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I feel like I’m ready to roar, an interview with Xavier Rudd

Paradiso (Amsterdam) is beautiful when bare, stripped from virtually every human contact but for a few staff members and some Sea Shepherd volunteers. Although waiting on a simple oak bench feels like being grounded, I realize it’s a self-inflicted emotion. Impatiently I’m wondering off, admiring the architecture of the building.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

Sanderz has concluded that Xavier Rudd likes to answer to the point, short with no embellishments. Consequently we’re prepared with a large number of questions to fill the traditional quarter of an hour. But when we’re lead through yet another backstage maze into a chamber and meet Australian singer-songwriter and activist Xavier Rudd, it becomes a different story.

While contemplating, Xavier messes up his hair, taps his feet to the ground showing, what I assume to be as I forgot to ask, aboriginal tricolors. And while I’m hovering around to find the right angle, the excuse for being the proverbial vulture, Xavier is at ease emphasizing the importance of saving the Kimberley, an area in the Northwest of Australia the size of Switzerland, waving the flag for Sea Shepherd and expressing his concerns for Captain Paul Watson. He’s nothing if not direct covering topics as touring and its ‘green’ aspects , the creative process of his latest, critically acclaimed album ‘Spirit Bird’, factory farming and kangaroos, the Royal family, Bradshaw art and the bleak, but credible, assumption that ‘our Great Mother’ will ultimately cough us away.

A conversation with the uniquely talented Xavier Rudd.

SKYE

   

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

 
Sanderz: ‘Follow the Sun’ is your world tour to support your seventh studio album ‘Spirit Bird. How is the tour progressing?

Xavier: Good. The tour started here in Europe. It’s been really fun so far. The show has been really strong, powerful. Good energy all around. In a lot of ways I’ve had good reactions to the record. People seem to be satisfied musically and also it created a good, interesting environmental awareness. Through this record more so than others that I’ve made. It’s all positive stuff.

 

Sanderz: How do you notice that positivity towards the environment?

Xavier: I notice this positivity in a lot of the interviews I’m doing, the questions that are being asked and in the people’s general feedback and their efforts to check up on things. A lot of this album is inspired in the Kimberley, in the Northwest of Australia, one of our worlds last great wildernesses. The Kimberley’s under threat and it needs traffic to be directed to and people to know about that place. People are checking that out.

 

Sanderz: It was announce for the Steve Irwin to make its first trip out to James Price Point to show the world the Woodside Petroleum Gas Factory threats to the Kimberley (Operation Kimberley Miinimbi). Can you explain the situation and problems in the Kimberley?

Xavier: We’ve tried to form a kinship between Sea Shepherd (www.seashepherd.org ) and Save the Kimberley (www.savethekimberley.com ) for a while through one of my friends, Mark Jones, who’s one of the directors and founders of Save the Kimberley. This mission they are doing right now taking the Steve Irwin up to Broome is an idea we had a few years ago. Initially I was part of that trip, but couldn’t anymore because I’m too busy. It’s great that it is happening though, but for me it’s hard to get across to the Kimberley when I only have a few days. The area that’s under threat at James Price Point is the biggest Humpback whaling, wild carving ground in the world. There’s no recorded extinctions  up there.

The Kimberley is also the biggest outdoor Rock art gallery in the world and an insight into the Bradshaw art, which is rock art that humans do not know very much about (more info about Bradshaw art you can find on (www.bradshawfoundation.com). There are a few ideas. It’s a culture  that existed before the Wandjina (also Wondjina, powerful spirits, creators of fertility and rain, in Aboriginal Mythology) people of the North-West of Australia.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

Sanderz: Is that one of the pictures on the inner sleeve?

