For lack of a more eloquent term I’ve just called Xavier Rudd “Nature Guy” – but luckily he’s suitably amused for our interview to continue through my blundering use of language. “’Nature Guy’, huh?” he says as he stifles a laugh-snort. “I feel like a superhero. I need a cape or a theme song. That’d be pretty cool. I could eat bananas that’d give me special powers.” In what was an attempt to highlight Rudd’s robust connection to the natural world, the longtime vegetarian and activist is about to release his seventh album Spirit Bird, inspired in part by his fondness for the scenic Kimberley in Western Australia.
After 12 years of touring the multi-instrumentalist has produced what he thinks is his most self-reflective album. Since 2004’s platinum Solace, with songs like Let Me Be of anthemic surf-rock persuasion, and numerous releases between, he’s turned his gaze inward with a more musically introspective collection of songs. The story of the album and its eponymous lead track will no doubt become part of the musician’s mythology though. It’s a story he’ll retell many times during this tour, but one which frames his new album as markedly spiritual.
The song Spirit Bird, he says, was penned after driving along a track in the Kimberley. “I got out of the car and there was a big mob of red-tailed cockatoos behind me. We’d been in this sacred country, and usually these birds are pretty flighty, but this one bird just looked down at me and locked eyes with me for I don’t know how long. She just spoke. She was creaking and groaning, and talking to me. Didn’t take her eyes off mine. And I started to have all these visions running through my mind really fast, it was like memories - but they weren’t my memories, they were visions of times and places and things that I hadn’t seen before. I felt still.”
That night he wrote out the lyrics to the first half of the song in the sand and confined the ditty to the back of his memory. It wasn’t until a few years later in Canada he aired the tune again, sitting by a fire late at night. “I just started playing that song and it poured out of me again, this whole back-end which was different. It had more of a frustrated energy. So I wrote down what I sang and I was in tears at the end. I didn’t even really understand a lot of it.”
The next morning, Rudd realised the time he was inspired to write the song was around the same police in Western Australia had moved in to claim the land at James Price Point in the Kimberley. Call it coincidence or some sort of whacky mysticism, Rudd holds out that the Spirit Bird so written about in the song is a “messenger from Kimberley Country that’s found its way through me.”
Though a funereal hush descends on the room after he relates his intense personal experience and his piercing blue eyes search the room, he’s quick to snap back to familiar, jovial territory. Chatting about the album, he says it’s a result of his life’s extremities. “It’s always full-bore [for me] whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. I guess the big lesson for me lately is balance.”
Indeed his arrival into the music industry was greeted on the same evening with another sort of arrival. “I was 21 when I had my first kid and I played the Evelyn Hotel the night that he was born. I had my first sound check and went to the hospital, then went back to play the show that night.” And the boy who worked at a golf course during the day, writing songs on a ride-on mower, found a lot of attention came to him quite suddenly. He was able to become a full time musician and began touring Canada and the States.
“I first started playing shows overseas in Canada in 2000. It was pretty fast in that everywhere I went people appreciated [the music] and then people’d come. But it was still an organic, independent process. I was selling rooms out in the States and I didn’t even have a record out. It was people taping my shows and passing them around on the internet.”
Canada, in fact, is another sort of spiritual homeland for the musician. “I’ve got two kids that are half Canadian, their mum’s from Vancouver Island, and that was the initial connection. My current partner is Canadian too – I don’t know how this keeps happening,” he laughs.
But because of the pace of his success, including being awarded ARIAs and other industry accolades, he’s never had much time to focus on personal growth, he says. “All this stuff has happened, good and bad, and where does that leave me? This album’s a bit like that too. It’s personal. [Song] Full Circle probably talks about that, energetically anyway. That long journey back to [where you started]. I definitely look older, feel older, but what’s going on inside?”
He’s no doubt been taught a number of hard-earned lessons in his time in the spotlight but his most valuable, he says, is about our own nature. “I’m a pretty open person, I’m from a small town and getting thrown into that world whilst having kids and everything, trying to carry that as well, I’ve just learned a lot about human behaviour I think.“
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE
XAVIER RUDD hits the road and will play The Palace Theatre on Thursday September 13, The Ferntree Gully Hotel on Friday September 14, The Pier Hotel, Frankston on Saturday September 15, Costa Hall, Geelong on Sunday September 16 and the Kay Street Saloon, Traralgon on Wednesday September 19. Spirit Bird is out now through Universal.