Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd is in the midst of an Australian tour, featuring his newly-formed band The United Nations in a show of cultural harmony. We catch up with the free-spirited, socially-conscious musician ahead of his headline act at the 2015 Caloundra Music Festival.
Standing with bare feet, surrounded by his international band, with the natural amphitheatre of rolling green hills dotted with rocky outcrops and a flowing river past the edge of the raw wooden church-style stage, Xavier Rudd seems to channel his surrounds into the melodic croons of his performance, set in the mountains of Mishawaka in America.
“I draw a lot of my inspiration from life pretty much, it’s like there’s so many amazing things, I get so much inspiration from the earth, it’s such a beautiful, powerful beast and there’s so much music that comes from that,” Xavier says.
“I am more pumped to play whenever it is outdoors… just in incredible natural beauty.”
The surf/roots artist is known for seeing music as an ‘ancient ceremony’, and molds his fluid lyrics around the influence of the earth and of life – everything from the ocean, the land, the sky and the animal kingdom, to compassion, love, Indigenous communities, spirituality and the environment.
I get so much inspiration from the earth, it’s such a beautiful, powerful beast and there’s so much music that comes from that.”
A regular on musical festival circuits in Australia, North America and Europe, Xavier is adept with a range of instruments, including guitar, shaker, didgeridoo, Weissenborn slide guitar, Tongue drum, stomp box, djembe, harmonica, ankle bells, and slide banjo, sometimes played simultaneously.
Xavier is the product of a grassroots upbringing near Bells Beach in Victoria, where he discovered a self-taught interest in music – including learning how to play the didgeridoo by practicing on a vacuum cleaner pipe.
“I was always keen on learning instruments and writing songs right from when I was a kid, my brother had a guitar. I was self-taught, like if there was a piano around I would teach myself,” Xavier says.
“Most of my music comes from an earth-based place because I’ve always been outside, as a little kid I grew up in the bush and on the coast, so I guess naturally my music lent itself to earth based things,” drawls Xavier, his every sentence seemingly carefully considered before he speaks.
It’s this presence in the present that shines through in Xavier’s lyrics. “It’s part of our natural existence on the planet so it comes through song,” he says.
“I get a lot of inspiration from that, and then you’ve got emotional stuff like family and things that gives you more inspiration and love,” he says.
In his personal life, Xavier, 37, has recently become engaged to fiancee and well-known holistic personal trainer Ashley Freeman, and has two sons, aged nine and 15, who occasionally join him on tour. He balances touring with a healthy approach to life, preempting the typical musician’s rider with a focus on an active lifestyle, eating well and choosing to explore his surrounds, such as the recent Mishawaka performance where he hiked to the top of the mountains where, “I could see for miles, it was incredible.”
“It’s just all about being conscious of like, where you are and then being disciplined.”
Talented musicians are common, but less so are those with a social conscience, and Xavier’s respect for earth is evident, and protecting and preserving it and its inhabitants by spreading a message through song is something he is passionate about.
I grew up on the bush and in the Coast and it was always just hanging out so I guess naturally my music lent itself to earth based things.”
“When there’s an environmental group or issue, naturally those kind of places are drawn to my music and then being able to have the ability to help organisations spread their message through my social media and to be able to grow awareness is a huge honour,” he says.
“It needs our help, so it’s important to do what we can and if people don’t then it’s selfish in my eyes.”
Xavier has also recently formed a nine-piece international band, The United Nations, featuring guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keys, horns, flute, saxophone and vocals; hailing from the diverse cultures of Australia, Indigenous Australia, South Africa, Samoa, Germany and Papua New Guinea.
The band is currently touring to celebrate the release of Flag, the second single from their acclaimed debut album, Nanna, as part of the Australia-wide Flag Tour that kicked off in August, including 35 performances around the country.
“It’s been amazing, it’s totally different from what I’ve done in the past, and it’s been pretty powerful, it’s a different approach,” says Xavier of the band’s formation. “I’m more of an entertainer now and I like engaging people, whereas I used to hide behind my instruments.”
Following the band’s incredible European tour across seven countries, Xavier and The United Nations are booked as the headline act for the Caloundra Music Festival 2015 from 2 to 5 October.
“I love the Sunshine Coast, it’s beautiful, the people are always happy, the weather is good and the beaches are beautiful,” Xavier says.
Of what’s planned for the show, Xavier shares, “there is going to be a lot of the new record and a lot of versions of other songs we’ve been doing ... we’re constantly evolving the show, it’s going to be a lot of fun and a bit of a boogie for everyone.”