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- Xavier Rudd
"As human beings we are of the Earth, not just on the Earth," says Xavier Rudd, Australian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. "And society seems to think, these days, that we are on the Earth rather than of the Earth."
I'm speaking with Rudd by phone while he puts something to eat together in a kitchen somewhere in Hawaii. I've had his newest release, Spirit Bird, pumping through my ears for hours, and, as a result, am feeling rather zen about this whole day. Five straight hours of meditative Australian folk music will do that to a person.
Rudd is a festival regular with massive followings in his homeland Australia, and his adopted homeland Canada. He's slightly less well known in the US – slightly, I say. He's still a major festival attraction, and regularly sells out theaters like the Vogue, where he'll play this Sunday. He's touring 2012's Spirit Bird, which debuted at #2 on the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) charts and was warmly received by friends and new listeners alike. Seven albums in, Rudd's music still mesmerizes. He composes feel-good folk with a vast array of instruments, including drums, guitars, banjos, harmonicas and most impressively, a collection of didgeridoos, which Rudd prefers to refer to as yidakis.
"Didgeridoo is just a made up name that people made for it from the sound it makes; it's not a real word. It's become its common name in the world, but traditionally it is called the yidaki," he says.
During our chat, we ping-pong between topics of music and activism, which Rudd speaks of in metaphysical terms, lyrically and in conversation. Spirit Bird explores the connection between the two, with tracks that run the gamut from peaceful meditation instructionals (hit single "Follow the Sun," implores the listener to breathe in the air, set their intentions, dream with care) to fiery protest songs. Take the opening stanza to "Bow Down,"
"I sit here now 2010 government still stealing land
Making lame excuses for their greed while that
Oil spills into the sea
And the Whalers now still killing whales and old
Growth bush still being raped
And I know we will have busy lives but sing along
If you have the time"
A sidenote: He works against those whalers he references not just in song, but through partnerships with sometimes-controversial ocean activists Sea Shepherd Conversation Society. That group is now the subject of Animal Planet series Whale Wars; Rudd says of founder Paul Watson, "He's quite a fearless beast, and you don't get that a lot anymore, you know?"
Live, Rudd organizes his array of instruments around him one man band-style, shifting seamlessly from slide guitar to yidakis, various percussion instruments within easy reach. When I ask how he manages all those transitions, especially to play the notoriously difficult yidaki, the answer is simple: he doesn't know exactly.
"It's not even been a conscious thing, you know," he says. "It's almost like dancing where it is all very natural. All your limbs are involved and you are shaking your whole body ... I just let go. I just lose myself in it, and it all works in time with each other."
He's currently touring the US with a bassist and drummer, and has plans to record a reggae album with an eight piece group after he gets off tour. Every bit of Rudd's music is infused with the spirit of his homeland, but he says he appreciates his time in America as well.
"There's a huge spirit in this land, and a massive ancestral current that runs through the United States that is very powerful and very awesome since native times," he says. "