Jason Merritt, Getty Images Taylor Swift stole the show at the 2013 Billboard…
- Posted on May 10th 2010 5:00PM by Liisa Ladouceur
"Sometimes I would get two thumbs up, and other times people would be like 'WTF?'" Rutledge tells Spinner. "It was a really good way to gauge the strength of a line outside of the song. I didn't strike anything if it wasn't popular but it was an interesting social experiment."
Rutledge had an even greater test audience in Canadian literary icon Michael Ondaatje, author of 'The English Patient.' Songs on 'The Early Widows' were originally written for a theatrical production of Ondaatje's novel 'Divisadero,' and are based on the characters from the book. The author eventually returned the favour by meeting with Rutledge to offer advice on his lyrics, even getting co-writing credit for his contributions to the first single 'Be a Man.'
The singer is no stranger to literature, being a former English major at the University of Toronto who based his 2008 album 'Man Descending' on a collection of short stories by Canadian writer Guy Venderhaeghe. So it's no surprise he's filled his down-home recordings with unabashed poetry. But he always makes sure to keep his bookishness in check.
"I've always thought of myself as a mediocre musician," he says. "The strength of my songwriting does hinge on the lyrics. But I've never set out to be over-bearing with literary references. I don't use seven-syllable words just for the sake of knowing big words, when the song can't handle it."
As a further experiment, Rutledge teamed up with a producer for the first time. After producing three albums of acoustic confessionals (including 2006's Juno-nominated 'The Devil on a Bench in Stanley Park') on his own, he hired singer-turned-producer Hawksley Workman (Tegan and Sara, Hey Rosetta!), whose first suggestion was to tell him to switch to an electric guitar.
"Ultimately, I felt I was getting itchy with the 'singer/songwriter' status," Rutledge admits. "I hadn't really worked with a producer before; I guess I was pretty headstrong, with my DIY attitude. But I wasn't completely happy with the last record and I wanted to find a new environment for this. I hadn't intended to play electric guitar but Hawksley thought it would be a good thing to try."
Rutledge says he has played "90 percent" acoustic in his life, and that while many of his friends joked about him pulling a Bob Dylan, he doesn't consider it a big deal. "It's not a Newport moment."
Now that he's successfully collaborated with Ondaatje, perhaps there are other authors on his wish list for future projects? "No, I don't have a list. That's good because most of the people on it would be dead. How about Yeats? Or Faulkner? They'd be pretty good to work with."