Life has been anything but “Still” for Scott West of Cloud Cult. West, a graduate of Minneapolis College of Art and Design, quit his job as a creative director earlier this year to focus on painting and touring with the band. On stage, he produces paintings during a roughly forty-five minute set in which he allows the music and audience to influence his works, which are sold after each Cloud Cult show. Though not set to music, his works in the studio still embody the energy from live shows and the themes that run through the music.
Now West is achieving the first of many personal goals for his artwork by holding his first solo gallery showing on November 6th at Tarnish & Gold in Minneapolis. He will debut 30 paintings all created within the year under the title Still. While in the gallery, he will continue to paint during their open hours, which will showcase his live abilities.
LA Music Blog recently got the chance to talk to Scott West about live painting with Cloud Cult, where he gets his inspiration onstage, the band’s views on eco-friendliness, and his future plans for his solo paintings.
Photo by: Cody York
As one of the original members of Cloud Cult, how did the visual arts get mixed in with the music at the very beginning?
I was actually a guitar player for Craig Minowa in earlier bands that we had, so I’ve been in it beyond Cloud Cult. [LAUGHTER] As Craig was starting to write music for Cloud Cult, I had decided to pursue painting as a main focus. I used to use Craig’s practice space where he wrote the music as a painting studio. When we were in the studio, he would be writing songs, and the lyrical content, the rhythm, and just the overall content of the music was affecting the painting and creating narratives for the paintings.
In turn, Craig would be watching the paintings develop and pull inspiration from that. Eventually he came up with the idea to bring that to the stage. By that time, Connie and I were both sharing a painting studio at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and she was also painting around Craig, so we decided to bring that to the stage when the music was actually put together with the live band.
Do you and Connie think about the art you’re going to do onstage before the show or do you decide based on the vibe of the night and the crowd’s reactions?
It can go either way. Connie and I have a little bit different processes. A lot of times I will put together some content or an idea for a particular leg of the tour based off of work that I’m doing back in the studio. I then use the live paintings to develop content and characters for my studio work. We get to showcase the events that are happening on the road as well as the energy from the concerts, which causes different things to happen. The painting kind of controls the direction of it. [LAUGHTER] Sometimes I may have certain intentions with the painting, but it ends up in a completely different direction depending on the energy of the show.
You also play trumpet in a band. Do think that can interrupt your painting thought process during some of the shows or does it help influence you?
I think it’s actually a good thing. I believe I’m also going to be singing backup vocals on seven of the songs in the new set, so I’m turning around quite a bit. In an hour and 20 minute set, I’m only painting for 40 or 45 minutes, tops. The rest of the show I’m performing as a musician or singing. I think engaging the audience is a wonderful thing because the energy that goes into the paintings is taken from the energy that the audience gives to us. When my back is to the audience, I tend to close myself off mentally, go into the world of the paintings, and not be as aware of the environment that I’m in, so I think it’s a really great thing that I get to turn around and interact with audience.
Considering some of the venues are smaller, and Cloud Cult is such a large band with so many people involved, does that ever cause a problem with how you guys set up and operate during a show?
If it is really small—which is a rare occurrence that might have only happened once on this entire tour—Connie and I will actually share a canvas and a concept so we can paint together to save space. That is a wonderful experience since we are two different creative painters with varying styles. She can bring a lot to the table that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of either compositionally, in terms of rendering, or concept wise. It’s just really a fun experience and a chance for us to partner in a creative visual sense.
The new album, Light Chasers, just came out at the beginning of September. What would you say the concept was for this album?
I think the concept for this album, without putting it in a nutshell, would be the search for the greater good, the search for God, spirituality, or the self—depending on your belief system. I think that’s the overall concept Craig intended to convey with the album. However, I think there are multiple narratives throughout the journey of the album. It shares the birth of their son, Nova, family, love, believing in oneself, and trusting the river of life enough to go in that direction it takes you without fighting the flow. I think there are multiple elements like that throughout the album, which represent the journey that we’re all on.
Does the art you and Connie create change based on the vibe of the album or is it still mostly based around the audience and how you’re feeling throughout the night?
I would say the album definitely has an influence. On this particular tour, I’m painting more people in general. I’m thinking about people’s experience as they search for themselves and what that means to them and trying to portray people finding the light. I mean, the painting may not go in that direction every single night, but there tends to be a general theme.
The theme is based off of the songs being played because we are definitely painting from the energy of the music. The process of working with the music happens through the beat of the percussion as it becomes the rhythm of the brush strokes. The songs that are being played will determine the color story of the paintings. Each night I’ll pick a different color or a different song to work off of, and that helps create the palette for the evening. In a sense, I’m trying to give a visual representation so an audience can see a song being written on stage, but it’s just a visual song. That’s kind of the idea behind it.
Since the band is very eco-friendly, how has the overall movement of people becoming more eco-friendly and green affected the band?
I think that it has done wonders for the band. [LAUGHTER] Actually, when we started out, there wasn’t a way to replicate albums in an eco-friendly way. We literally had to invent that process with Earthology Records. Now there are multiple resources for us to be more eco-friendly, and it came down in cost so now it’s a little more cost-friendly. I also think it’s more accepted.
In the early days, just because we would do things in more of a green way, we would get tagged as a hippie jam band. That really has nothing to do with anything that we’re doing other than the eco theme we had. [LAUGHTER] That was a little frustrating in the beginning, but now there are so many wonderful bands following along in taking the lead in being green and helping spread the word, which is opening many doors for us to continue to do it.
You have a solo art showing at a gallery in Minneapolis coming up. Will this consist of any of the work you’ve done with the band onstage or is it all work you’ve done on your own in a studio?
These are paintings done outside of the live shows because those are auctioned off at each show. Basically when the concert’s over, there is a silent auction and the paintings will go to the highest bidder at the merch table. We walk the paintings back, and they go home with an audience member that night, so there’s no way to do a show with those paintings. [LAUGHTER]
When we’re not touring, I’m a full-time painter, and I’ve been working in the studio for this particular solo show at Tarnish and Gold in Minneapolis. I will say that the live work has a definite influence on how my studio work has gone. The process of evolving a painting in roughly 45 minutes is kind of intense. When I get back in the studio now, from start to finish, I’m completing a painting in a day, whereas when I first started, it took about three weeks. I’m showing 30 paintings in this gallery show, and it’s only the last 30 days of the work that I’ve been doing. The live painting has made me incredibly prolific and confident with the brush in accomplishing what I need to accomplish. The gallery showing is representative of what I do onstage, but only as an extended version with 8-10 hours of work. [LAUGHTER]
Do you have any plans for showing your work elsewhere, like New York or LA?
Absolutely, that is my goal. [LAUGHTER] This year I just left my full-time day job as a creative director for an apparel company to paint full time. My goal this year was to build up a solid body of work and have a couple of solo shows, which has happened. Next year, I plan to expand in the Midwest, definitely hit Chicago, Cincinnati, and Cleveland to feel that out and see what response I get. I’ve already gotten some offers in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, so I think next year’s goals are attainable. From there my goal is to have showings in New York, LA, and San Francisco.
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