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For Xavier Rudd, writing music and living his life are one and the same. “I’m literally just singing about the things that are going on around me,” he says of his sublime and soaring indie-folk. Environmental work, activism, veganism, spiritualism, surfing, family camping trips in the bush and dog walks on the beach; everything Rudd does, he pours into song. The result is a personal sound that strikes a universal note.
The Australian multi-instrumentalist’s new album title track best encapsulates this idea. Backed by the gentle strum of acoustic guitar, on ‘Storm Boy’, Rudd sends out a postcard of a sun-drenched life lived outdoors: “Freedom of the heart is what we crave / When we sit by the river with a cup of tea / Watch the movement of the tide in the gentle breeze,” he sings, in his comfort-blanket voice.
It’s just one of many highlights on a record that celebrates strength and stability at their most powerful and fundamental. In the picture-perfect video for ‘Walk Away’, Rudd is captured swimming in lakes, catching the surf and strumming his guitar, while booming bass drums amp up the track’s near-transcendent quality.
One specific moment seems to sum up the record for Rudd, an album which he describes as “pondering” and “more personal” than previous efforts. It’s a line where Rudd’s spirituality really comes to the fore: “Kookaburra calls just like he knows / And I call a ride back yes I’m home / He’s been with me he’s watched me grow / Through those rainy days and those rocky roads.”
Six years have passed since Rudd’s last solo release, Spirit Bird, and a lot of things have happened in that time. Storm Boy tracks the last five or six years of his journey, his “awakening” and of all the things that “have made sense” along the way.
Most notably, he’s fallen in love. “It’s definitely a theme on the record,” agrees Rudd. And if Spirit Bird signalled the beginning of his spiritual self-awakening, Storm Boy arrives at the conclusion. “Life feels strong and solid for me now… and this record is in a different space. It’s a solid space. I feel like I’ve come to the end of that chapter where I’ve learned a bunch of lessons and I’ve been shown a bunch of things spiritually.”
Hailing from Australia’s surf hotspot Torquay, Rudd kickstarted his career in 2002 with the now classic album To Let, before going on to release seven studio LPs over the next thirteen years: Solace (2004), Food In The Belly (2005), White Moth (2007), Dark Shades Of Blue (2008), Koonyum Sun (2010), Spirit Bird (2012), and his first album with The United Nations, Nanna (2015).
“I’ve had a great career of mucking around with different sounds… so every record you learn a little bit here and there,” says Rudd, whose new album tips its hat to his love of reggae and blues as much as it feels palpably more symphonic in sound than his previous LP, the collaborative Nanna.
Storm Boy marks a landmark shift in the ARIA-nominated star’s working process. Produced by Chris Bond (Ben Howard, Tom Speight) and mixed by Tim Palmer (Pearl Jam, Bowie, U2), it’s the first time Rudd has ever handed over the reigns completely to a producer. A brave move, but one that ultimately served him well. “Everything I wrote just had a sprinkle of magic dust on it,” he says of working with Chris Bond.
But there’s more to Xavier Rudd than making music: his peace-promoting messages travel way beyond the recording studio. As an activist, Rudd champions the rights of indigenous Australians, carrying out vital work to raise awareness of Aboriginal culture and preserve his own Wurundjeri heritage. He’s also a prolific environmentalist, having performed at rallies and demonstrations including 2014’s Bentley anti-gas blockade campsite.
Recent years have seen Rudd use his platform to share the benefits of mindfulness, while he is also a committed vegan and has worked with US animal rights charity Peta on more than one occasion, earning the accolade of Australia's Sexiest Vegetarian.
All of this aside, ultimately it’s about connecting with his fans. “It’s a huge compliment for me when there are people in other countries, in other languages, singing my lyrics and singing my songs,” says Rudd. And with a massive intercontinental tour lined up for this year - his biggest one to date - Rudd will bring Storm Boy to life on the stage, captivating a whole new legion of fans along the way.