Xavier: Yes. I took that photo. That’s Bradshaw art. It’s a lost culture and there are some great books about that. The Kimberley is full of that art. It’s an insight into human existence on this planet. The Kimberley’s a world issue, not just an Australian issue. The Bradshaw paintings are the most affinitive sort of human depictions ever. When all of Europe was under ice, those paintings were being painted by pretty elaborate human beings who were clearly travelling in the ocean with boats with big prows on the front and back. They were harvesting agricultural food and making peaceful paintings. So obviously pretty advanced for the times. As the era’s went there was a bit more violence in the paintings, but these paintings seemed to be made by different people. There were four eras of Bradshaw and the image on my album-cover is of the first, the oldest. The paintings have become part of the rock. They used a mixture of ochre, blood, a particular plant resin and water for making the paint. That was really a strong mixture unlike art from later era’s that has rubbed off.

 

 

Sanderz: So, all this is under threat?

Xavier: Well, yeah. There’s a premier in Western-Australia called Colin Barnett. He’s bad news. His big picture plan is to basically open up the Kimberley to mining. Right now the Kimberley is untouched. There’s everything up there: gas is one thing. We have zinc, copper, uranium and they are going to want to profit from it. The government zoned a huge area for mining. The Kimberley project is just a small part of their zoning. Barnett has other crazy ideas like damming the main Fitzroy river surrounding the Kimberley and growing rice. He’s crazy.

 

Sanderz: The song ‘Messages’ is being used for an online commercial to promote nuclear energy in Australia. How do you feel about that and where do you stand on nuclear power as a source of energy to combat climate change?

Xavier: I don’t agree with it, because there are other ways. There’s a great book ‘The Weather Makers’ by Tim Flannery, an Australian scientist. He wrote this book on climate change. It’s quite elaborate and hard to follow at times. You have to read pages a few times actually, to absorb it, but it’s brilliant. He’s got a lot of alternative theories in Australia and one example is geo-thermal energy. His research shows that through geo-thermal energy, inland from Brisbane, there’s enough energy to power Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne for about 35 years. And there are other ways, even more effective. Solar could be hugely used in Australia. We have a lot of sun and flat country. And wind too. I noticed that in Portugal there is a huge amount of wind energy being generated. I think they’re doing a lot here in Holland too. Wind is a good source. But I like to know where I can find that commercial, because I need to check out the use of the song. It hasn’t been approved by me and it shouldn’t being used.

 

Sanderz: Life on the road is quite different from everyday life. How do you maintain your spiritual lifestyle on the road?

Xavier: It’s different. I have fun on the road and I wouldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for fun. But everything around the shows can be a bit draining, like the travel and the fact that I’m not used to a lot of people around me all the time. I do yoga, I run and try to go to parks and get away from the cities as much as I can. I miss home, the routines of home. Things you can’t replace like the smell of the fire, the sounds.

 

Sanderz: What was the inspiration for ‘Spirit Bird’?

Xavier: I had a pretty eventful last few years. I think in that time I opened up a little bit like a flower. I’ve gone through some changes and personally ended up pretty drained for a lot of reasons, emotionally and physically.  I had back surgery and I had to stop. After twelve years of doing this and giving a lot of myself all the time, I was forced, for the first time in my life, to look within myself.  I’ve  done a lot of yoga and always channeled everything physically through exercise, surfing, sport, hiking. For a while I was physically debilitated. I couldn’t walk for about four months and that was a real challenge for me. More than I ever could have imagined. ‘Spirit Bird’ was the end of a long period of change in my life. It was like the final test.

 So the album is part of that awakening. I needed that to understand and to come out with what I did with a whole new found respect for what I do, for my health, for myself, my body, my mind, heart, everything. It was all part of it. On one hand ‘Spirit Bird’ is a really personal and intimate record that I was making with myself. Making it solo, with the birds which I’m always with was a huge part of all that. There’s me, myself and the birds. At the same time this huge spirit from the land in the Northwest was pulsing through me like ‘boom, boom, boom’  (handclapping) which is connected to a huge network of strong activists and other amazing human beings.

So there are two things that made ‘Spirit Bird’. They were both very powerful and in need of each other. I’ll never forget making this record. It was a really powerful time and now that I’m touring it I feel different than I ever have. I feel really strong on stage, older, wiser and more respectful of what I’m doing even though I thought that I was. It’s a piece that comes with this record, not a Dalai Lama piece, more like a lion piece (laughs). I don’t know if that makes any sense. I feel like I’m ready to roar….. in a peaceful way.

