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Why Xavier Rudd doesn't read music reviews

It’s been six years since folk singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd released Spirit Bird, his fifth solo album to go gold or higher. 

His newly minted follow-up, Storm Boy, might follow Spirit Bird up the ARIA charts – or it might not. Either way, Rudd isn’t fussed.

“I don’t even know what a sales figure is,” Rudd says. “Critical reviews I don’t read that much. I’m just not that interested. If you’re someone who’s too fixated on that stuff, it could definitely influence your creative process.

“My music is what it is, and I always stay true to what it is. I have a rule where I don’t involve my mind or my ego in it. I just stay neutral and let the music be what it is. It’s a reflection of how I feel. If people find a connection with that on their journey, then I’m stoked. The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone uses the music during a significant moment in their lives, like a funeral, a marriage or a birth – that’s really touching.”

Storm Boy was recorded at Rudd’s riverside house, where he worked with Devon-based producer Chris Bond, whose recent credits include singles for Eliza Shaddad and Roo Panes’ Quiet Man. Proximity to nature and good chemistry with Bond helped keep things running smoothly, Rudd says.

“It was beautiful,” he says. “I was watching the tide the whole time – as the tide came in and the tide went out, different things happened. That’s how we were documenting it: by low tide we had this done, and by high tide we had that done.”

Aside from ‘True Love’ – a track that demanded the use of a difficult-to-mic Indian slide guitar called the chaturangui – recording Storm Boy was a straightforward process.

“Any kind of music that I make, I don’t like it to be challenging,” Rudd says. “I don’t so much keep it simple as keep it easy. If something’s not flowing, then I’ll move on and come back to it later. I don’t battle.”

World music artist Nahko, who toured the US with Rudd during the fledgling years of his career, recalls Rudd’s energy and wholehearted dedication both to art and to activism.

“He’s fantastic – a dear brother of mine, and he taught me quite a bit in those beginning years,” Nahko explains. “I was real green at that time, so it was an experience with lots of important lessons which I’ve brought into my own version of touring now. Xav is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met. He walks his talk – an outstanding musician and activist, and he is the best trip, for sure.”

Rudd’s activism is well known even to casual listeners, and his music and profile have been used by groups like the United Nations to drive awareness of environmentalist and anti-racist causes. The Australian environment is presently at the front of Rudd’s mind, he says, including issues such as the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef and the possibility of the Kimberly region in Western Australia being opened for fracking. Rudd is also working on a program to fundraise for children’s dormitories in Zimbabwe, tentatively named Zimbabwe Love More.

Although Rudd’s politics are intimately entwined with his artwork, he doesn’t believe that good politics are necessary to make good art. Rudd’s fans don’t necessarily share the specific environmental concerns expressed in his lyrics, but do have a certain like-mindedness, he says.

“I’ve met different people around the world, in different countries that don’t speak English, and they say they wish they could understand what I was singing about,” says Rudd. “They don’t know what the lyrics are, but they seem to be similar in their energy, so the energy communicates as well. It still seems to penetrate, even without lyrical communication.

Storm Boy is out now from Salt. X Records Ltd. Rudd plays The Pleasure Garden on Saturday December 8. Head to the festival’s website for tickets and the full lineup.