Making songs from bird encounters

Spirit Bird, the seventh album from Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd, who plays Wellington tonight, was inspired by a unique encounter in the middle of nowhere with a red-tailed black cockatoo.

“It’s very powerful that song, Spirit Bird,” Rudd explains.

“It’s the most powerful song that’s ever come through me.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences with spirit coming through me in music, but that one in particular was very profound.

“It came from a very strong piece of country up in the northwest of Australia where I had an experience.

“I had been to a sacred site in the northwest Kimberley.

“I’d been involved and still am involved in a protest to protect a piece of country at James Price Point under threat from gas mining from a proposed gas refinery.

“At that time, I was returning from a meeting on a sacred site with some elders. It was long desert country, I was driving and I had an urge to stop the car.

“I got out of the car and looked back and there was a tree with red-tailed black cockatoos in it. In our country, that bird represents our ancestors. One bird locked eyes with me and just started to creak and groan and talk to me, and I had all these images of faces and places running through my mind. They weren’t my memories. They were from somewhere else.”

Later that night, he wrote the first half of Spirit Bird on a beach.

Two years later, he was in Canada recording the album, when the second half of the song flew from his pen.

“I hadn’t touched it again. I was in Canada recording. I didn’t expect that song to even make the album. Then the back end of the song came through and I was in tears.

“I was sitting by a fire about 10 o’clock at night. The next morning, I woke up and discovered that the time that I was writing the second half was the time that the police had moved in on James Price Point, the site in the Kimberley we were trying to protect, and they were dragging elders and children off the land at the government’s request.

“I decided to call the album Spirit Bird in respect of that.”

About a month later, Rudd returned to the Kimberley and once again was met by red-tailed black cockatoos. A feather from that camping trip graces the album’s cover.

The album, which debuted at No 2 on the Australian charts, also features samples of 25 Australian bird sounds which Rudd recorded, and these sit easily alongside his instrumentation – didgeridoo, guitars, harmonica and drums.

“It sounds like they’re fake or tinkered with electronically, but the bird songs haven’t been altered at all.”

Although most of the album was crafted in Canada, one track, Follow the Sun, which made featured in radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100 list, was formed on Rudd’s return to Australia.

“I’d been recording the samples of Australian birds and Follow the Sun came from that.

“It’s a beautiful homecoming song, but in some ways it’s a lullaby.”

Having performed sold-out shows and festivals throughout Europe, Britain, Canada and the United States last year, his New Zealand shows will feature a range of material from his career.

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“I’ll be performing plenty from the new album and a few older things, too. There will be a vast range.”


Xavier Rudd performs at Wellington’s Bodega tonight The Mayfair, New Plymouth, tomorrow.