The Residents are an American art collective best known for avant-garde music and multimedia works. The first official release under the name of Meet The Residents was in 1974, and the group has since released over sixty albums, numerous music videos and short films, three CD-ROM projects and ten DVDs. They have undertaken seven major world tours andscored multiple films. Pioneers in exploring the potential of CD-ROM and similar technologies, The Residents have won several awards for their multimedia projects. Ralph Records, arecord label focusing on avant-garde music, was started by the band.
Throughout the group's existence, the individual members have ostensibly attempted to operate under anonymity preferring, instead, to have attention focused on their art output. Much outside speculation and rumour has focused on this aspect of the group. In public, the group appears silent and costumed, often wearing eyeball helmets, top hats and tuxedos — a long-lasting costume now recognized as its signature iconography.
Its albums generally fall into two categories: deconstructions of Western popular music, or complex conceptual pieces, composed around a theme, theory or plot. The group is noted for surrealistic lyrics and sound, disregard for conventional music composition, and the over the top, theatrical spectacle of their live performances.
- 1.1 Origins
- 1.2 1969–1972: Residents Unincorporated
- 1.3 1972–1980: Album era
- 1.4 1981–1990: Performance art and concept albums
- 1.5 1991–97: Multimedia projects
- 1.6 1998–2008: Tours and storytelling projects
- 1.7 2010–present: Talking Light and beyond
- 2 Identity
- 3 Discography
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
The Residents hail from Shreveport, Louisiana, where they met in high school in the 1960s. In 1966 the members headed west for San Francisco, but after their truck broke down in San Mateo, California, they decided to remain there.
While attempting to make a living, they began to experiment with tape machines, photography, and anything remotely to do with art that they could get their hands on. Word of their experimentation spread and in 1969, a British guitarist and multi-instrumentalist named Phil Lithman and the mysterious N. Senada (whom Lithman had picked up in Bavaria where the aged avant-gardist was recording birds singing) paid them a visit, and decided to remain.
The two Europeans would become great influences on the band. Lithman's guitar playing technique earned him the nickname Snakefinger, after his frantic playing on the violin during the performance with the Residents at the Boarding House in San Francisco 1971, where his fingers' speed made them look like snakes in the eyes of the less-musically proficient, but imaginative Residents.
The group purchased crude recording equipment, instruments and began to make tapes, refusing to let an almost complete lack of musical proficiency stand in the way.
Like all information pertaining to the early days of the band, this is provided by the Cryptic Corporation and may or not be invented.
In 1969 the group began to make the first of their unreleased tapes. Rumors have surfaced of two (of perhaps hundreds) unreleased reel-to-reel items titled Rusty Coathangers for the Doctor and The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger. The actual titles are in question (as is the notion that these were album-length recordings), but the first title has been confirmed by a former head of the now defunct Smelly Tongues fan club. Further evidence of pre-1970 recordings surfaced with the release of the song I Heard You Got Religion, supposedly recorded in 1969, and released originally as a downloadable track from Ralph America in 1999. Cryptic says there are lots of tapes dating back decades, but they were all recorded before the group had officially become "The Residents" so the band does not consider them to be part of their discography.
The album The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger has never been released in any form. "Uncle Willie", former Residents fan club president, wrote in his book Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide to The Residents that, while searching through the band's archives, he came across "a suite named 'The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger'," but not a complete album.
In 1971 the group sent a reel-to-reel tape to Hal Halverstadt at Warner Brothers, since he had worked with Captain Beefheart (one of the group's musical heroes). Halverstadt was not overly impressed with the Warner Bros. Album (He describes it as "okay at best" in Uncle Willie's Cryptic Guide to the Residents), but awarded the tape an "A for Ariginality". Because the band had not included any name in the return address, the rejection slip was simply addressed to "The Residents". The members of the group then decided that this would be the name they would use, first becoming "Residents Unincorporated", then shortening it to the current name.
The first performance of the band using the name the Residents was at the Boarding House in San Francisco in 1971. That same year another tape was completed called Baby Sex. The original cover art for the tape box was a silk-screened copy of an old photo depicting a woman fellating a small child. (Considered artistically rude at that time, it would be viewed as child pornography today).
Before the release of their first single, Santa Dog, and while recording their first full-length album, Meet The Residents, The Residents undertook one of their first major projects: the ambitious Vileness Fats film project. Intended to be the first-ever long form music video, The Residents saw this project as the opportunity to create the ultimate cult film. After four years of filming (from 1972 to 1976) the project was reluctantly canceled because of time, space and monetary constraints. Fifteen hours of footage were shot for the project yet only about three-quarters of an hour of that footage has ever been released.
