Jared Artaud still remembers his first meeting with Alan Vega. It was for brunch, and it was surreal.
Prior to meeting his hero, The Vacant Lots frontman, along with bandmate Brian MacFadyen, needed a holiday song to cover for a 2013 Cleopatra Records compilation Psych-Out Christmas, which also featured Iggy Pop, The Fuzztones, and Dead Meadow. Refusing to do another rendition of “Run Rudolph Run,” the duo landed on “No More Christmas Blues,” a track Suicide recorded for a vinyl compilation The Christmas Record(ZE Records) in 1981. Artaud later reached out to Vega’s wife and longtime collaborator Liz Lamere to share the track, which left the Suicide singer enthralled. He needed to meet the band that recorded this song of his.
“I remember going up on the elevator to meet Alan,” share Artaud, who was on tour with Dean Wareham and playing the Bowery Ballroom that day and jumped at the chance to meet Vega two hours before the soundcheck. “I remember saying to Brian, ‘we just got invited to meet Alan Vega for brunch. What the fuck?’” Nervous and sweating, for Artaud, Suicide was “like The Beatles” to The Vacant Lots. Expecting chains on the door and Vega roaring “Who the fuck are you guys? Get the fuck out of here,” 20 minutes later Artaud found himself bouncing through a conversation with Vega spanning art history, cosmology, and John Coltrane. In that moment, a great friendship began.
Years after Vega passed away in 2016 at the age of 78, Lamere and Artaud discovered dozens of recorded tapes, pulling clusters of songs, vocal outtakes, live performances, and rare and unreleased material—remnants of Vega’s other artistic releases between albums. Sifting through nearly three decades worth of recordings in what Vega dubbed his “Vault,” in 2019 they came across the ADAT tape of Mutator, an album Lamere recorded with Vega between 1995 and 1996, after the couple had already worked on five of his solo albums together—Deuce Avenue (1990), Power On to Zero Hour (1991), New Raceion (1993, featuring Ric Ocasek), and Dujang Prang (1995), the latter a collaboration with Henry Rollins—and called on Artaud to help her mix and produce the lost album.
Both knew they had something special, but they didn’t know what it was at first, because we had to get it transferred to digital. Artaud called on longtime Vacant Lots engineer, Ted Young to help transfer the tapes to Pro Tools, and they uncovered Mutator.