Exclusive: Toronto Singer-Songwriter Justin Rutledge Teams Up with Michael Ondaatje for Upcoming Stage Production, Begins Work on Fourth Album

Exclusive: Toronto Singer-Songwriter Justin Rutledge Teams Up with Michael Ondaatje for Upcoming Stage Production, Begins Work on Fourth Album
Following last year's Man Descending, acclaimed Toronto, ON singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge has commenced work on his fourth album, Islands, which is slated for release in early 2010.

And while his last album was inspired by the work of author Guy Vanderhaege, for the upcoming effort, Rutledge has turned to The English Patient author and Canadian literary icon Michael Ondaatje, who has not only helped fire up the songwriter's muse but is excepted to incorporate many of Islands' songs into an upcoming stage production being created by the author.

"This is not necessarily a collaboration or a commissioned thing, but these are all songs I wrote with one character in this work in mind," Rutledge told Exclaim! of the project with Ondaatje in an interview. "Ondaatje has also incorporated some of my older songs into the script. At this stage, I'm not sure how many will be used."

The details of the stage production have yet to be finalized and so far no release date has been announced. However, Rutledge is giving a clearer idea of what we can expect from Islands.

"We just started pre-production, and that is never something we've had the luxury of doing before," Rutledge says of the record. "Before, we have always gone into the studio blindly, without ever having the time or leisure to treat the songs the way we may want to. This is a really enlightening procedure."

For production this time out, Rutledge recruited quirky tunesmith/producer Hawksley Workman - a pairing that's actually been a long time coming. "We've been meaning to work together for a few years now," Rutledge explains. "I'm not looking for a hit or that kind of record, and he understands that. I'm more interested in making a fluid piece of work, an album that speaks as a whole."

Recording sessions in Toronto for Islands have been scheduled for mid-September. Accompanying Rutledge will be the core band of A-list players featured on his earlier albums: guitarist David Baxter, bassist Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), drummer Blake Manning (Blue Rodeo) and pedal steel player Burke Carroll.

"We'll also have Jesse Zubot on violin and Gary Craig [Bruce Cockburn, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings] on additional drums. [Craig] is such an artful and percussive player, and I've long admired his playing," says Rutledge. "We're switching things up just a little bit this time, and I'll be playing pretty much all electric and very little acoustic guitar on this record."

Along with Rutledge's work with Ondaatje and the new album, the songwriter will take a break in the middle of recording to participate in the Junction Arts Festival, which takes place in Toronto from September 9 to 13.

"This year the creative director asked me to help book the bands and coordinate the music for the Saturday night [September 13]," he says. The result is an impressive bill featuring Toronto roots rockers the Beauties, who Rutledge calls "one of my favourite local bands," Jason Collett and Rutledge himself.