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'It's a real mouthful of a song': Justin Rutledge covers Sarah McLachlan

The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter tackles 'Building a Mystery' at his Junos 365 session

The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter tackles 'Building a Mystery' at his Junos 365 session

Justin Rutledge covers 'Building a Mystery' for our Junos 365 Sessions. This song won the 1998 Juno for single of the year. 5:14

The 2020 Junos have been cancelled since this article was first published.

As part of our coverage of the 2020 Juno Awards, we're inviting some of today's hottest Canadian acts to cover a past winner in the single of the year category.

Sarah McLachlan's darkly dramatic "Building a Mystery" won that award at the 1998 Junos, and Justin Rutledge was pleasantly surprised the song was up for grabs when it came time for his Junos 365 session.

"What appeals to me about the song are the lyrics," Rutledge says. "It's really a pastiche of these cool, dark images.... it was tough to wrap my head around the lyrics. I did not use my cheat sheet when I recorded this song, as you may see in the video, but I like that challenge. There's nothing wrong with songs that are repetitious, but I do enjoy the challenge of learning a song that's lyrically agile."

Rutledge says he toyed with the idea of covering the song solo, but ultimately enlisted Aaron Comeau (Hammond, piano, vocals), Devon Henderson (bass), Tom Juhas (electric guitar, vocals) and Mike Brushey (drums). 

"I'm kind of a limited musician, so I play guitar, I play a bit of piano. Covering a song is interesting because there's often this pressure to record it in a vastly different way," Rutledge says. "But just by rights, another person covering Sarah's song, that in itself is different enough. So I tried not to actually mess with the arrangement too much. Musically we rejigged some things, but we kept the structure for the most part. I'm also intrigued by men singing women's songs, so I didn't change gender or anything like that from a lyrical perspective. But covering a song is always quite difficult. I chose to do it as a full band just because it has that '90s build in it, and that required an off-the-floor band."

It's McLachlan's unique wordplay that still hooks Rutledge even now, though he admits he hit a few stumbling blocks. 

"Remembering the lyrics was the most challenging thing about working on this song, so I spent a lot of time with Sarah McLachlan this past week on the radio, or on my stereo," Rutledge admits. "It's a real mouthful of a song."

But Rutledge's studying did clear up a 20+ year mystery of its own: a classic misheard line that has followed the song since its release, and that Rutledge himself only rectified in rehearsals for this performance. 

"It's the third or fourth line, 'You strut your rasta wear and your suicide poem' but I always thought [it was] 'You strut your ass to wear' and when I was learning this song, I realized it was 'rasta wear,'" Rutledge says. "It was like, oh my God, this is the '90s right here. I used to go down to Kensington Market and get all my beads, and, it was like, yes! the rasta wear. It's perfect. So that's my favourite line in the song."

Watch Justin Rutledge's performance of "Building a Mystery" above.

For all of CBC Music's coverage of the 2020 Juno Awards, go to cbcmusic.ca/junos. Listen to our Junos 365 playlist collection via CBC Listen.