There’s something awfully familiar about the new University of Minnesota ad campaign. The ads, which focus on the theme of illumination, features a recognizable sound — that of the Minneapolis-based indie rock band, Cloud Cult.

Lead singer Craig Minowa, a U of M graduate, said he was happy to lend his band’s music to a cause he truly supports — and a theme he can certainly relate to.

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The band is currently putting the finishing touches on a new album — with its first single set to hit the airwaves at the end of November. Their 2010 album “Light Chasers” became the band’s first to land on the Billboard Charts — not an easy feat for a completely independent band.

That’s also where you’ll find the song, “There’s So Much Energy In Us” — the track chosen for the U’s Driven to Discover ads, which began airing on Sept. 24.

Minowa recently chatted with us about his involvement in the U’s new campaign, his memories of being a Golden Gopher and what’s next for the band.

Q: What were your experiences like at the U of M?

Minowa: They had just about any study course you could imagine. I really appreciated their independent study programs. I was able to sign up for a class, pay a lower tuition for the class, teach my self the course-work at home and at my own pace, while working on writing music and working jobs to pay for college. I also fell in love with the St. Paul campus where I took most of my standard daytime classes. It’s a rural school in the middle of the city, so you have that small campus feeling while having access to the full U of M resources.

(credit: Cloud Cult)

Q: What was the process like to work with the U in creating these ads?

Minowa: They really wanted to keep it local, which I appreciate, whether it’s on a food level or just supporting a mom and pop business on the corner. They also really wanted to focus on the people power as the key message of the ad. The whole concept of the video is about people tapping into their personal strengths and inner brilliance. There’s a lot more to be said about the fire that comes from within the individual human spirit. Are you a cynic or are you a creator? This ad is about the fire that comes from the creators.

Q: Your journey seems like the perfect example of how a degree can lead to a greater good for an entire community. Tell us a little more about your time studying environmental science and how that may have led to some of your side projects, including Earthology.

Minowa: I had an interesting contrast of classes at the U of M. It really pushed me to face reality. Reality is a dichotomy of ugly and beautiful. Everyday is full of both, and you have little power over what is being served up at any moment in time, but you do have power over your perspective. So you’d better learn to digest both at one sitting, and learn how to appreciate the overall flavor if you want to get the most from this life.

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I also remember the important beauty of going from an astronomy class to a Greek mythology class, where both look into the stars in very different ways. Take philosophy and then follow it with calculus and you realize that the universe strums a similar song in both science and spirituality. My environmental classes taught me how to approach the eco-crisis on a scientific level, while the philosophy and social studies courses gave it a human and spiritual perspective. On the whole, I feel like I always had the spiritual passion to protect the natural world, but my science studies really helped me learn how to set aside any of my emotional sensationalism and approach environmental issues with a critical mind focused on solutions.

Q: What were your reactions when you first saw the ads?

Minowa: We are very careful about where we allow our music to be used. So we have declined major dollars for ads that support businesses that we are not in alignment with. I know that there have been debates about practices within the University of Minnesota’s upper management, as there are with any large collective, be it corporate or a nonprofit like the U of M. But the fact of the matter is that academia is usually the source of some of the most uncompromised science.

We are in a day and age where we question everything we eat and everything we breathe. And we want unbiased science to tell us which way to go. I’ve worked for environmental nonprofits for nearly 20 years, and usually the bad science comes from corporate funded studies and the good science comes from the colleges. The U of M is one of the leading researchers for groundbreaking studies in academia ranging from health to ecology. I had a deep reaction to the ad when I saw how centered it was on the in the individual brilliance of the human, powered by the tools of clean knowledge. This is not just about the U of M, this is about the human spirit pushing forward for excellence.

Q: What kind of message do you hope these ads send?

Minowa: You have no idea how much power and beauty you have inside of you right now. I’m not selling you the U. I take every chance I can get to sell you You.

Q: What was it like for you guys to see “Light Chasers” hit the Billboard Charts?

Minowa: We were the only totally independent band on the charts. So that was huge. There’s this whole genre of music called “indie rock” these days, but very very few of those bands are are groups that have chosen not to be on a record label. We created our own label, and we’ve had to learn how to run the business from the ground up. We run the project to fit our ethics, which is typically an uphill battle. But it was a proud moment to be on our shoestring budget and hitting the charts along side the big dollars of the mid and big labels who monopolize Billboard.

Q: It sounds like you have another album in the works? What’s the timeline for that release? Will you be heading on tour this year?

Minowa: It’s been a two-year process to make sure it’s right. We are finishing up recording right now, and we’ll have a single out to national radio at the end of November, along with some regional tour dates (including an intimate show in Minneapolis). The album is set for national release on March 6, and we will be doing some coast to coast touring over those next few months.

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For more information about the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover ads, click here. For more on the band Cloud Cult, check out their website.