For their tenth album, the eclectic Minneapolis-based indie band Cloud Cult, led by the extraordinary singer and songwriter Craig Minowa, decided to try something new: They recorded live in the small (220-capacity) Southern Theatre in their hometown, and performed a selection of tunes from the group’s earlier albums acoustic, sans amplifiers, electronic loops and such; hence the title, Unplug. To people who know the band, this makes complete sense—after all, the sextet’s instrumentation includes guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, violin, cello and various horns, so taking more of an intimate chamber music approach to their rich catalog of songs felt completely natural. (Additionally, two “visual artists” who create paintings during Cloud Cult performances add their voices to the band’s complex harmonies.)
For the three shows at the Southern, Cloud Cult’s front-of-house mixer for the past seven years, Jeff D. Johnson, doubled as a recordist, using a Pro Tools rig. As the shows were being shot for a summer 2014 DVD release, Johnson chose unobtrusive clip-on pickups and mics wherever possible.
“We had an LR Baggs DI on violin, an Avalon D5 DI on cello and a Fishman DI on guitar,” he says. “We also had DPA 4099 [clip-on mics] on strings, guitar, trumpet and banjo. French horn and accordion were Audio-Technica PRO 35s, and the trombone was an A-T 3500.” The baby grand took Earthworks piano mics, while vocals were captured with Neumann KMS 105s. The minimal drum setup utilized just a Sennheiser 421 on the top of the floor tom, an Audix D6 on the bottom, and Josephson C42s as overheads. Room mics were important, too—Johnson used two AKG C414s in Blumlein above the audience, and a pair of Sennheiser ME66 shotguns from the stage.
Johnson mixed the project, too. “Picking takes from the three nights ended up being a huge part of the collaborative process,” he says. “There’s no [comping] from other nights. It’s clean and totally live.”