Xavier Rudd strolls across the empty ballroom floor, watching two technicians set up his equipment on stage. One of them notes, “This takes 10 times longer than a normal five-piece rock and roll band.” Xavier smiles, and says, “The sound needs to be right. I have it in my head, and when it comes through these amplifiers, it needs to be very close to that.” The setup includes a fairly standard drum kit and a bass guitar—the rhythm section—along with electric and acoustic guitars, multiple percussion instruments, and several yidiki (didgeridoos). It is an imposing sight, but Xavier is comfortable as a multi-instrumentalist, and extraordinarily effective in performance.
He seems perpetually relaxed, at ease with himself and the world. The music seems not so much to be played, as to emanate from him. “I spent a lot of time alone, when I was a young kid,” he says. “Time out in the bush, sleeping under the stars. My music comes from that, comes from the land. I wrote music back then, before I even knew what I was doing, but today, it still comes from that same source.” Fair enough, but his latest album, titled Dark Shades of Blue, is, if not a departure, exactly, from his previous work, distinctive in the heaviness of the sound, the driving bass and drums, and some almost flagrant hard-rock guitar licks. “It is a very personal album, perhaps even more so than the others. I was opening some doors inside myself.” He pauses, smiles, and adds, “I am very lucky to have music to help me deal with that stuff.”
Dark Shades of Blue features a colourful, variegated musical palate, best exemplified by the multi-faceted song “Uncle”, with its ebbs and flows and towering sonic assault one third of the way in. “It was written to reflect the reality of Uncle Goomblar, an aboriginal medicine man, a true seer, a man who was mistakenly ‘taken’ by the authorities when he was 16, and the song shows the terrible things he experienced,” says Xavier. “Hope That You’ll Stay”, played on a 20-string handmade Chaturangui slide guitar, is content with its soft tones and entrancing melody. These songs show the musical range Xavier now has, but, he says, “I don’t go hunting for stuff, material. I never force myself to sit down and write a song. Some songs are more constructed, more personal history, than others, but often, the songs just rise up out of me, from somewhere else. It is a powerful experience, a big adrenaline rush, and I play out the notes as quickly as possible, and there is the song, appearing almost out of its own accord. It starts with an emotion, even a movement of spirit, something that springs through me.”
Audiences around the world have discovered Xavier Rudd, and on his recent tour there were stops all across Canada and the United States. Audiences tend to be increasingly engaged in the world view he espouses. “I sing about the things I sing about. The people who come to the shows are similar all over the world. Earthy people, people who care about the planet.”
Two South African musicians are touring with him, Tio Moloantoa on bass and Andile Nqubezelo on drums. “It is a liberating thing, to play with such amazing musicians,” says Xavier. “I find I can explore things, musically, in a way I never could before.” And as he performs each night, new songs are written, and the next record “will be in some ways coming from a lighter, happier place—but still, I will have that thick sound that came out on Blue.” Amazingly, the next album will be recorded, as was the previous, “completely live, with a very few guitar overdubs added later.”
The dance floor is empty now. But later this evening, a packed house will experience the finesse and power of Xavier Rudd’s organic music, borne out of the Australian bush, but which requires absolutely no translation.