Xavier Rudd is a musician who requires little introduction. Over the course of eight studio albums, the Australian multi-instrumentalist has wowed audiences with his heartfelt, organic sound. His sophomore effort, Solace was certified platinum and earned Rudd two ARIA nominations, and his album White Moth peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Heatseakers chart.
Rudd is also well known for his staunch defence of the natural world, and in 2007 was nominated for PETA’s World’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity award. His music and his optimistic world view are permanently intertwined, and his sound is deeply influenced by his humanist views.
His new album, Nanna, is his first recorded with the United Nations, transforming the artist into a ‘front man’ for the first time in his career. It’s a jaunty, impeccably produced listen, and one of Rudd’s finest albums to date.
We spoke to Rudd ahead of his tour about what fans should expect from his upcoming tour; the new album; and his interesting backstage ritual…
Joseph Earp: How are you and where in the world does our interview find you today?
Xavier Rudd: I’m at Perth airport, flying back home to play Bluesfest.
JE: The title of your new album, Nanna is very evocative. Where did it come from?
XR: Respect for all of our nannas, and the great grandmother creation. Everybody in this band has a unique story and is from a different culture, and all of those cultures have great stories of strong grandmothers, so it just made sense..
JE: Nanna is attributed to you and The United Nations. How did The United Nations come about?
XR: It was time to put this band together.. It’s an idea I had for a long time and I’ve been patient with that idea. I found the right time came in every way, and presented this year. I put it out to the universe and it all just came really organically. Everyone just appeared – it’s very powerful.
JE: On Come People you sing the line “I believe we are one and we are sacred.” It’s a powerful line, and it got me thinking: who are the people in your life who helped shape your worldview?
XR: That’s a good question, but also a hard one to answer. I’ve met a lot of people in a lot of places and a lot of elders and so to try to list them would be difficult. There’s been a lot of influence. I can’t even name a few people out of respect for the others I won’t be able to name.
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JE: Nanna is your eighth studio record. What lessons do you think you’ve learned over the course of your recording career?
XR: So many lessons..! Lessons have come thick and fast on this journey, and I’ve been on this journey for 15 years, so I’ve learnt a lot of lessons. One that I’ll mention is just staying true to the music, not your mind. The mind can influence your path so much, but the music comes from your heart and from your ancestors.
JE: How do you approach playing shows now that you are ostensibly a frontman? Do you feel a difference between playing with a band and playing solo?
XR: It’s all fun, but it’s definitely different. The trio we played with last year is super fun in a different way, and this band is amazing, I’m having a ball – there are great musicians laying it down all around me and I’m so stoked to be a part of it.
JE: A lot of your music videos feature the natural world as their focus. How do you feel about contemporary attitudes towards the world we live in? Do you feel like there has been a change in global thinking?
XR: Yes there is a change, it’s slow, but there is a change in global thinking in the last few years in particular. I think slowly people are realizing that it’s time to open our minds to think a little deeper, and that’s what’s going on. That is only the very beginning of change, but it’s a start, and at least we are seeing that now.
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JE: You are a multi-instrumentalist, but what was the first instrument you learned to play?
XR: My voice would have been the first instrument, I’ve been singing melodies since I was a kid, then I taught myself different instruments from there.
JE: You’re famed for your prowess on the didgeridoo. How did you discover the instrument? How easy was it to learn to play?
XR: I’ve been playing it since I was a kid, I think I was about 10 when I started circular breathing. I just taught myself.
JE: What first sparked your interest in becoming a musician?
XR: I just always knew I would be. I just had this steering, I always knew.
JE: How important was your upbringing in shaping your distinctive musical sound?
XR: It was important because I had freedom. I grew up in the bush and I was able to roam and a lot of my music was written about the country and everything I loved. My upbringing certainly shaped that passion for our beautiful country.
JE: What is your favorite show out of all of those you’ve played?
XR: Too many!
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JE: You have a devoted following. What is the best response you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
XR: There are a lot of situations where people are very emotionally attached to certain songs, like using them for funerals or weddings or something on their journey…that’s a huge compliment.
JE: How do you prepare yourself for a string of shows? Do you have any backstage rituals?
XR: I usually stand on my head for 5 or 10 minutes.
JE: What should fans expect from your upcoming tour?
XR: They should be ready to boogie!
JE: Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before
XR: There’s a 4.5 metre great white shark roaming around Lennox Head.
Xavier Rudd’s album Nanna is out now. You can check out his upcoming tour dates here.