 

Sanderz: You say that your spirits are ahead of you and it takes you a while to understand. How difficult or easy is it/ or has it been to accept  a force that flows faster than the rational mind?  

Xavier: It’s easy for me to accept. I’ve always accepted that it’s part of my culture and I understand that. A lot of the time we spend our lives trying to line it up, especially when we’re in touch with our spirituality, but I don’t think that we can. It just happens. I’m more aligned with the spirits that guide me. But in my small mind, in the existence as a human being I don’t think I’ll ever understand or that any of us ever will. But I feel a bit more familiar in that zone, not like such a stranger as a human being. I’m more connected to that what’s happening and  I understand that my music is, and always has been ever since I was a little boy, a vehicle for the spirit that is moving with me. I’ve always understood there’s an old woman with me. I respect my music like I would respect my grandmother. I try not to change the music other than how it’s coming thru and not to involve my ego and my mind. I just let it happen. Same way as you wouldn’t tell your grandmother what to wear to church. It’s that kind of respect. I used to feel more distant to that process. Now I’m closer to that, more welcome.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

 

 

Sanderz: ‘Creating a Dream’ is a song sketching an ideal, your ideal. How wise do you consider mankind in general?

Xavier: I can go two ways with that one (laughs). I could say when I listen to, watch, draw from or sit with someone like Captain Paul Watson that mankind is brilliant. Do the same thing with Colin Barnett and I feel like ripping my face off. It’s such an extreme; human beings are fascinating. We really are a toxic race. It’s interesting. It’s strange. I don’t know what it all means.

Our great mother, she’ll be fine, but I don’t think humans will last. Maybe the earth will cough us away, regenerate and be okay. I think it’s our duty to pay our respect and preserve this place as long as we can for our kids and other generations. We are of this earth and need to honor the energy and connection that we have with the earth.

There was a time not too long ago when we were aligned with every ecosystem around us to survive. We breathe through this earth as human beings. Now it’s very rare that someone even considers that in a day. Look at the direction of the wind and consider that. Watch the flight of a bird or take a sip from a stream and consider that. For every individual five minutes a day of pondering would go a long way and it’s just as important as recycling. That energy and spiritual connection is lost for the major part. The responsibility of recycling, and so on, runs through people’s mind all the time, but it’s the bigger picture that is forgotten and all those ecosystems are still moving around us. There’s no acknowledgement.

 

Sanderz: Is the respect for the earth what keeps you going?

Xavier: Yeah, I consider it every day and it keeps me going. I’ve always been that way. But it fascinates me that more people don’t. I don’t have much interest in material things. I don’t mind some things. My favorite existence is being in beautiful places. This life that I live contradicts it a little bit. The music industry is a strange one. It’s a beautiful celebration. I wouldn’t be doing what I do it if I didn’t experience it as such.

 

Sanderz: You’re publicly known as an Australian singer-songwriter, surfer and activist. However you do not consider yourself an activist. How would you describe yourself on an environmental level?

Xavier: To me an activist is Captain Paul (Capt. Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society). People sacrificing their whole lives. Laurens de Groot, from Holland. He’s a fascinating guy, he’s awesome. People who dedicate their whole lives to this gig. That’s activism. Chaining yourself to a tree for three weeks to stop a bulldozer taking you out. That’s activism. I do what I can, but I’m pretty busy doing what I do with music. I have these conversations with activists a lot and understand the balance. A lot of people say: ‘ We need you to do what you do, because if you don’t a whole lot of people wouldn’t really know what we are doing’. But I don’t consider myself anything. I just am who I am. I believe what I believe. I play music, which draws people who want to understand me a little bit more and through that understanding topics of the environment open up. I’m able to help connect the dots, put people together, bring them to places  and help promote things that need to be promoted. But I don’t see myself as anything.

