Xavier Rudd’s not accustomed to doing things by halves.
When the renowned multi-instrumentalist gets on the phone to Scene he’s fresh from stepping off a plane in Melbourne. Rudd has a gig to play and is squeezing in our interview during the ride into town. “Yeah, I’m playing something called Tram Sessions. I’m not sure exactly what that is,” he says, laughing, “but I’m doin’ it. Hopefully I’ll get a free tram. Maybe they can take me back to Byron Bay… I’m living just north of there now. About half an hour north of Byron. I’ve been there on and off over the years, but I’ve just relocated there.”
Rudd’s frenetic trip to Melbourne is in part to support the release of his latest longplayer, ‘Spirit Bird’. He applied finishing touches to the album in his new hometown late last year, but you shouldn’t think of it as a product of Byron. ‘Spirit Bird’ is for the most part Rudd’s ode to one place in particular: the Kimberly.
“I feel like the keys to this album were handed to me in the Kimberly via a number of different experiences,” Rudd explains. “One of them was a red-tailed black cockatoo where I feel like the spirit of ‘Spirit Bird’, the song, came from. I’ve been involved in the James Price Point saga for the last five years, helping wherever I can, and I’ve just had a couple of really powerful trips up there. I guess the music that’s come through me when I’ve gone to that country has always been pretty strong and a lot of that is on ‘Spirit Bird’.”
The ongoing debate about a proposed Liquid Natural Gas processing plant at James Price Point has helped drag the Kimberly to the front of the national consciousness. Rudd has had no small part to play, either, joining Save the Kimberly director Mark Jones in the fight to protect what they see as one of Australia’s last great wildernesses. “I was talking to Jonesy last night, and he was saying to me that he feels really optimistic and that it’s such a positive sign for Australia because we really have our group that started out really small, and it’s slain this dragon. They’re potentially going to knock over some of the biggest companies in the world with this.
“It’s a world issue; it’s not just an Australian issue,” Rudd continues. “It’s the biggest outdoor rock art gallery in the world and there are so many things that can be learnt from the Kimberly for our whole world, and to knock it over ... it’s almost like forgetting what it means to be a human being. Because we are of this earth and a lot of people forget that and industry forgets that. If we keep demolishing Australia, then the ballgame will change really quickly.”
Rudd is back on his lonesome for ‘Spirit Bird’. The singer-songwriter talks affectionately about the time he spent with South Africans Tio Moloantoa and Andile Nqubezelo on his previous album, ‘Koonyum Sun’, but the natural ebb and flow of the creative process led him back to working on his own for the new record. “It wasn’t really a decision,” he says. “I guess my music just shapes itself a lot of the time and it just opens itself to whatever’s happening. And I guess this album just lent itself to the solo thing — where the songs were coming from and how it was happening was all part of my individual journey. I loved it, my last record, but [with] this one it was definitely time to go back. It’s almost like I’ve been on this full circle during the last ten years and I’m back in the same kind of place.”
The central idea behind the album – the layering of bird song – was one Rudd had harboured for some time. But much like when he played with Moloantoa and Nqubezelo, it was also important to leave room for such an idea in what can be a very busy sonic space. “This album was about going back to making as much sound as I could on my own without losing things, and then I wanted to build percussion and harmony with birds. I had to leave a fairly open canvas for that and it was interesting how it turned out: I had the ideas in my head and as soon as we laid them in, all the birds just worked – tempo and pitch – it was pretty phenomenal, actually. It blew our minds.”
Rudd remembers with particular fondness cutting the gentle two-minute musings of ‘Butterfly’. Recorded at the end of a dock, it encouraged a call and response with some of the local wildlife. “The bird you hear in that just started singing with me,” he says with a note of fascination. “It was really interesting how the whole thing worked.”
Despite being inspired by the Kimberly, the majority of ‘Bird Song’ marked another return of sorts for Rudd – this time to Canada, where so much of his music has been recorded in the past. But whereas previous records had been laid down on the west coast, Rudd this time would travel to the Great Lakes region in the country’s east.
“The guy who owns the studio had come to one of my shows maybe three or four years before. I saw a photo of it and it just looked beautiful, but I told him that I’d most likely never be in that area. But then I’d had back surgery recently so thought it would be good to be in the lake rehabilitating. It was summer over there, and my partner was over there – it’s near where she’s from – so there were a few factors there and we hooked it up and did it.”
Back in the present, Rudd is gearing up for a 28-date tour around Australia in support of ‘Spirit Bird’, which was released last Friday. It’s something he’s determined to do properly after his popularity overseas meant he couldn’t always pay what he figured were his proper dues on local shores. “I’m particularly looking forward to the Aussie run,” Rudd says. “I’m thankful that I’ve got a great career overseas, but I guess I feel that I’ve done a lot over there and there hasn’t been a lot of focus here … I was managed from overseas for the last seven years; I just started with an Aussie manager, so it’s good to bring everything back home.
“There’s just that real home feeling and it makes sense to go and do a big Aussie tour and hit as many regional places as I can. It’ll be fun. When you do a lot overseas the Australian industry’s pretty funny. It’s such a unique place, especially when you go into regional places to play shows. You never know what to expect.”
‘SPIRIT BIRD’ IS OUT NOW. XAVIER RUDD PLAYS THE TIVOLI AUGUST 30. VISIT XAVIERRUDD.COM FOR OTHER QUEENSLAND REGIONAL DATES.