“Uh, Xavier… is that birds singing in the background?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m just lying in my hammock under the trees. The birds are out.”
Calling from his home, located north of Byron Bay, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear birdsong when trying to have a phone conversation with Australia’s favourite multi-instrumentalist.
Ahead of the release of his aptly named seventh album, Spirit Bird, we’ve been teased by the first offering, “Follow the Sun” – a calming reminder that we are not the first, nor the last, people to walk across the earth, with a dash of that hopeful positivity often expected with Rudd’s songs-come-life lessons.
It’s been a sizeable gap, however, between teachings from Xavier Rudd and that gap is what Spirit Bird is all about.
“The last album, Koonyum Sun [from2010], I recorded with a South African rhythm section. This one, I’ve recorded on my own, so it’s a bit more of a personal album,” says Rudd. “I mean, the music came through the way it always has: when it’s ready. I guess it just took longer than past records. Spirit Bird was a bit of a mystery journey. I recorded it in the space of about a year compared with the others, where I took a three week block and just knocked them out really quickly.”
Surely this had a more relaxing pace and was a chance to, excuse the pun, spread one’s wings further? Rudd pauses reflectively, “Yeah I did enjoy it, actually. It was good to have time. It was good to ponder in between. I really felt like I had the chance to exhaust my resources.”
For Rudd, it can be a confusing creative process so he simply tries to go with it. “My music is ahead of me on the journey, you know,” he explains, “and quite often I don’t understand it until later. Sometimes I feel like it’s the spirit coming through me, I’m not really responsible for the music; I’m just a vehicle for it.”
“Life is one continuous journey and a record is like a piece of it,” explains the singer, “Spirit Bird represents the times going within myself… after ten or twelve years of doing this, it’s sort of a look at what’s goin’ on. It’s always changing, though, so my music is always different.”
A noticeable addition to Rudd’s already swelling stage of instruments, are the songs of native Australian birds throughout his new tracks. He laughs at the thought of himself in the middle of the bush, waiting for a kookaburra to make its own distinctive lark; “I actually contacted a guy called Dave Stewart, who’s spent the last thirty-five years of his life recording birds and bush sounds. Live, I’ve got to trigger the birds; it’s all there to be done. Old vibes with a new flavour,” you can almost hear him smile.
Rudd’s been trekking all over the globe, “here, there and everywhere,” he says, recovering from emergency back surgery twelve months ago, (“My back sort of fell apart… Feeling about 80%, so getting there”), while also continuing his activism with issues close to his heart, including the Save the Kimberley project and the Sea Shepherd organisation. The performer keeps up all of his causes up to date with his blog, Xavier Rudd The Movement.
“It’s a time of a great worldwide change at the moment,” he reflects, “as much as there’s construction, there’s bigger wasting too and it’s really important that people are aware through the media, through all the different modern sounds of bringing connection in earnest. It’s really important that that stuff’s used, because it’s just not used enough, you know. A lot of TV is just crap. When you think about all the good that could go into it – how much could be conscious, useful information – television would be amazing. Anywhere, any way we can to get it out. The internet is really good that way.”
It’s not easy being an activist and Rudd is the first to agree with that, before seeing the positive side, “there’s a lot in the world to celebrate and I think it’s important for any activist to not drown in the negatives. If you care about a cause and you’re fighting for a cause, you’re constantly spending your time on it… Well, I think it’s important to keep that balance; to equally enjoy the beauty… I’ve seen a lot of people in my time burn out and it’s a long road, you know?”
He ruminates before adding, “It is a long road. I mean, these issues that we fight for now will still need to be fought for long after we’re gone. We’re just part of that fight. We know it’s a long road and we may not succeed but you have to keep fighting that fight.”
– Anne-Louise Hill
Xavier Rudd’s latest album, Spirit Bird is out now through Universal. You can read the album review verdict here, and the accompanying tour begins August. Full dates and information over in the Tour News section.