Santa Dog is considered by The Residents themselves and their fans to be the "official" start of the band's recorded output. This is so because it was the first to be released to the public. Shortly after this release, the band left San Mateo and relocated to San Francisco. They sent copies of Santa Dog to west coast radio stations with no response until Bill Reinhardt, program director of KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon received a copy. Santa Dog had the strange kind of sonic weirdness he was looking for and it was played heavily on his popular (Radio Lab) show. Bill met The Residents at their Sycamore St. studio in the summer of 1973 with the news of his broadcasts. They were overjoyed that they had finally got media acceptance and he was celebrated with the news that KBOO was the first station to play a Residents record on the air. Inviting him in and treating him like family, The Residents gave Reinhardt exclusive access to all their eclectic recordings, including copies of the original masters of Stuffed Trigger, Baby Sex and the Warner Bros. Album. He promoted these along with Meet the Residents regularly on his radio program. There was considerable resistance to the commercial viability of Residents material. To aid in their promotion, Bill was given 50 of the first 1,000 copies of Meet the Residents. Some were sent to friends, listeners and critics and two dozen were left for sale on consignment at the Music Millennium record store, where they sat unsold for months. KBOO DJ, Barry Schwam (Schwump, who also recorded with The Residents) promoted them on his program as well. Eventually KBOO airplay attracted many loyal fans and Portland became the epicenter of a worldwide cult phenomenon.
The Residents, at this time, were at a rough point in their career. According to official Residents lore, there was internal turmoil which resulted in a large, "embarrassing" food fight; they decided to resolve this tension in 1974 by recording what would later become Not Available – representative of N. Senada's Theory of Obscurity taken to its logical conclusion. The album was recorded and then placed in storage in order to be issued only when everyone had forgotten about it. However, contractual obligations related to the much-delayed release of Eskimo forced its release in 1978 after the band had almost forgotten about it. The Residents were not bothered by this deviation from their plan since the 1978 decision to release the album would not affect the philosophical conditions under which it was originally recorded.
The Third Reich 'n Roll came next, a pastiche on 1960s rock and roll with an overarching Nazi theme, represented visually on the album cover, which featured Dick Clark in an SS uniform holding a carrot, with a number of Hitlers dancing on clouds behind him. On each side of the record was a single composition, approximately 17½ minutes long, using recordings of classic rock and roll songs that were spliced, overdubbed and edited with new vocals, instrumentation and tape noises. The original songs were finally removed leaving entirely new and bizarre performances. The music video for this album was shot on the sets that were built for Vileness Fats.
Following The Third Reich 'n' Roll came Fingerprince, a particularly ambitious project not unlike the earlier Not Available recordings. The band's original intention with Fingerprince was to release it as the very first "three-sided" album – they had found a way to simulate a third side by arranging the grooves on one side of the vinyl album to play a completely different program of tracks depending on which series of grooves the needle was dropped on. However, this idea was dropped when the band discovered that the Monty Python comedy troupe had executed the very same idea three years earlier with their Matching Tie and Handkerchief album. The "third side" was later released as an EP titledBabyfingers, and the Babyfingers tracks have since been re-integrated into the Fingerprince album on the CD reissues.
The Residents followed Fingerprince with their Duck Stab/Buster & Glen album – their most easily comprehensible album up to that point. This album got the band some attention from the press (namely NME, Sounds and Melody Maker), and dropped most of their reliance upon the Theory of Obscurity.
Eskimo (1979) contained music consisting of non-musical sounds, percussion, and wordless voices. Rather than being songs in the orthodox sense, the compositions sounded like "live-action stories" without dialogue. The Residents remixed the "songs" in disco style, the results of which appeared on the EP Diskomo. Eskimo was reissued in surround sound on DVD in 2003. Eskimo's cover presents the first instance of the group wearing their signature eyeball masks and tuxedos, which would be featured in many subsequent releases, films, live appearances, and promotional materials.
Commercial Album (1980) consisted of 40 songs, each consisting of a verse and a chorus and lasting one minute. The songs pastiched the advertising jingle although the songs were not endorsements of known products or services. The liner notes state that songs should be repeated three times in a row to form a "pop song". The Residents purchased 40 one-minute advertising slots on San Francisco's most popular Top-40 radio station at the time, KFRC, such that the station played each track of their album over three days. This prompted an editorial in Billboard magazine questioning whether the act was art or advertising.
