September 10, 2008 | Author: Baz Bardoe

xavierXavier Rudd treads new territory with an album titled Dark Shades of Blue. Australian Musician’s Baz Bardoe follows Rudd to the dark side and investigates!

About eight years ago Xavier Rudd was on tour in California when a hideous smell permeated the tour vehicle. Some thirty kilometres later he was confronted by the beef feedlots that supply most of the state, and it transpired to be something of a turning point for him. He became a vegetarian and has recently been voted Australia’s sexiest non meat eater. ‘I guess it’s a bit of a buzz,’ he admits. Speaking to Rudd one gets the impression he is very open to how his environment affects his art and his personal world view. Unlike so many of us who tend to occupy a comfort zone, Rudd seems to be able to embrace change.

His new album ‘Dark Shades of Blue’ sees him work with drummer/percussionist Dave Tolley, who has been a part of his live show for some time now, and together they explore a somewhat darker landscape than previously. In fact the album is downright ‘edgy’ in places. Rudd admits this is because touring has taken its toll. He describes his career as an incredible gift. I have so many memories. We started off in a van … now we’ve built our own home that is sustainable and fully off the grid … a huge gift. But it has come at a price. He finds himself playing shows in cities all over the world but finds he misses the ocean and the spirit and energy of his home. And especially the alone time that he seems to need quite passionately to retain his equilibrium. But despite this, what shines through is how very grateful he is. “Connecting with people all around the world has been incredible.”

I asked Rudd about his instruments and he explained that they are all handmade, and he especially likes his hollow body slide guitars and even has a new Indian style slide guitar with 20 strings! He’s ‘always been a live player’ with ‘a really busy touring schedule’ so when I ask him about the studio process, and if he has a preference for live work over recording, it gets pretty interesting. It seems that in the early days keen fans would upload his live sets onto the Net, so he could play somewhere relatively obscure and people would know his music. ‘Live has always been a big thing …’ for Rudd, but this time he ‘really enjoyed the studio process …’ in which he produced the album in Byron Bay, with mixing from Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age). ‘Capturing the organic rawness …’ was his aim and to that end he used a lot of ‘vintage amps’ and ‘pushed’ a lot of air around. ‘I think we captured that live sound,’ he asserts.

Whilst some might have associated Rudd with a more jangly, ‘world’ kind of sound in the past, this time around the multi instrumentalist veers into altogether more edgy territory. There is distortion on the guitars in places, and even rhythmic dynamics that hint at a metal sensibility. There’s some dark funk that reminds me a little of something Ben Harper might tackle, a few Hendrix moments perhaps, and some of the signature, beautiful chilled stuff that he is so well known for. Often the listener has to remind themselves that this is just two musicians. The grooves are so deep you’d swear there was more, and when Rudd gets busy playing basslines on the low strings of his guitar it really does beg belief – he’d be a great bass player, let alone anything else! And even the actual CD packaging itself speaks volumes. Dark, moody images on recycled cardboard.

People in Australia know that Rudd is doing well for himself – he’s headlined enough times here – but they may not be aware just how truly huge he has become overseas. He’s played to packed out shows in Europe and the USA, supported the likes of Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, and is now working on a soundtrack for a new film with fellow surfer Matthew McConaughey, co-starring Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson. You really can’t get much bigger than that. And yet he seems to find time in his schedule for activism, speaking out about indigenous rights and environmental responsibility.

With his previous album ‘White Moth’, Rudd claims he opened the doors to a new range of possibilities in the recording process, but with ‘Dark Shades of Blue’ he is of the belief he has finally nailed that elusive live sound. The album is very much a document of a live approach to recording, which makes its density and texture even more incredible. There are only two guys playing … quite amazing. Speaking to Rudd is a pleasure, because he is simply so down to earth, and so very open to new inputs. There is a weariness in his voice, but he clearly realises that life has afforded him a unique chance to see the world and express himself, communicating with countless people in the process. So whilst ‘Dark Shades of Blue’ may be more edgy and introspective in some ways, it is no less celebratory.

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