Rudd, Wiser

With his new multi-cultural band and new album Nanna, Xavier Rudd is ready to show the world what’s up

May 18, 2015 at 2:16 pm
click to enlarge Xavier Rudd
Xavier Rudd

Xavier Rudd's career didn't require a creative shakeup. The Australian native had nothing to prove, after releasing eight well-regarded Gold and Platinum albums over the past dozen-plus years, earning several ARIA (Australia’s Grammys) nominations and amassing a feverishly loyal fan base in every corner of the world.

As is often the case with multi-faceted musicians who are compelled to push their art in new and interesting directions, Rudd has long harbored the desire to assemble an Impossible Missions Force of global musical talent with the express purpose of refracting his ideas through fresh contextual prisms. With his new album, Nanna, Rudd has achieved his goal with a new band that he's appropriately dubbed the United Nations.

"The idea for the band inspired the album," Rudd says by phone from his home near Brisbane. "This is something I've wanted to do for a long time now, but I was very patient. I didn't want to rush it, I wanted it to be very powerful when I finally did it."

Consider that mission accomplished. Rudd and the United Nations have crafted a muscular album reminiscent of Robert Plant and Alison Kraus' Raising Sand, in the sense that Nanna draws on the broad musical experience of its participants and yet winds up sounding distinctly different from their individual sonic résumés. Rudd's patented Reggae/Blues/Jam hybrid comprises the core sound of Nanna but he and his group expand into fascinating new areas.

"I wanted it to be a unique style of Reggae," Rudd says. "I didn't want it to be predictable. I wanted different instrumentation, different flavors and styles, and I think that's what we achieved. The album turned out great, I'm really proud of it."

Rudd recruited potent players from around the world to stock the culturally diverse band he envisioned. As a result, Rudd's United Nations reflects a global perspective that lives up to the band's name, with cultural and musical influences from indigenous and contemporary Australia, South Africa, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Germany. Some of the members Rudd had worked with previously, while some just fit the musical void he was trying to fill.

"It was a bit of both to be honest," says Rudd says. "When I put it out to the universe, it was amazing how it came about. Some of the players I'd played with in the past, some were through word of mouth. A phone call would come and say, 'You should check this person out,' and I'd make that phone call, and we'd meet and that would be the person. There was no process where I wasn't feeling anyone or someone wasn't cutting it or it wasn't in their schedule. There was none of that. Everyone was involved strongly from the beginning. I feel like our ancestors all had a cup of tea and put this all together."

To maintain Rudd's air of Reggae legitimacy, he sent the Nanna masters to the holy birthplace of the genre, Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica, where the album was mixed by legendary producer Errol Brown. Although Rudd never dealt with Brown in person, and Brown's thick patois accent sometimes made communication problematic over the phone, the common language of music negated any conceivable barriers.

"We did it over the phone, sending things back and forth,” Rudd says of the mixing process. “It was a massive honor. Lyrically, the album spoke to him and so he got heavily involved in the mixing and that shows. He brought his magic. He's got a bag of magic, doesn't he? He's got his own style and sound; the engineer who recorded it, when he first heard the first mixes come back, he said, 'Fuckin' hell, this is wild.' I just let him go. Once he got an idea of what I was after, it didn't take too much back and forth. We'd speak on the phone, and I could hardly understand a word he said. I'd say, 'What was that, Uncle Errol? Okay, that sounds cool.' And I thought we'd be done, and he'd send me another 10 mixes over the next five days. I could hardly keep up. It was a passion project for him, and I'll never forget that."

Nanna's musical tapestry is matched step-for-step by the lyrical message Rudd imparts on the album's 13 tracks. Under a banner of embracing unity, a return to spirituality and honoring the ancestral wisdom that sustained the planet for thousands of years before modern man pissed up the joint, Rudd dedicated Nanna to his grandmothers and great grandmother, and to "great grandmother creation, from whom we have strayed." It's a powerful acknowledgment of respect for the past, especially as it relates to our maternal roots.

"There's an old woman spirit with me, always has been, and I understand that a lot of my music comes from that old woman spirit," Rudd says. "Who that it is exactly, I'm not sure, but I do believe that it's either my grandmother or great grandmother on my father's side … Apparently that old woman spirit is featured very strongly in everything I do; quite often, I feel like a vessel for her to come through.

“There's a lot of spirit with this record and there's a lot of ancestral involvement, and when we're together, we can feel that. [Bassist] Uncle Tio [Moloantoa], for example, comes from a crazy story of apartheid in South Africa, and the way he plays, that struggle is all in his fingers. That spirit is all around us. Everyone comes from a different line, and everyone is calling on their spirit guide and their ancestors to play this music. It's a great band, it is absolutely pumping, and I don't say that lightly."

There is a bit of irony in naming his band the United Nations, considering it's also the name of one of the most contentious organizations on the planet (and risky, given the legal hassles visited upon the Punk band of the same name by the global group). Rudd tends to view his motives, as in most things in his life, through that prismatic contextualism.

"All of us come from a line of struggle, in every culture," he says. "It's a bit of a celebration of that, stripping things down to the bare bones, to the roots of what we are, and it made sense to highlight that United Nations concept. We are uniting the nations here."

XAVIER RUDD & THE UNITED NATIONS play Wednesday at 20th Century Theater. Tickets/more info: