So I was set up with what they call a "phoner" in the publicity business with Xavier Rudd for Thursday June 28th. His Canadian publicist emailed me and said to phone "this number" at 12:30 PST, and Glen, Xavier's tour manager would put me over to Xavier.
They always tell you that they'll give you plenty of warning for these things, but I guess their definition of plenty is a lot different than ours, and so I had about a day to get myself ready for it. It wasn't so bad because I'd been thinking about questions for a while so that wasn't a problem.
What I was worried about was the time limit. When you do one of these "phoners" you're one of god knows how many folk they've lined up to yak at whoever the poor guy is over the course of the day and you only are supposed to have fifteen or twenty minutes. I swore after the last one that I'd never do one again, but I couldn't see any other way of getting to talk to Xavier so I decided to play by the rules. Maybe I thought if I get him talking… well you know.
Anyway at the appointed time I called and the reception was really weird – they were obviously travelling and I could hear like a CB radio or something similar in the background so the first words out of my mouth after hi how you doing were " Are you guys on a boat"?
"Yeah we're in the sea of Japan making our way home and about ten days out of Australia"
(laugh) "Nah, we're on a bus just outside of Portland Oregon – not so cool now huh)"
"Damn, well let's lie about it and say you are on a boat okay"
He laughed again and we exchanged a few more "pleasantries" as they say, then I brought up being on the clock and he said yeah I am, so I began the official interview. The first question wasn't really a question; I just wanted to clear something up. I'd heard somewhere that he had always wanted to play the Yirdaki (didgeridoo) and as a kid had used a garden hose to practice on
"No it was a vacuum cleaner tube that I used play around with before I got a Yirdaki"
Well with that rumour cleared up it was time to get on with the interview. Now the other reason I hate phone interviews is any time I've used technology to try and record them it's failed, so I've given up on that and I take notes and then recreate our conversation as best as I can immediately on getting off the phone with whomever. If I'm ever in doubt about something having been said, I leave it out. I'd rather omit something than risk misquoting anybody.
So to the best of my abilities here are my few precious moments with Xavier Rudd.
Listening to your music I sense that you have an awareness of the world around you that borders on spiritual – if it's not to personal a question was there some event in your life that acted like an epiphany –so to speak – that brought this about, or has it been a gradual journey.
It comes from a connection with the spirit of the land, something that I've had as long as I've been aware. I was born in tune with the land and through an aboriginal bloodline I have a connection to mother earth. So it's always been part of me – just who I am. It's grown stronger over the years as I've had the opportunity to learn more from aboriginal people all over Australia and then making connections to people in Native communities around the world has made it stronger.
You sing about very important issues do you ever worry that your medium of expression might actually be interfering with your conveyance of the message – people get wrapped up in the music ignore the content.
No because that's not why I sing. I don't write to tell people anything, if they listen to my music and take something that affects their journey, well that's an honour, right, that I've affected them so much.
The music is a reflection of spirit coming through me – and I cherish that gift because it's really quite sacred – and I'm really honoured to be given my gift. I have a life that's amazing right, I get to travel all over the place and play my music which is a great road to be on.
Obviously things are changing now – it's become a career and that's a whole other side of it, what with media attention and so on, and that's fun too. But the core of what the music is will never change for me. People come and listen and take what they will from what I have too offer them and that's all that really matters.
I noticed that not only do you think it's important to inform people about issues but that the way in which you do is important too – instead of singing in anger you try to imbue your music with hope and to talk about battles won. Was that a conscious decision or an evolution of an attitude?
It's more a reflection of just how I feel about what I'm doing and that I'm extremely lucky to be doing it. I get fed this wonderful energy by people who listen to me or the people I get to work with, like the elders on White Moth.
It's also a reflection of how I feel that we are so fortunate to be living in this time and place right now; nearing the end of an evolutionary cycle of mother earth before a cleansing time. We're lucky that there are still places of beauty that we can still connect with on the planet and people who we can still learn from on how to live with the planet better.
I was thinking about the song "Footprint" where you express a lot of anger, for good reason, in the music and the lyrics, but at the end of the song it's like you close it off with a prayer that's going to contain the anger to that song and not let it travel any further.
That was recorded over the course of a night, and talking about things, and the prayer is what Kennetch came up with as an answer to the storm that's rising with Mother Earth starting to claim back what's been taken from her. It's a prayer to Mother Earth of gratitude for what we've been gifted.