When MTV was in its infancy, The Residents' videos were in heavy rotation since they were among the few music videos available to broadcasters. The Residents' earliest videos are in the New York Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection and were eventually released together in 2001 on the Icky Flix DVD, which includes an optional audio track of remixes.
In 1981, Mark of the Mole was released as the first part of an expansive trilogy of concept albums. The Mole Trilogy is made up of parts I, II (The Tunes of Two Cities) and IV (The Big Bubble: Part Four of the Mole Trilogy), in addition to releases of related material such as Intermission.
The group's first tour ensued to promote The Tunes of Two Cities, hosted by Penn Jillette. The performance featured The Residents performing behind a burlap screen, occasionally wearing disguises (such as their iconic eyeball masks), while dancers and actors appeared in front of painted backdrops used to help illustrate the story. Penn Jillette would come out between songs telling long intentionally pointless stories. The show was designed to appear to fall apart as it progressed: Penn pretended to grow angrier with the crowd, and lighting effects and music would become increasingly chaotic, all building up to the point where Penn was dragged off stage and returned, handcuffed to a wheelchair, to deliver his last monologue. During one performance, an audience member assaulted Penn while he was handcuffed to the wheelchair.
However, The Mole Show was not a financial success. It almost resulted in the dissolution of the band, and did result in The Mole Trilogy being brought to a premature end. During this period The Residents were conspicuously less prolific than they previously had been, with only an outtakes compilation Residue of the Residents, a collaborative album with Ralph labelmates Renaldo and the Loaf and a brief edited version of Vileness Fats with a newly recorded soundtrack being the only major releases from this period.
After the failure of The Mole Show and abandonment of the unfinished Mole Trilogy, the band turned their attention to a new concept - a series of albums, each consisting of a side-long suite of covers by American composers the band admired. The group had hoped to cover a number of different artists, but only two albums from this period saw completion and release - 1984's George and James (dedicated to George Gershwin and James Brown) and 1986's Stars & Hank Forever: The American Composers Series (featuring tributes to Hank Williams and John Philip Sousa). Some tracks from an abandoned album dedicated to Sun Ra and Ray Charles have also surfaced.
After this, their Japanese distributor approached them for a two-week run in Japan. Admittedly reluctant at first to return to the stage after the underwhelming response to The Mole Show, The Residents created the 13th Anniversary tour. While the musical performance was more mainstream, the stage show was another over-the-top spectacle, featuring inflatable giraffes, dancers in eye ball masks illuminating the darkened stage with work lights, and a lead vocalist who seemed to change costumes throughout the show from wearing his eyeball mask to wearing a Richard Nixon mask, and at one point wearing only a wig and fake ears. After the two-week run in Japan, the Residents took the show through the US. During the US leg of the tour the band encountered a few problems, including having the tour manager having to fan a member's keyboard because of overheating, being booked in a pool hall and having someone run on stage only to be thrown back into the audience.
The Residents also toured Australia and New Zealand in August 1986 - appearing across the two countries as a five piece ensemble including two female dancers, and with Snakefinger on guitar.
Backstage at the Hollywood Palace show on December 26, 1985, one member's eyeball mask (Mr. Red Eye) was stolen, so it was replaced with a giant skull mask. The eye was returned by a devoted fan who discovered where the thief lived and stole it back, although Homer Flynn said the person who returned the mask was most probably the thief. It was put into retirement because they said it was "unclean" and in a bad condition – a superfluous shell. After this, the lead Resident was known as Mr. Skull.
"Cube E" was a three-act performance covering the history of American music. It was a step up from previous shows, featuring more elaborate dance numbers and sets. It was also the first show composed exclusively of music written for the show. The show was almost entirely backlit, with blacklights highlighting fluorescent pieces of costumes and set.
They introduced the first part, which covered cowboy music, on German television as "Buckaroo Blues". It featured the singer and two dancers wearing giant cowboy hats around a glowing campfire. Part two was called "Black Barry" and focused on slave music and the blues. The act ended when a giant cube head rose from the back of the stage. Part three, "The Baby King," featured Elvis songs performed by an elderly Elvis impersonator for his grandchildren. The show ended with an inflated Elvis dying as a result of the British Invasion.
In the late 1980s, they created the epic recording God in Three Persons, a story about the exploitation of two Siamese twins with healing powers by a male dominant force and The King & Eye, a surreal biography of Elvis Presley and the birth of rock and roll.
