At one stage a few years ago, Xavier Rudd was firmly positioned at the top end of almost every festival he was invited to attend. Kids loved his easy-on-the-ears dreadlock-folk-surf tunes, the oldies loved his political and environmental conscious and those that hadn’t seen him just enjoyed the spectacle of seeing one little man make such a big noise. In recent times, however, with different fashions and phases coming and going, roots-folk doesn’t quite have the same hype surrounding it that it may have had earlier this decade, which is a shame as Xavier Rudd’s music is stronger than ever (last year’s performance at Falls Festival was especially monolithic). While it may be subtle, Rudd has continually striven to re-invent himself with almost every album, while staying true to his favoured blues and roots genre.
And just in case anyone was wondering, Rudd is exactly how you think he would be; polite, easy going and just a fucking cool dude. He’s even happy to delve into the fairly hectic personal stuff he has had to go through in the past couple of years, describing it with honesty and grace.
Since his hugely popular, breakthrough 2003 album, Solace, Rudd has been writing summer anthems consistently seeking inspiration from the most basic and natural elements at his disposal. Food In The Belly and White Moth continued on this tangent, embracing themes of family and mother earth, all the while being assisted by Rudd’s trademark melodies and that slide guitar he has made his own.
In 2008 with the release of Dark Shades Of Blue – just a year after White Moth –Rudd made the album it felt like he had been threatening to make for his whole career. The title and the cover art said it all and the album became a beast of heavy guitars, aggressive drums and lyrics moving between somber, confused and inquisitive. He so slightly – but so effectively – changed his whole entity and with the inclusion of a drummer for the live show, Xavier Rudd completely removed himself from the stereotypes and changed the expectations people had of him.
Unfortunately, however, this album was to signify something far greater than words and music, with the breakdown of his marriage to come in the year after its release. But of course, in true Xavier Rudd style, he quickly identifies the positive aspects of his turmoil. “I don’t have any regrets in my life,” he muses, “and all my music is special to me… and all my time with my family was special to me. I don’t see anything as negative and I don’t feel wounded anymore.’ (Fun fact #932, Dark Shades, however, is Rudd’s favourite album.)
True to form Rudd channeled this turbulent period and created anotheralbum that was again subtly different from the last. The most obvious difference, of course, was the addition of two members and the moniker of ‘Xavier Rudd’ being extended to ‘Xavier Rudd and Izintaba’ representing the full trio and something of a musical rebirth. The allegedly ‘Fucking classic’ Izintaba is made up of bass-man Tio Moloantoa and percussionist Andile Nqubezelo. “They basically held me up,” Rudd recalls. “They were such strong spirits to have around me during such a traumatic time.”
By no coincidence that the word ‘Izintaba’ is the Zulu word for ‘mountain’, and standing on a mountain is how Rudd has described he feels when he is playing with – or even just around – these clearly very important people in his life. “We have an undeniable connection – musically, spiritually, and emotionally,” he nods. “I feel like they were sent to me.”
Though clearly taking something of a risk in incorporating a band after so long of doing it more or less solo, Rudd relished in the opportunity to play with others. ‘I still do what I do,” he explains, “and they sort of play around me, there’s probably a but more space,” he says of the music he crafted for this album. “I left a bit more space than I usually would, but I still use all the things I would use’
Koonyum Sun abandoned the hard hitting guitars of Dark Shades, opting instead for a narrative-heavy approach lyrically and a warm and ambient feel musically. Titles such as Time To Smile and Love Comes And Goes are the more personal tracks on the album with the trademark upbeat Rudd melodies, but it’s Koonyum Sun’s title-track is particularly interesting, as it features some back-up vocals from Rudd’s son. “Yeah [it’s] really special,” Rudd grins. “He just started singing that. I was just playing that riff sitting around the fire one night and he started singing the lyrics over and over and I just wrote the song around the experience.’
After a three month tour through Canada, Europe and the United States and a brief regional tour through the northern parts of Queensland, Rudd is set to return to Australia over summer to play a few festivals, in particular the Pyramid Rock Festival on Phillip Island. With Izintaba in tow, it’s shaping up to be an amazing end to another successful year for the blues and roots stalwart – and as anyone who has witnessed Rudd in the festival environment can attest, this will be a raucous end to 2010.
With the intention of taking it pretty easy next year, now is your time to see Xavier Rudd and Izintaba do what they do best as they belt out their summer grooves. There may also be a surprise or two in the set as well, as some of the older numbers are being re-worked by the band – songs like Jack, which will no doubt please a lot of the older fans. So, unlike his political namesake, there’s no chance of Rudd being disposed from the top of your festival wishlist.
XAVIER RUDD headlines the PYRAMID ROCK FESTIVAL alongside N*E*R*D*, Arrested Development, The Temper Trap, Chromeo, Mystery Jets, Gyroscope, Little Red, Lightspeed Champion, Future Of The Left and heaps more on Phillip Island across December 30-January 1. Tickets and info from thepyramidrockfestival.com. XAVIER RUDD AND IZINTABA’s album Koonyum Sun is out now through Universal.