You appear to be at a stage in your career professionally where you're taking the next step up the ladder in exposure, you're touring into venues larger then you are used to playing – how's that feel especially in terms of being able to communicate to an audience in the immediate/intimate manner your music seems to require to be most effective.
No, because I've already played festivals and stuff where there have been more then 20,000 people and it becomes something else then what you hear on the CD. There's another energy that comes from playing live – you send out energy to the audience and they in turn give it back to you and you cycle it through you out back to them (me: kind of like a conduit?) Yeah that's right.
It becomes more like a celebration than anything else with all of us there for the same purpose and enjoying the music together. The great thing about our music is that we can do what we do on CD on stage. Everything on White Moth except for the organ and the aboriginal singers can be done by me and Dave (Dave Tolley: Drums) so that also helps make it a celebration.
From an observer's point of view White Moth in terms of content and comprehension seemed a step further along on a journey that your on personally from your prior release Food In The Belly. Do you see your albums and music in those terms – reflections of where you are on a journey - and how would you describe that journey?
Oh yeah, it's a reflection of where I'm at spiritually in my ability to be able to comprehend a little bit more about my own existence. It's like I said about feeling fortunate in being alive at this point in time and one of the gifts of that is having the opportunity to travel that road.
On White Moth I really felt that I was able to communicate my connection to the land and how important that is (me: yeah that was something that I picked up on, I feel the same way) Thanks – It's one of the things that help me understand myself, that connection, how I fit into it all.
Where does it come from for you – the lyrics, the music?
I feel like I become a channel for spirit, I'll feel spirit and it will come as music. Sometimes it happens in dreamtime, and other times it just spills out of me. It's best when I'm not thinking and I can just let it happen.
Do you write it down, or record it on something at that moment?
No I figure if something meant to stay then it will stay around – sometimes it takes me months to figure out what the heck it was that came and I have to let it just be. If it doesn't stay than it wasn't meant to. Some people think that's a risky way of doing things; that you could lose a lot of stuff, but I don't know it seems right.
The musical side of me is constant, I've always got it floating around in my head and so things come out when they are ready – if I worry too much about it…well there's no need to.
When someone like me asks, "Xavier – describe what it is you do musically?" I wouldn't think there is any pat answer – but are you able to define what it is you hope to accomplish with your music and songs.
I know it's hard for people to get their heads around it, but like I said, everything is live. I'm a multi-instrumentalist able to play guitar, foot drum and didgeridoo pretty much all at once. I feel like I'm a dancer when I'm playing, everything in motion and moving together. It's almost like a yogic way of being where you're moving everything in harmony and what people can't see is it all comes from a centre place, the place my breath comes from.
(At this point Xavier was starting to get the "wrap it up" sign from his road manager –we'd already blown the time limit and gone over twenty minutes, so I asked him this final question)
There was a great German Theatre director in the thirties, a contemporary of Bertol Brecht name Erwin Piscator who used to do these incredibly elaborate pieces of political theatre with projection devices and film etc. He used to gather his actors together before a performance and ask them what reactions they would like to produce in their audiences – do you ever consider what effect you want to have on an audience before you perform and how you can best accomplish that?
Nope – (Me: oh that's great a nope hell of an interview you are) laughs – I just want people to come here, enjoy and I'm just grateful that they want to do that. I don't expect anything from them.
And that was it, my few precious moments with Xavier Rudd. In case anyone's wondering about all this talk about spirit, this guy ain't some New Age phoney or Hollywood bullshiter. There are actually some people out there who can talk like that without embarrassment and with such sincerity that it's real.
Anyway all you have to do is listen to the man's music and you can't help but feel the depth of his passion and sincerity. If I learned anything from this interview, it's that he is his music and his music is most definitely him. Not something I would have expected ever to find in the world of popular music.
He talks about his gratitude for the gifts he's been given and for people coming to see him, well it's a two way street and there's a lot of people on the other side of the footlights, including me, who are grateful for the things he brings to his music that are absent from so much of not only popular culture but the world in general.
A friend of mine wanted me to ask Xavier how he got to be so damn good – he was semi-kidding and semi- serious. I don't know if this interview answers the question for him – but it's gone a long way in answering it for me.
(Originally posted June 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.