This time last year, Salt Lake City one-man-band Jack Rutter, known by the stage name “Ritt Momney,” still lived in relative obscurity. Sure, the 21-year-old East High graduate had a loyal group of local fans — largely leftovers from his high school garage rock band which used the same pseudonym. But after his bandmates left for Latter-day Saint missions and Rutter’s solo music ambitions took him to Los Angeles, the pandemic sent Rutter back to his childhood home: his parents’ basement on Salt Lake’s east bench.
Rutter — whose music, to that point, centered on breakups and losing his bandmates — wanted to write something joyful. The world needed it, he thought. He did, too.
“I needed to do something happier,” he recalled. “And I didn’t feel like I could write something happier. So I covered something happier.”
That cover, a rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae’s 2006 pop hit “Put Your Records On,” was a childhood favorite of Rutter’s. It was upbeat, joyful and reminiscent. He released his track on Spotify in April 2020, but it wasn’t until September that it caught steam — and when it did, it blew up.
Rutter’s heavily auto-tuned, Indie-pop remix went viral via TikTok makeup tutorials and amassed hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. Within three days, Rutter signed with Columbia Records. A few months later, Billboard gave him the top spot on its Emerging Artists chart.
For a kid from Salt Lake, it’s come fast. He doesn’t want the fame and fast-paced lifestyle to change him, he told me. Nor does he have any intention of changing his moniker — a spoonerism of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s name.
The story behind the name is more dull than you might think. “There’s no reason, man,” he told me as we sat at a coffee shop in Sugarhouse. “We were high school kids. It was sort of a subversion — a ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ sort of thing,” he said. “At this point, it’s whatever.”
When Rutter and his high school band first adopted “Ritt Momney” as their nickname, Sen. Romney was not nearly as visible as he is now. It was years after Romney’s presidential 2012 run and before he ran for the Senate in Utah. And when Rutter later launched his solo career, he didn’t see the need to change the name.
Rutter respects Romney, though they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on policy. “The way I see it, it’s, like, cool of him to stand up to (former president Donald) Trump,” Rutter said. “But if that’s the standard, I don’t think we’re doing super well.”
That’s about where Rutter’s agreements with the senator end. The singer is active in promoting social justice causes through social media and other means, often making donations with proceeds from merchandise sales. Past recipients include Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign and Sunrise Movement, a pro-Green New Deal climate organization.
Rutter has never communicated with his “namesake,” though. A neighbor of Rutter’s family is an administrator at the University of Utah’s business school and met with the senator a few months ago, and Rutter gave him a T-shirt to give to Romney. “But (my neighbor) chickened out, and he didn’t do it,” Rutter said, laughing.
Sen. Romney has heard of Rutter. “They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Romney told the Deseret News. “In all seriousness, I wish Ritt Momney the best of luck in his music career and all his future endeavors.”
Despite his progressive political views, Rutter hasn’t been shielded from scrutiny from those who view him as a privileged white male. After his “Put Your Records On” cover went big, listeners on social media called him out for “taking credit” for Rae’s song or “appropriating” Black music.
Rutter later apologized on social media. “I think it was stupid of me to cover a song by a black woman, especially one that mentions aspects of black life that I obviously have no experience with,” he tweeted. “If I could go back and simply cover another song by someone else I would.”
Though “Put Your Records On” is Rutter’s most popular song by a mile, he doesn’t view it as a microcosm of his career. It earned him a spot on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and landed him a deal with Columbia Records, but it’s a different than the music he made before. His contract with Columbia is only for his next album, and he recognizes that many of his new fans may not like his other music. “But I want to be authentic, be me,” he said, and popularity aside, his Rae cover gave him a nice “financial safety net” to produce the music he prefers to make. (“It’s seriously the luckiest thing ever,” he quipped.)
He and Rae later met via Zoom, and Rutter said there were no hard feelings between the two. (“She’s so cool — like, she’s super freakin’ nice.”) The two made an interesting connection: Rae’s late husband, Jason, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland, and Rutter’s father — who served a mission in Scotland — knew him.
Rutter no longer practices the Latter-day Saint faith he was raised in, and much of his early music centered on his struggles with his faith journey. But his next album — to be released this fall, and produced by Columbia Records — focuses on his happy childhood, much of which he can draw back to his family’s religion.
“I’m realizing like, wow, a lot of the good things about my childhood kind of stemmed from the core teachings of the church,” he said.
That album is what Rutter’s focused on this summer, and he expects a release date sometime in the fall. In many ways, the success of this next album — his first one since “Put Your Records On” went viral — will hint at whether Rutter continues his rise or plateaus as a one-hit wonder. In August, Rutter will headline the Craft Lake City Festival, the first time he’ll be the premiere act at a music festival. And he and his team are eyeing a nationwide tour in February.
“It’s surreal, man,” he said. And when one retraces the oddities of Rutter’s rise — the Romney spoonerism, the TikTok makeup videos, the overnight record deal — it really is.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a quote from Sen. Romney.