Xavier Rudd back on Aspen stage
August 13, 2009
ASPEN – As a kid growing up in Australia, Xavier Rudd didn’t focus on the guitar that his brother played, or the piano in his family’s house, or even on the didgeridoo, the wooden wind instrument of indigenous Australians that Rudd often calls by its original name, the yidaki. He had his eye on all of those instruments – and more – and on the possibilities of what they could do when combined.
“I was always someone who would pick up anything that was laying around,” said Rudd, who says his first musical instrument was his voice. “I’d come across things and just want to blend them, play them together.”
That fundamental approach to music hasn’t really changed. For 10 years, Rudd performed as a solo musician, but rather than stand and strum a guitar, he’d sit at the center of a complicated set-up that included several yidakis, numerous percussion devices, various string instruments including a Weissenborn slide guitar, and a microphone for his vocals.
It was only two years ago, when Rudd had already gained a measure of international success, that he introduced another human into his mix of ingredients. Dave Tolley, a Canadian drummer, became part of Rudd’s stage act, adding percussion for a portion of the performance.
But Rudd is a musician who does not like to stand still, creatively. Witness his 2008 album, “Dark Shades of Blue,” which featured heavy guitar and dark tones. Though the album had Rudd singing about the same concerns as usual – the environment, inner and outer peace – it was a markedly different listening experience than the mellow, reggae-tinged sounds on “Solace,” his 2004 breakthrough, and 2007’s “White Moth.”
Rudd isn’t done pressing forward, nor is he through picking up new sounds and blending them together. Since mid-June, the handsome 30-year-old has been touring for the first time in what can be called a band. In his new three-piece combo, he is backed by bassist Tio Moloantoa and drummer Andile Nquebezelo, both former members of the band of the late South African reggae singer, Lucky Dube.
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Rudd was already thinking of the next step in his music when he met Moloantoa and Nquebezelo at a festival in Austria. After some rehearsals, Rudd was convinced that the two could bring a new and positive element to his music.
“The African influence gives it an extra bouncy kind of feel,” said Rudd on a day off in Denver. “And they’re singing in their languages and there’s lots of harmony. It’s an extension of what I do – I still play all my instruments – so it’s going to be an interesting blend.”
Moloantoa and Nquebezelo are also, in a way, an extension of something Rudd has been shooting for since he was a kid. As a 10-year-old, he saw Paul Simon’s “Graceland” tour in Melbourne, a significant early experience for him. Moloantoa and Nquebezelo both had connections to that tour: the former learned to play bass from Simon’s South African bassist, while the latter performed some of the “Graceland” concerts.
For his next album, Rudd doesn’t figure to change things up too much from what he’s doing on the current tour. For the first time, he will record as a band – a three-piece featuring Moloantoa and Nquebezelo, with a few guest players joining in. Rudd has written material for the album, which he plans to record in October in Byron Bay, Australia.
“These guys are a heavy, heavy rhythm section,” said Rudd. “It’s kind of like a dream. I’ve never been so inspired to record an album. It’s the brightest, bubbliest music I’ve written so far.”