XAVIER RUDD The Universe Presents

Xavier Rudd
Xavier Rudd And The United Nations

 “I’ve always wanted to do a big reggae band, but I had to wait for the moment to be powerful and right in every way, in terms of my journey. This year really called for it, so I put the prayers out there and hoped the universe presented, and mate! It presented!”

With a new album, Nanna, set for release on Friday, March 13, Xavier Rudd is also gearing up for his appearance at West Coast Blues N’ Roots, on Sunday, March 22, at Fremantle Park. ALEX GRIFFIN reports.

Don’t let the word ‘roots’ beguile you; Xavier Rudd is one of Australia’s hardest working musicians.

Over the course of eight albums including the soon to be released Nanna, he’s carved an international reputation for his searching, lyrical meditations on soul and place, along the way collecting gongs from ARIAs to PETA’s much-coveted ‘World’s Sexiest Vegetarian’ (take that, Richard Gere).

However, having made his name as a solo artist drowning in instruments on stage, Nanna sees Rudd undergo a bit of a reinvention, transforming into the frontman of a diverse, overflowing reggae band, the consummation of a long-held dream.

It’s been amazing!” Rudd exclaims. “I’ve always wanted to do a big reggae band, but I had to wait for the moment to be powerful and right in every way, in terms of my journey. This year really called for it, so I put the prayers out there and hoped the universe presented, and mate! It presented!

It presented in a massive way! I didn’t have to chase anyone; they just came.”

Almost a dozen strong, the band – named the United Nations – features players from Australia, Papua New Guinea and South Africa. Unsurprisingly, Rudd sees this diversity as a great virtue.

Everyone comes from a different cultural background, with different nations, different ancestors and different cultural stories flowing through their musical stories. It’s a united nations of song, and it’s a really, really beautiful and powerful experience to play with these guys.”

For Rudd, it’s a far cry from stomping, plucking and blowing a song to life all by himself, but an exciting new step. “I’ve always been really preoccupied with making all the sounds – I guess it’s what I built my whole ‘thing’ on. With this album, since my parts were stripped away to basically just playing skanky guitar parts, I had the chance to focus on delivering the lyrical story.”

Surprisingly for someone with such a widely praised voice, Rudd is his own biggest critic when it comes to the pipes in question. “I never liked my voice too much, so I never concentrated on it. I always saw it as something in the background, and focused on making sound-worlds. Getting in touch with how I delivered my vocals was very new for me, and made me appreciate what my voice can do; I started enjoying the eccentricity of it, how it’s a little strange.”

As ever, Rudd’s path to wisdom is through the earth, with the infectious, beguiling Bundagen, drawn directly from experiencing the sleepy beach on the NSW coast. Politely correcting my mispronunciation, Rudd tells the story of the song arriving to him in a voice that’s somehow kind of yogic. Listening to him talk is like having time stand still as your horoscope is read by someone who is most often found inside a Kombi. “Bundagen is near Coffs Harbor; I had a pretty powerful experience there, just camping one night down at the bottom of the beach. I was between two trees, right on the coast, watching a family of eagles there – a mum, a dad and a baby – teaching the little one how to catch fish. I slept like a baby! Everything was really interesting, and the song came to me there!”

Considering that tale against the title of his last record (2011’s Spirit Bird), you might be forgiven for assuming Rudd had a bit of an avian fixation going, but Rudd’s inspiration is nature, full stop. “Yeah, I do watch birds a lot! There’s definitely a lot to see there if you take the time to watch, but the same goes with everything out there. I’ve always been in tune with it, and to watch it, listen to it and be among it is really important to me. I’ve spent most of my life outside focusing on that stuff, rather than what happens inside, so much of my music comes from reflecting on these things I love. It’s all entwined, to me.”

Hearing Rudd talk like this brings to mind another prolific earthbound songwriter, working on describing the place he cohabits with; Mount Eerie’s Phil Elvrum. Like Elvrum, for Rudd there’s no distinction between song and place, as the two are always in dialogue with one another. “When certain animals or places come up, it’s not a direct choice, it just happens. It’s all about the ancient outdoors, and the feelings you get from the special places you see, feelings that we all share, but explain in different ways.”

Even as he changes shape and sound, Rudd’s focus remains the same.