The Land, The Drums And The "White Moth"

"There are a lot of ideas and stuff that comes to me that I let go. I don't keep a record; I don't record anything, I don't write it down. Anything that stays with me is meant to stay with me and anything that disappears I figure is not meant to be there," says Australian musician Xavier Rudd. "Some people would say, 'But you might lose something brilliant.' At times I think whatever I lost is pretty cool, but I think it's better lost."

- Words and photos by Dara Hakimzadeh

posted July 25, 2007

The Land, The Drums And The \

     Currently on the North American leg of a tour to promote his latest album, White Moth, Xavier Rudd paused to catch some rays from on top of a grassy hill at the Ottawa Bluesfest and to talk about his approach to music, the new album and his collaboration with Canadian drummer Dave Tolley.

     “The album is so special to me; it’s a reflection on my journey,” says Rudd, who adds not all the songs that come to him end up on his albums.

     “There are a lot of ideas and stuff that comes to me that I let go. I don’t keep a record; I don’t record anything, I don’t write it down. Anything that stays with me is meant to stay with me and anything that disappears I figure is not meant to be there,” he says. “Some people would say, ‘But you might lose something brilliant.’ At times I think whatever I lost is pretty cool, but I think it’s better lost.”

     Rudd then revealed a personal story that helped inspire White Moth’s name and artwork. While on vacation last year in the Maldives celebrating his wife Marci’s thirtieth birthday with his sons Joaquin and Finojet, Joaquin found a white moth in some coral and picked it up.

     “It was this beautiful white moth and he had this connection with it,” recalls Rudd. The moth stayed with Joaquin for over three hours.

     “He put it down and it wouldn’t fly away and we decided it was the spirit of my wife’s grandmother. He and I wrote the song “White Moth” that day and we sang it to her that night. It was like a little lullaby. It was never going to be on the album, but she’s been so supportive of what I do and it seemed to be a nice connection,” he says.

     Another of Rudd’s connections that impacted the album happened in 2004. Drummer Dave Tolley first met Rudd when his band Nine Mile, from Toronto, played at Rudd’s show in Philadelphia.

     “I come across a lot of good music on the road and I’m lucky to play with people that want to play with me,” says Rudd.

     Tolley says that over the years their relationship has progressed. In 2005, he was a guest on Rudd’s last album, Food In The Belly.  

Xavier Rudd feature

     “Whenever Xav was in town for a show, I’d have my snare drum and usually sit in with him,” says Tolley. “A lot of times with an act, it’s, ‘We need a drummer,’ and they grab these people. To have a relationship built up over time is really cool because you get to know each other.”

     Tolley is featured on ten of the 14 songs on White Moth and says that Rudd’s nonchalant approach to this recording made it truly unique.

     “If the idea of the song was captured, we moved on. Not a lot of people do that anymore. You listen to this album and it’s real,” he says. “Some songs were one or two takes.”

     Many of the drum parts for the album were conceived by Rudd and Tolley during sound checks on tour in November and December, 2006. “His rhythm is different than mine and I got to learn things and do things that were outside of my comfort zone, so we’d try things and jam things out,” says Tolley.

     “I don’t think about it so much or about what I’m using where,” says Rudd when asked about the instrumentation on the album. “I’ve been thinking about doing a didge-beats album, which would focus a lot on that sort of stuff, and I’ll probably work on it soon.”

     Rudd co-produced White Moth with Dave Ogilvie, who is known for his production with Skinny Puppy and Marilyn Manson as well as remixes of Tool, Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie songs.

     “I wanted to capture the intensity we create live on the album and Dave was perfect for it,” says Rudd, noting that Ogilvie’s reputation with louder artists probably helped his album. “It’s a hard thing to do, to mix heavy bands and have it sit in its place.”

     According to Rudd, Ogilvie brought a good energy to the process during the recording process at Garth Richardson’s Farmhouse Studios in Gibsons, British Columbia.

     “A lot of the time, he would let it all happen and didn’t really interfere with much – only when it was necessary. His true talents came during mixing; his mixing was beautiful,” says Rudd.

     One of Rudd’s fondest memories from creating White Moth was while the Yirrkala CEC school kids and Witiyana Marika were recording their backing vocals for “Land Rights” in North East Arnhem Land, Australia.

     “We recorded it as the sun was going down and in front of where we were recording was a wreck,” he says.

     The Macassan wreck, explains Rudd, signifies contact between the Macassans and indigenous Australians well before the white men arrived.

     “The ancient feeling of that place and having those kids singing in language to my song, ‘This is our home, these are our rights,’ was very powerful for me,” says Rudd, who admitted he cried over the experience.

     The visits by the Macassans are still remembered through Aboriginal oral history, songs, dances and art, and Rudd thinks it’s a very rich and important history: “Every child that lives on land should know the story of that land.”