 

Sanderz: The meat industry, especially factory farming is one of the major contributors to global warming. What in your opinion can we do to popularize a meat free or at least a ‘eat less meat’ diet?

Xavier: Get rid of cows. Cows need to go (laughs). Cows give you milk, so why would you eat them. You don’t eat your mother. The whole eating cow thing ruined Australia. Cows absolutely ruined our country. In a lot of areas the land is fucked because of cows. At the moment they kill over 10.000 Kangaroos every year. They shoot them and burn them and all that goes into the atmosphere. Kangaroos are free range, a lean source of protein for meat eaters if they want to eat meat. So kangaroo would be a much better option than cows. If they get rid of cows, then land would start to come back and all the marsupials would thrive.

People eat meat, that’s how it is, but there need to be more creative ways and healthier ways to go about it.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

Sanderz: You’ve been a vegetarian for some years now. What motivated you to become a vegetarian?

Xavier: I just chose to. I didn’t even need meat. When I grew up I didn’t noticed any difference in my energy levels and became healthier when I stopped eating meat.  I grew up in a small town where a lot of people were butchering their own animals. In the aboriginal culture there’s a ceremony for every animal that is taken. It’s done in a respectful way and every part of the animal is used.  In some ways, this totally different idea carries into white cultures in small towns.

I guess my first idea of the mass production was in California, driving from LA to San Francisco. I could smell this smell, and I asked myself: ‘What is that?’ It a was horrible smell for about 30 kilometers. Then we passed this big field with cows stuck up on top of each other, standing in and eating the mud. It still stank after 20 kilometers. When I arrived in San Francisco, one of the guys of the venue told me that the stench came from the main beef supplier for California. So that was what everyone was eating. It was probably back in the late nineties, when I really began to understand and consider factory farming. Something I didn’t know about growing up. It’s more prevalent in highly densely populated areas in America and it’s terrible.

 

Sanderz: On your 2008 US tour you partnered with Clif bar’s Greennotes to reduce your carbon footprint and for touring Australia you know the in’s and out’s to tread on the earth lightly. How do you deal with issues like recycling, fuel, etc. while touring Europe?

Xavier: We toured with Clif bar in America and in theory it’s a good idea, but it doesn’t really work. Touring is not environmentally friendly. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it is.  You can minimize your impact by making small efforts, but it’s hard when you have to buy bio diesel for touring buses. If everyone was on board you could make a bit of a change. It’s hard even to get requests answered by local promoters. For example when we ask for washable dishes. Do we get them? No. You always get packets of plastic plates, polystyrene crap like that (pointing at a plastic water bottle). Coming from the outside world, from foreign places. You rely on local promoters to think the way you think, but they don’t. They’ve  got their own bad habits. There’s a lot of waste and even when you tell them you don’t want anything, you still get all this stuff. It’s toxic and differs from the situation back home. I live in a sustainable house and when I get on the road it’s hard.

My answer is: I think the only way to really minimize your impact, is to have a full time person employed to make sure that everything you do is environmentally friendly. I don’t have a budget for that. If I did, I would do that for sure. That’s the only way I can see it happen. I do a lot of conscious shows, festivals, hippie events and it’s even rare in that world, which is fascinating. Sometimes you come across it and it’s great, inspirational. Festivals where people are peddling to keep the power going and everyone from the audience is volunteering, taking turns to keep the PA going. That’s awesome.

 

Sanderz:  You wave the Seashepherd flag from your tour bus, so the next question is an obvious one. For an incident in Guatemalan waters in 2002 Capt. Paul Watson was arrested and held in Germany, trusting the German Government would not extradite him. Currently he has escaped the country (Germany), feeling betrayed by their decision (the government’s decision to extradite), to be able to carry on his work from where ever he is. What’s your opinion about the situation surrounding Capt. Paul Watson’s arrest and extradition?

