Australian folkster Xavier Rudd talks Aboriginals and race with superfan Alex Court
Xavier Rudd has long been a hero of mine – his chilled-out tunes and efforts to raise the profile of Australia’s Aboriginals are both uniquely inspiring. So when I was given the chance to interview him, I jumped at it just as a surfer takes a ten-foot offshore rip curl.
I had planned for an interview and prepared some questions to ask, but hadn’t anticipated the chilled chat I got. No amount of planning could have readied me for the genuine kindness and generosity of spirit I received.
I asked early on how many instruments he could play. His response was almost shy: “Oh, I dunno… I use about 15 different things,” almost as if he didn’t want anyone to know. When I queried him on this stat, Rudd explained his use of different styles of guitar, including the “west Indian slide guitars”. For fear of having my non-expert knowledge of sub-continental guitars exposed, I didn’t query further.
While Xavier laughed and took his time to ponder his responses, I grew impatient and pushed on with my list of questions, asking how he come to create the album of his that I most enjoy, Solace. His reply: “Thanks, man. It was a beautiful time in my life when I made it. I had a little boy and it was a lot of sunshine and it was just a really good time… I think it translated into the album.”
Keen to learn his perception of Ireland, I ask how Irish crowds compare to Australian ones. “Most Australians are Irish convicts anyway,” Rudd laughs, “so we’ve a very similar vibe. Rowdy, drunk. You know. Nah, just joking – it’s fun. It’s really fun.” With this I abandoned my planned questions and go with the flow. At first this choice was scary, but Rudd made me feel at ease and as comfortable as a king, as I let Rudd discuss pretty much anything he wants.
He speaks about the idea of music as energy, calling it “part of my flesh and bones, until it’s recorded and then it’s something else. It’s like my whole heart and soul – whatever is going on with me at that time, whatever is coming through me… it just comes out.”
Rudd also strives to point out that “spirit exists among all of us: music has existed in every culture and joined culture and people and race together since the beginning of human existence in every part of the world… music exists in everybody and rhythm exists in everybody.”
Oddly, Rudd asks me a few questions of his own. Where was I from? I tell him I’d lived in Oz for six years; Rudd asks why I left. During my answer, however, he spontaneously informs me: “I’m hanging out with a couple of mates here. Morgan and Nadia. Morgs does the artwork for my albums. Nadia, his wife, is pole dancing. Haha. Beautiful woman. It’s entertaining.”
He then blasts some music down the phone. “Did you hear that? That was for you my brother.” I laughed raucously, feeling like I was there with them as a mate, on the other side of the world on a Friday night, relaxing with good friends.
We discuss Aboriginal culture, and I ask whether it was hard for a white man to break in with indigenous lads. “Did you just call me a white fella?,” he asks. I reply in the affirmative. “Are you serious? Why do you think I’m a white fella?” I become nervous. Had all the photos I’d seen of him been lies? Had he undergone skin-darkening treatment? All I could say was that I assumed he was a ‘white fella’ because he has white skin. Doesn’t that make you a white fella?
“Dunno,” he replies jovially. “I’m a black fella, I reckon. I look white, but I go up [to Aboriginal communities] and up that way, skin colour and race never really was a factor.”
I asked him about his song ‘Little Chief’, which ranks within my favoured three of his output, which now spans eight albums and a ninth on the way. I took the plunge. “Would you please play it when you come to Dublin on 8th February?”
A short silence ensued and I felt 14 years old, reduced to begging for a favour from a demi-God who owes me nothing.
“It’s a good idea. Let me see.” I smile. “Now that you mention it, that’s about my son, and I’d love to play it on this tour because I’m thinking a lot about him at the moment.”
We chatted for a bit longer, but the time comes when I must hang up. “I’ll have a great time in Dublin. Come up and say hi, yeah?” It seems to me like that’s another opportunity. I wish I had a wetsuit to chuck on, and surf ‘til water meets sandy shore.