Xavier Rudd, a Famous Australian Folkie, on Prison, Portlandia and Poetry

Xavier Rudd is a big deal in his native Australia, a modern troubadour with an earthy vibe and a thick beard, whose latest album Spirit Bird, a hybrid of modern folk and ceremonial rhythms, hit number two on his home continent. He's toured with Dave Matthews, played Bonnaroo and was named the Worlds Sexiest Vegetarian by PETA, though he's never quite broken through to larger acclaim in this country. His live show is also something to behold, with the folk singer performing behind an elaborate semi-circle of didgeridoos, drums and slide guitar. We emailed Rudd some questions in anticipation of his upcoming show at The Neptune in Seattle on Oct. 9th and this is how he responded:

You recently played a gig in an old Australian prison. Was that the first time you'd been to jail? It's the first time playing music in jail. The crew and I had cells to sleep in. There was a sign that said that executed prisoners were buried right behind where we were staying.

There's an American comedy series called Portlandia about the city of Portland, Oregon, and one of the sketches on it is called "Put a Bird on It." Are you just a big fan of the show or did the idea to put the sounds of many different Australian birds on your album come from somewhere else? I don't watch TV usually so I haven't seen that show. I've had the idea of using the bird sounds for quite a few years just from growing up in the bush, but this is the first time I've actually put it into practice. I was really stoked with how it worked out.

What is it about birds that you find particularly spiritual? What species is your spirit bird? Birds are part of our dreaming here in Australia and there are lots of ancient creation stories of birds from way back. The Red Tailed Black Cockatoo (spirit bird) resembles the old people (ancestors) in most aboriginal cultures around Australia.

Favorite Paul Rudd film? I just Googled him and yeah, he's great, that guy! I haven't seen most of the films but Anchorman was pretty classic. I have seen him in other films on the plane but can't remember the names. He's a deadly actor for sure.

It is important for you to break through in America the way AC/DC or INXS or other bands without letters in their name did? That would be cool but I think the pop and rock qualities of those bands helped them at commercial radio. Little more challenging for one fella with a bunch of yidakis (digeridoos) and eclectic wooden instruments, but people seem to have a ball at the shows in the USA.

Does PETA send you a broccoli statue or anything for being named World's Sexiest Vegetarian? Nah.

Who are your favorite poets? My Nana is my favorite, but there are many I appreciate, from musos to acclaimed poets and many on the street that I couldn't even name. There is so much poetry all round these days even in interesting conversation you will find it frequently.

Your songs are very socially conscious. Have you always been that way? Were you doing charitable things in high school for example? Yep, always been that way. My music comes from connection to country, culture, earth, oceans. My wheels were only really properly turning once outside of school.

Same question with your connection to nature - have you always felt so connected to the earth? Were your parents hippies? Does being Australian contribute to that? I have had an old woman spirit with me always, might be my great grandmother/grandmother from aboriginal decent but I have no conscious idea. Whatever it is, it is powerful and I respect it and hold the space for it wholeheartedly.

Spirit Bird hit number two on the Australian charts. Who was it that kept you from the top spot and are they any good? Haha no idea!

What was the last record you bought? I bought Midnite's Unpolished on vinyl.

Is vegemite on your rider? No, but it should be though!

Do you follow American politics enough to know whether you'd vote for Obama or Romney? Not really. It's been a long time since I've focused on that side, too much rubbish going down on home soil.

If you don't eat meat pies, what do you eat while watching footy? My fingernails!

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