Xavier: I worry about him. I received a letter from him. He’s out, he’s ok and in a safe place. He’s such a warrior and hasn’t faulted at all, ready to board the ship again, to go back for another campaign this year in Antarctica. I do worry about him though. He’s a marked man. He’s made a lot of impact on the illegal fishing trade and there are a lot of bad eggs. But I think he’s ok for now. He seems to be strategically providing a situation that ensures that his legacy lives on, no matter what and that’s all-important. Paul can’t live forever and he will go down as one of the greatest human beings that walked this earth and people that oppose him now will be celebrating him in schools. He’s a hero and a lot of hero’s in our history took a long time for society to recognize them and I think that’s what’s happening with Paul now. His hands are tied,  but he’s a true warrior in every sense of the word. There’s no one like him. He’s special.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

 

Sanderz: Maybe it’s not always possible to understand history, but going back: Why has Australia never been that proud of its heritage?

Xavier: Racism and shame. Why has Australia never been proud of its heritage? I don’t know. When I think of that I think of the British Empire. They came in and slaughtered everybody. Our Australian government is a very conservative, backward, stuck government. In the Australia that I know I see that British arrogance. The same arrogance I see in the Royal family. They never even come over. You see those two young kids, the princes Harry and what’s his name, William, playing polo, take a walk in the park with their girlfriend or wife, but there’s never a picture of them in communities with aboriginal people. I imagine that after all this time and after all the money these Kings and Queens have been receiving from taxpayers, they could be people who can make change, saying: ’Maybe we should, as a family, dedicate one month every year to a country that we’ve fucked. We can go over there, have a holiday and try to make an effort at the same time’. But there’s no effort. I don’t know if its pride, shame or maybe that they just don’t care. The Australian government reflects that attitude completely.

I think Australia is an extremely racist country. It was always interesting for me to come to Europe, because my grandfather came from Holland. I have aboriginal blood on my father’s side and Irish blood as well. I’m like a cocktail. When I came to Europe I started to recognize where the Australian culture came from. There’s been a long history of countries having to learn to accept each other’s culture, living together and closing borders with time for things to settle in. In Australia we’re talking about people who came to the land, but didn’t build any bridges with the local people. It was terra nullius. They declared that no one lived there. The easiest way to deal with the indigenous was obviously to abolish them. That was only 200 years ago. They’ve denied the spiritual people on a land that is the oldest on earth, ancient, with a culture that is spiritually
ancient, who’ve been trying to exist with a culture that is spiritually infant. It’s like chalk and cheese.  That is still the theory. Even though it’s all politically correct today, they’re doing the same thing. They’re still stealing land.

 The whole intervention of the military in the Northern Territory is all about land and mining, because aboriginal people didn’t agree to give the land. Subsequently the media has created this story for the whole country, saying that there’s all this child abuse happening in the Northern Territory and it’s necessary to send the military in, waving guns around. Again, after all this time. There’s no Nelson Mandela in Australia, there’s no one to rise up. Aboriginal people still hang their heads. There’s no pride. There’s a huge amount of oppression and it has never changed. I could go on about it forever. It’s a worry, but slowly there’s an awakening. People throughout the channels are waking up and getting behind this culture and starting to understand the spirit of culture. That’s a good thing.

 

Sanderz: The question we ask all interviewees. What do you do at home to reduce your carbon footprint?

Xavier: I built a house of straw bio,earth and all recycled materials.  I have a standalone solar system so I’m not connected to the grid at all. One farm sewage, tank water that I catch from the roof. It’s completely sustainable. And I pretty much eat from the local farmers market which is in my street every Tuesday. So I don’t really need a plastic transporter, just take a basket and load it up. For general transportation I have a truck. When I bought it I intended to run it on bio-diesel, but that was a bad experience (laughs). So I do use diesel fuel for my car. It’s pretty hard not to have a car in Australia. It’s a big place. But I do what I can. I live pretty minimally. Bikes are great though. I love that about Holland. They’re fantastic. I have a bike, but.. eh long distances, you know. But I wouldn’t have a car if I lived in the city.

 

© Skye/ Circlesonthewater

 

If you would like to know more about Xavier Rudd, you can visit him on his website at www.xavierrudd.com

 

 

 

© Circles on the Water, 2022