Xavier Rudd isn’t going it alone anymore.
The 36-year-old Australian spent a decade or so performing as a mostly one-man band. He’d appear on stage like a musical mad scientist, seated behind a bulky self-styled setup that included as many as 20 instruments – three didgeridoos, a slide guitar on his lap and more string instruments at his side, a stompbox at his feet, with drums, dobros, banjos, harmonicas and more within reach.
This summer, he’s touring with a drummer and a bassist — and he’s pared down his setup a bit after finding new ways to create the unique sounds that drive his songs. Local fans will get a look at the new arrangement Saturday at the Snowmass Mammoth Festival.
“It’s getting better and bigger sonically, but smarter in terms of not having to carry so much shit,” he said from a tour stop in Kauai, Hawaii.
Before his summer tour, Rudd was also working on new material, playing with “a big roots reggae band,” with whom he plans to make an album.
He said he recorded demos of new songs earlier this year, and plans to record later this year with the new band in Australia. He’s aiming for a 2015 release – his first since 2012’s “Spirit Bird.” Don’t expect him to preview any of the new stuff in Snowmass, however.
“It’s written with this big band and I kinda need them,” he explained.
Rudd began writing and singing as a kid, and then added instruments to his repertoire to match the growing dimensions of his songs. The growing number of instruments “unfolded organically,” he said.
“As I was writing, sometimes it would call for certain emotions that I could create only with certain man-made instruments — and then I wanted to use those instruments live. So I built ways of playing them together. Then that became that kind of crazy massive set that I toured with for years.”
Rudd used his multi-tasking talents to craft reggae-tinged roots music on his early albums — 2004’s “Solace” and 2007’s “White Moth” — then began experimenting with darker tones and blues rhythms. On “Spirit Bird,” he fused those diverse styles into cohesive, multi-layered songs that could only have come from him.
He writes mostly about environmental issues and spiritual matters and blends traditional Aboriginal sounds with American folk, blues and rock – often within a single song. Asked about that mix, he points back to his childhood and his father’s record collection.
“He was always playing Hendrix and Marianne Faithull and Neil Young and Leonard Cohen,” he recalled. “It was all things like that, mixed with my indigenous roots … It’s a blend of all sorts of stuff coming in and floating around. I’m a cocktail of different kinds of blood, and my music probably just reflects that.”
Rudd has won a devoted local following on the strength of multiple shows at Belly Up and one at the JAS Labor Day Festival in 2008.
Along with this weekend’s show at Mammoth Fest, Rudd’s summer tour includes stops in Vail, Crested Butte, Boulder and Denver — he’s playing more shows in Colorado than anywhere else in the United States.
“I do enjoy Colorado, my brother,” he said. “There’s a good vibe there. People are groovy, people are conscious, people are fit, people are healthy, people care about themselves and the earth. There’s a big spirit in those rocks. There are a lot of things that draw me back to Colorado. I feel pretty connected there, and I feel there’s a lot of work to be done there.”
Work to Be Done
Rudd has a unique talent for packing an earnest environmental message into a festival-friendly song. In the anthemic “Bow Down,” for instance, he begins by lamenting the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the whaling industry, and deforestation, then builds a boot-stomping blues on top of a straightforward green pitch. Some of the lyrics could have been lifted from a public service announcement for children, yet in Rudd’s hands it somehow sounds cool.
“Bow down to your god, but don’t forget about the earth,” he sings in the chorus. “Place your hand on a tree, who’s helping you breathe. / Give thanks to the sun, when you open your lungs. / Throw your butts in the bin, help the old turtles swim.”
Countless musicians have used pop songs as a soap box to blast politicians and oil companies, and as a call to action for stewardship of the planet. But few musicians have gotten on the front lines as Rudd does regularly.
Rudd’s involvement with the successful “Bentley Blockade” on the east coast of Australia, where protesters camped out for weeks blocking delivery of oil and gas drilling equipment, is a source of pride for him. Last month, the protesters’ efforts led the Australian government to suspend the company Metgasco’s drilling license, citing need for more community input.
The lesson for those with similar drilling views in Western Colorado, Rudd said, is that civil disobedience works — even against oil companies.
“It seems so overwhelming that people don’t even want to begin,” he said. “But what I’ve found is that’s part of the companies’ initial tactic: to spread that fear into people, based on the size of the company and the money involved, saying, ‘You can’t touch us, we’re way too big.’”
He urges Coloradans to take action against drilling and points to Bentley as proof that there is strength in numbers.
“I think people need to understand that although it seems daunting and huge, the weight of the people is massive,” he said. “I think we’re a bigger threat to the government than people realize.”