Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #128. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Xavier Rudd returns with his first solo album in six years and plenty of beautifully recorded guitar tones. Words by Peter Hodgson.
It’s been quite a while between solo LPs for Aussie singer-songwriter and multi‑instrumentalist Xavier Rudd. It’s not like he’s been inactive, though: 2012’s Spirit Bird kept him busy for a while, and in 2015 he released the album Nanna with The United Nations. But now, the time is right for more Xavier Rudd music in the form of his seventh full‑length solo release, Storm Boy.
“I’m literally just singing about the things that are going on around me,” Rudd says. Environmental work, activism, veganism, spiritualism, surfing, camping trips in the bush and hanging with his family on the beach; everything Rudd does, he pours into songwriting. And since releasing Spirit Bird, he’s also – awww – fallen in love.
“It’s definitely a theme on [Storm Boy],” he says. “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.”
So what have you been up to since we last had a chance to speak?
I guess it’s like a journal of chapters in my life. This last five or six years has not been unlike other chapters in that it’s been super eventful in lots of ways. I’ve learned lots of things, and in a way, I’ve come full circle with some personal things. And this album tracks a bit of that. I got married to my amazing partner; she’s brought a lot of love and excitement into my world, so there’s a bit of that on the album. I’ve been touring around the world and connecting with a lot of amazing players, so there’s a lot of that on the album as well. But there are also songs that I wrote ten years ago, that either weren’t really ready before or I didn’t feel like it was their time.
Do you feel that the record with The United Nations fed into this one in a way?
They’re separate projects, really. I had some of this stuff on the burner before I started working on that project – as well as during and after – but they’re really separate. The United Nations stuff, I wrote that specifically for that project and it was an amazing project with an amazing group of people. We toured the world, and to actually do that as a band with everyone coming from different backgrounds was awesome. To be honest, I’ve love to do some shows with them again someday. But this album is a continuation of my path, which I’ve been on for a long time.
From a guitarist’s perspective, what went into the record?
Tim Kill’s guitars are featured a lot on this record. I think he’s the most beautiful luthier I’ve ever seen. He’s incredible, and what he’s doing these days is next level. He built me two six-strings that are kind of smaller-bodied, really beautiful blackwood guitars that feature on this album a bit. I also used a chaturangui, which I think was the first one he made years ago. I used a few different Weissenborn‑style slide guitars on this record as well – a baritone made by Neil Russell, and another one of his which is a small-scale teardrop guitar. I used another blackwood guitar made by Phil Carson‑Crickmore, too.
I also used a semi-hollowbody Fender Telecaster, which I got in Brooklyn a couple of years ago and is just beautiful, and a square-necked Tri-Cone National guitar from around 1927. It’s super old, and it’s a super beautiful instrument. I often use it on recordings, and on this record, it’s on a song called “Before I Go”. We basically just had a mic hovering over me and the National, so it’s pretty old-school as far as the recording technique goes. That thing is just so beautiful, and you just can’t replicate that sound.
There’s something really deep to that resonator sound because it’s an older form of amplification from before we had electric guitars, and it has certain old connotations to us, but in its time, it was cutting-edge.
Yeah. But it’s funny because in a way, it’s still cutting edge because the way people play on them today doesn’t sound like what they were playing on them back then.
Do you like to buy your guitars new, or do you prefer used ones with their own stories already in them?
I don’t mind, y’know, as long as it’s a beautiful guitar. Sometimes the older guitars have a tone you just can’t get from a new guitar, and that comes from years of body sweat and whatever else leaking into the wood and creating a vibe all of its own – but then you get new guitars that really sing. I don’t mind either way.
Do you have any cool recent gear finds beyond what you used on the record?
I have a beautiful Gibson ES-335 that I think we talked about the last time you interviewed me, but that’s still on my radar because I’ve been playing it a lot lately. The only new guitar that I’ve had in the last few years is Tim’s. Speaking of which, I didn’t tell you about the beautiful 12-string he built me, which also features on the album! And my wife recently had Tim build me a Weissenborn‑style guitar – a really pretty short-scale one – as a surprise for my birthday, which was amazing. I didn’t know that was coming.
I’ve always been into the craftsmanship and the artistic side of instruments, and Tim goes really over and above with his artistic layouts. He uses all sorts of ideas with quartz stone, distressed timbers, inlays… He’s just really special, and I love that because my grandfather made instruments too, and he was a very artistic guy. It’s incredible what Australian luthiers are doing these days.
Thursday August 2nd - UC Refectory, Canberra
Friday August 3rd - Uni Hall, Wollongong
Saturday August 4th - Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Friday August 10th - Night Quarter, Gold Coast
Saturday August 11th - The Tivoli, Brisbane
Friday August 17th - Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Saturday August 18th - Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Friday August 24th - The Forum, Melbourne
Saturday August 25th - Costa Hall, Geelong