Five Questions With… Justin Rutledge

Justin Rutledge's eighth studio album, Passages, features subtly well-wrought songs enveloped in ambient textures. Here the Juno winner reflects upon its approach, his favourite songs, married life, and a love of a Waterboys classic.

Five Questions With… Justin Rutledge

By Jason Schneider

In the spring of 2019, recently married and with a child on the way, Justin Rutledge christened his eighth studio album Passages (Outside Music) to express his consciousness of shedding one life for another.

With a new band by his side, the Juno Award-winner's subtly well-wrought songs are enveloped in ambient and lilting textures that provide new landscapes for Rutledge's material. One of the critical new band members is Rob Baker from The Tragically Hip. Rutledge and Baker forged a friendship through the creation of Rutledge's 2014 album, Daredevil, a recording that paid tribute to the legendary Canadian band.


Passages was co-produced by Chris Stringer and recorded in ten days at Union Sound in Toronto, the majority of it live off the floor, with minimal overdubs apart from some guitar laid down by Death Cab For Cutie’s Zac Rae in Los Angeles.

With Passages, Rutledge manages to retain his Americana roots while venturing into exploratory sonic fields. Thematically, the songs focus on Rutledge's recent marriage and sojourn in Prince Edward County in eastern Ontario. He also revived some older songs for the album: three he previously performed with his LA-based band Early Winters, as well as Boats, a collaboration with literary giant Michael Ondaatje.

Rutledge has just announced a fall Canadian tour in support of Passages that will take him from Ontario to British Columbia starting on Sept. 8. For more info go to


What makes Passages stand apart from your past work?

 I tried to take a much more direct approach lyrically with these songs. In the past, I have been guilty of hiding behind floral adjectives and perhaps muddying the intent of the song, but with Passages I really tried to say what I wanted to say. 

What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?


I think the title track may be one of my favourites. I’ve never named an album after a song before, but this one seemed appropriate. I wrote this song for my wife, and I feel like it encapsulates the early years of our relationship nicely. It’s a small song with big intent—I love small, short songs. 

What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?

If I had to choose one, it would probably be This Too Shall Pass from my album Man Descending. I can’t really recall writing it, or where the idea came from—it’s one of those songs that just seemed to suddenly appear, as though it has always been here. 

What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?

Becoming a married man has been quite epic, but it’s a close second to the arrival of our first child this summer. 

What song by another artist do you wish you had written?

Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys. I never tire of hearing the song; it possesses such joy and abandon. I could listen to it forever.

Bethany Vargas

Machinedrum, one of the artists announced for Bass Coast's 2024 festival.

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