Xavier Rudd & The United Nations
Like Jack Johnson, independent Australian musician Xavier Rudd combines a love of surfing with a love of roots music. Like Ben Harper, he plays Weissenborn lap steel guitars. Utterly unlike both of those musicians, however, he has a unique setup. Rudd is a one-man band who plays surrounded by instruments in a complicated array: typically, he has three didgeridoos placed in front of him on a stand, a guitar on his lap, a stomp box by his habitually bare feet, and an assortment of drums, banjos, harmonicas, bells, and bass guitar near at hand, or near at foot, as the case may be. He takes this setup with him on frequent tours (as well as his surfboards), relying on word of mouth rather than record labels to speak for him. His albums, several of them live recordings, are most often for sale at these sold-out gigs.
Rudd first learned the circular breathing technique required to play the didgeridoo by practicing on a vacuum cleaner hose. While growing up in Torquay and Bell's Beach in Victoria he also learned guitar, clarinet, and saxophone. He seemed destined to be a musician, but could never focus on just the one instrument, preferring to find ways to combine them together, such as by playing basslines on his guitar while simultaneously finger-picking on the lower strings. All these skills came together when he began busking and traveling.
During his travels, Rudd discovered an affinity for Canada, where he has dual citizenship. His wife is also a Canadian he met while she was backpacking through Australia. The first document of his performances, Live in Canada, was recorded there in 2001 and helped spread the word. His first studio album, To Let, followed a year later.
2003 saw another independently released document of his stage performances in Live at the Grid. His next studio album, 2004's Solace, tried to capture his live sound by eschewing guest artists; Rudd played all the instruments himself with only a few overdubs. Solace contained his cover of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and the single "Let Me Be," which he plays a popular extended version of at his concerts. The album, still independently released, was his first to be distributed by Universal, gaining a wider audience. It debuted in the Top 20 of the ARIA charts and attained platinum sales.
Gaining more attention, he toured with Jack Johnson as well as G. Love & Special Sauce. Another live album, Good Spirit, was recorded at three of his Australian gigs and released in 2005. The same year brought the release of Food in the Belly, a studio album recorded in Vancouver, which saw guest artists including Beth Preston, Harry Manx, and the Vancouver Children's Choir brought in. This album also went platinum in Australia.
Rudd is one of a growing number of environmentally concerned musicians dedicated to reducing the impact of his performances and tours. His touring in 2007 in support of his album White Moth was entirely carbon-neutral. The album itself, while continuing his blues and roots mix of folk, reggae, rock, and world music, reflects this in its themes, with songs about global warming and his guilt over the fact that he has a higher profile than many of the environmental activists he idolizes. He released the similarly themed Dark Shades of Blue the following year. His 2010 album, Koonyum Sun, was recorded with his new band Izintaba, featuring the South African rhythm section of bassist Tio Moloantoa and percussionist Andile Nqubezelo.
Rudd scaled things back for 2102's Spirit Bird on Side One Dummy, choosing to record solo again. It entered the Australia's ARIA charts at number two. After touring, Rudd began, quite by chance, to assemble a full scale band for his next project. Xavier Rudd & the United Nations is an international nonet whose members hail from Europe, Indonesia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Only Moloantoa has collaborated with Rudd before. The band's sound has reggae at its heart, but encompasses a wide range of global sounds. Nanna, the band's debut album, was released by Nettwerk in early 2015. ~ Jody Macgregor