

Earlier this year there was a curious post on Cloud Cult’s website about the band seeking a “sane” multi-instrumentalist. As it turns out, far less drama prompted it than you might expect.

“We have gone through a lot of members over the years for various reasons, and the intensity of the touring schedule has played a role in some of that,” group leader Craig Minowa told the Budgeteer back in January. He said that notice was worded in such a way because the group’s new album, the recently released “Light Chasers,” has a lot more instrumentation on it. “There are full orchestras in some of it, so even having our current cello, violin, trombone and trumpet isn’t enough to pull off that sound on stage. So we are needing someone who is able to perform at least a couple classical instruments to help fill in.”

Filling some of that void is Shawn Neary, who contributes bass guitar, trombone and backing vocals to the proceedings.

A relatively new member of the 15-year-old Cloud Cult (three years in), Neary describes how he got involved with the Minnesota-based group: “I was asked to try out on bass guitar and I learned the catalogue in a couple of weeks that August, drove up to Hinckley, played for a little bit and talked with Craig for a couple of hours,” he told us in a recent e-mail interview. “I got the call a couple of days later and was touring with the band just over a week after that.”

Neary added that he was “very aware” of the group before he was asked to join.

“‘Happy Hippo’ was in my regular running rotation,” he said, referencing the group’s 2005 album “Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus.” “Only a select few albums make that cut for me. And, after I learned those songs and tried out for the band, that was all I could listen to for weeks.”

Neary said there are certain sacrifices Cloud Cult members have to make to keep up with the group’s increasing popularity.

“Day jobs” would be one of them.

“Some have lost or switched their jobs because of touring, and many are working the jobs we do to make touring a possibility — this is our priority,” he said. “So when the dates get booked and when our best friends aren’t getting married, we’re there.

“And awful happy to be there too.”

Neary also opened up about how the members of Cloud Cult contribute to the group’s records, each of which are essentially one big pet project for the visionary Minowa.

“The demos we receive from Craig are usually demos in name only: They’re the finished song with most — if not all — of the parts laid down by Craig on either the instrument proper or on synthesizer,” Neary explained. “A few songs on this album were rougher sketches; we added parts either after listening to the song for weeks at home or improvised them in the studio after hearing them for the first time that day, after just a few more takes.”

Musicality aside, what about conceptualizing Minowa’s larger vision for each studio album?

The press release for the new, 16-track album summed it up best as “a 56-minute journey with no audio breaks that explores love and loss and searches for the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We need to understand what’s happening within each individual song, what we can do to enhance what’s been laid down already or to replicate what Craig heard in composition,” Neary said. “Crafting these songs into one seamless piece, whether sonically, thematically or lyrically, is Craig’s province. We just got to have fun seeing and hearing this happen with each new version of the album that we got in our inbox.”

With the ethereal narrative about birth and life found on “Light Chasers,” we wondered: How does Neary explain what the new songs are about to his family and friends?

“When I describe the record,” he said, “I touch on the sounds that are there: the more intensive orchestration of this album, the moments of meditation that happen before a number of the songs, the guitar tone that I can’t get enough of on ‘Blessings.’

“… The meaning of this album — or any album — is something that’s revealed over time and in a different way to every listener. I’d rather let those connections be made outside of my association or understanding of the songs. Aside from saying that it’s reflective of where Craig is at now, and that place is a happier one, I don’t say much.”

Cloud Cult will play CD release shows for “Light Chasers” at 7 p.m. Nov. 17-18 at First Avenue at Minneapolis. Details at