Photo c/o aLIVE Coverage
Inspired by his country and the need for reconciliation in his homeland of Australia, this year Xavier Rudd unveiled his new international eight-piece band, aptly called The United Nations, and released their album Nanna - an encapsulation of positive messaging set to music.
A long time follower of Rudd's, I was excited to see this project come to life a few weeks ago at Bowery Ballroom in NYC. After an hour of swaying to reggae beats, chanting "we are one, we are sacred" with a crowd of the nicest New Yorkers, and being transcended into a tribal wonderland of world music – I promptly scooped up the record at the merch table and set up an on-site interview for the next weekend at Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta.
Xavier Rudd was everything you would imagine him to be - genuine, soft-spoken, assertive, zen, and barefoot. He is a presence of peace, a catalyst of change, the perfect sun for this project to orbit around, and the ideal spokesperson to inspire progression in both his own nation and worldwide. Since he says it best, read on to find out more about him and his band's latest endeavors.
EARMILK: Tell us how The United Nations came together and the insight behind Nanna.
XAVIER RUDD: I’ve been thinking about putting together that sort of band for a number of years. This year presented the right time – spiritually, musically, everything was right. It’s very organic how it all came to be. It literally felt like all of our ancestors had a cup of tea and put us together. There was no audition process; as soon as I put it out there the right people came. I was touring with drummer Bobby Alu, and then did a record with the bass player, Uncle Tio from South Africa – and from there we discussed different things and I met different people and would tell them about what I was doing.
EM: How did you know the sound was full?
XR: I kind of had it mapped out in my mind. I had the instrumentation down – I wrote the music first for a lot of it, but as we rehearsed it all came together – giving us a chance to sit with the songs, a chance to get to know each other really well musically, energetically, and went into the studio to record once to get to that point.
EM: How do you think the “we are one” messaging has been received by people?
XR: I think it’s a comfortable concept for everybody. Everybody who comes to our shows are good-hearted folks who want to see positive change. That message has been received with a warm welcome, and it ignites people to be doing things in the broader community. In my time touring around, I’ve watched environmental groups grow and have been part of that growth. It’s exciting, there’s different things that need attention in different parts of our world, in every place.
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EM: It seems like a great time to be releasing this type of album with this positive messaging, as there’s a lot of change happening right now.
XR: Yeah there really is. It’s been quite popular to talk of a shift for the past fifteen years, and I hadn’t really seen that to be honest – but these last two years I really feel like there’s a magnetic pull happening from creation and human beings.
EM: Do you think you’ll continue down this path with this band?
XR: Yeah, well, the spirit will decide how long this is supposed to be. And we’ll see – I really enjoy everyone.
EM: What would you say most influences your music?
XR: Spirit of my land, Australia – it has a lasting influence on my music, [it] sort of is my music sometimes. I can just be a vessel and try to stay strong, and just be respectful of where the light comes from.
EM: Do you have anyone you look up to as a musician?
XR: I respect it all, I respect music – it’s next to childbirth – it’s one of the most natural things we do as a species of this planet. Anyone who’s taken time to bring music to people, I respect and look up to them.
EM: Anyone specifically you want to work with – any collaborations in the future?
XR: Toots and the Maytals – we’ve been trying to plan a collaboration for a few years, in Jamaica. My album was mixed in Jamaica. The band Midnight, [I] would love to do a collaboration with them. And Sinead O’Connor – we were going to do a collaboration at one point, but her daughter was sick so we couldn’t do it, and we were only in Ireland for a short amount of time.
EM: What’s on your schedule in the coming months?
XR: We do another four weeks here, then go to Europe for six weeks, then come back to America in the fall.
EM: What’s the hardest things about being on the road?
XR: Eh nothing really that bad, can’t complain – it’s a good life, what we do.
EM: Do you like playing these festivals?
XR: Yeah I love playing outside. We played a beautiful festival yesterday called LEAF Festival, up in Asheville, NC – just gorgeous. Arts & crafts. Those are my favorites.
EM: I was really taken with the stage set-up when you perform – for example, last week we were there in Bowery Ballroom in New York City and you’re this tour de force with people from different countries, different styles, playing different instruments...
XR: Everyone choose their own outfit, it comes from where they come from and what they feel. Our keyboard player is from Papa New Guinea and he’s pretty traditional – and the headdress is what we he wears when performing ceremonies, it comes from his ancestors.
EM: Is there any song specifically off the album that you love to perform or feel a closer connection to?
XR: I really love performing them all – but "Nanna" is a pretty powerful one when Georgia sings that song. She wrote that song for her daughter and it just happened to fit into my song.
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EM: What was that huge woodwind instrument that came out last time, and will it make an appearance tonight?
XR: Yes, it’s a yidaki from the aboriginals, commonly called a didgeridoo.
EM: What are you doing when you’re not performing?
XR: We take days off, go into the bushes, national parks, try to be with nature whenever we can get a chance.
EM: Anything funny or weird that has happened on tour?
XR: Oh there’s heaps. One time we were in Canada – it was in winter – we had a different bus driver than we normally do, and the driver was a crackhead. One night we’re heading to Toronto, through the snow on the highway, going 110K per hour – our sound guy looked out the window and said, “Why are the road signs backwards?” and we realized he was on the wrong side of the highway. There were headlights coming at us and snow everywhere. The police shut down the whole road, escorted him, suspended his license, and we missed a sold out show because we had to wait for another driver.
For more on his story and for tour dates through the rest of the year, follow Xavier Rudd at the links below.