“One of the world’s most provocative visual artists, multiple award winning Andres Serrano has stirred up controversy over the past few decades as his work has been exhibited all over the world—from the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in his native New York City to Barbican Arts Centre in London and Collection Lambert Avignon France. Ironically, despite his global renown in this arena, he has long found himself more moved by the power of music. At last fulfilling his lifelong rock and roll ambitions, Serrano adopts the alter ego “Brutus Faust” to create Vengeance Is Mine, an infectious set of originals and covers of classic songs as edgy and soul-provoking as his famed photographic artwork.
Helping “Brutus” pay homage to his favorite era (the 60’s) is producer Steve Messina, co-founder of the eclectic NYC based rock collective Blow Up Hollywood, and several members of this veteran band. Brutus, whose gritty voice compares favorably to that of Bob Dylan, hooked up with Messina through his vocal coach Marcy Jellison. While this is the first time ever that Serrano has translated his musical dreams to a commercial studio recording, his extensive career includes several impressive visual forays into the rock world.
Perfectly coinciding with the release of Vengeance Is Mine, heavy metal legends Metallica are re-releasing their multi-platinum 1996 album Load on vinyl. The cover of the album is an original artwork entitled “Semen and Blood III,” one of three photographic studies by Serrano created in 1990 by mingling the artist’s own semen and bovine blood between two sheets of Plexiglas. His work “Piss and Blood XVII” was used on Metallica’s 1997 follow-up ReLoad. Serrano, whose most controversial work was 1987’s “Piss Christ,” later directed the video for industrial metal group Godflesh’s “Crush My Soul.”
For Serrano as Brutus, the project was an opportunity to express his love of this time and place, beginning with a series of songs he chose to reinvent. Because he brings a full life of experiences into the project, he hopes that more than simply his love of music will come across on Vengeance Is Mine. Like a lot of Serrano’s artwork, Brutus’ intentions in calling his debut album Vengeance Is Mine are slightly ambiguous. He originally came up with the cryptic title because he intended for the collection to be all re-workings of songs he loves. We can also conjecture that some of the vengeance was connected to just this one time, turning his back on the art world to explore a new means of expression.
The final set of 13 tracks includes eight covers, highlighted by a quirky twist of The Temptations’ Motown era classic “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” that does Dylan and Lou Reed proud, and a punked up cover of “It’s Now Or Never.” His nuanced approach to other familiar classics like “Bad Moon Rising,” “House Of The Rising Sun”— as well as a ballad version of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” and a cover of “Black Betty” that reverts to the original Leadbelly vibe—bring out the emotion of the lyrics like few previous versions have. Complementing these are five original songs, including several penned by Serrano’s girlfriend Irina Movmyga (including the title track and “Bloody Laurels”) and “Goo Goo Gaga,” a dark look at the reality of today’s world that “Brutus” co-wrote with Thad DeBrock and Messina.” -Jonathan Widran
“Vengeance is Mine” was recorded at Spin Studios in Long Island City, and engineered and mixed by Nik Chinboukas and Gordon Davies, and mastered by Roger Lian of Masterdisk. Coinciding with the release of the album are two videos, “Goo Goo Gaga” and “Love Letters.” “Goo Goo Gaga” consists mostly of black and white footage from the 1940-s, which makes curious parallels between the Depression and the present day, with the images of Brutus shot by the extraordinary Francesco Carrozzini. “Love Letters” is footage taken from cult director Joe Sarno’s erotic masterpiece”Flesh and Lace.” Both short films are brilliantly edited by famed New York film editor Vincent V.