In the 1990s, they created Freak Show. This marked the beginning of The Residents' obsession with emerging computer technology in the 1990s. Much of the music was made with MIDI devices. Freak Show also served as the name for a CD-ROM released by the Voyager Company on January 1994, shortly after Laurie Anderson's first multimedia CD-ROM experiment, Puppet Motel. Freak Show was also a stage performance by a theater company at the Archa Theater in Prague that premiered on November 1, 1995 musical director was Miroslav Wanek and major part of the Freak Show Orchestra took the band Už Jsme Doma, and a comic book. Several of the songs were also performed live during the 1997 25th anniversary concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco. After the CD-ROM's success, the album was re-released as The Freak Show Soundtrack with a different cover. A limited edition, The Freak Show Special Edition, was released in 2002 to mark their 30th anniversary.
Other multimedia projects by The Residents included The Gingerbread Man and Bad Day on the Midway.
Based on Bible stories, Wormwood featured the Residents departing from pre-programmed music and again using a live band. The band wore ecclesiastical robes and performed in a brightly lit fluorescent cave. The male and female lead singers switched leads, depending on what characters they needed. Act one consisted of one-off stories about individual Bible characters. Act 2 focused on suites of songs about Bible figures such as Abraham, Moses, and King David. During a performance in Athens, Greece, Nolan Cook, their guitarist, had to leave the stage after taking a rock to the head from an audience member.
The Residents recorded the dramatic album Demons Dance Alone (also a tour and DVD in 2002) and Animal Lover in 2005. Singer Molly Harvey began as a Ralph employee but by the mid-90s contributed to virtually all of The Residents' many projects. The Residents' increased reliance on Harvey, essentially handing her half of the vocal duties since at least Demons Dance Alone, parallels their artistic revitalization. Nolan Cook, Carla Fabrizio, Toby Dammit, Eric Drew Feldman, and many other artists continuously worked with the band over the last five years, recording and performing live. The new artists helped to counter what Allmusic derided as a "sonic palette [confined to] factory presets from their new Macintosh audio" of the CD-ROM era.
In February 2005, The Residents toured Australia as part of the What is Music? festival, performing a two hour retrospective set titled the 33rd Anniversary Tour: The Way We Were. These shows saw a fairly minimal band; three eyeball-headed Residents (one on guitar and two laptop/sample operators), a "stage hand" performer, and a male and female vocalist in costumes reminiscent of the Wormwood Tour. Video projections and unusual flexible screens were added to the stage set, creating an unsettling ambiance. The performances on the Way We Were tour were recorded and were released on CD and DVD in 2005.
Summer of 2006 brought the internet download project, River of Crime (Episodes 1–5). River of Crime was their first project with Warner Music Group's Cordless Label. Following the success of that album, The Residents launched their weekly Timmy video project on YouTube. In 2007 they did the soundtrack for the documentary Strange Culture and also released a double instrumental album, Night of the Hunters. On the Fourth of July 2007, the planned October release of its latest project with Mute Records, The Voice of Midnight (a music theater adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's short story "Der Sandmann"), was announced on its Web site.
On the May 21 the band announced on its website that its first North America tour since Demons Dance Alone for a project titled The Bunny Boy was set to begin on October 9 in New York—later an earlier date was added for Santa Cruz. Soon, it was announced that the tour would also include Europe, starting November 13. On June 3, the Residents.com Web site boasted the planned release of The Bunny Boy, which was released on September 1. The Web site had posted information in which "Foxboro" claimed this would be a farewell tour; it was later revealed that this was nothing more than a mistake by Foxboro.
November 3, 2009, saw three new releases. The Ughs! is a mostly instrumental album made up of music composed earlier in the band's career, which had been completely reworked for the Voice of Midnight album. Ten Little Piggies is a "futurist compilation", ten songs from projects that may or may not be released in the future. Finally, Is Anybody out There is a DVD collecting all the Bunny Boy videos from the series posted on YouTube. The episodes are streamlined and not exactly the same as the originals.Eye used by one of the Residents
In January 2010 the Residents began a series of tours titled Talking Light, touring North America and Europe. During the tours, which lasted until April 2011. The Residents appeared as a trio (with the explanation that the fourth member "Carlos" had grown tired of the music business and gone home to Mexico to care for his mother) and adapted new identities and costumes. The singer, "Randy", wore an old man mask, and the other two, keyboardist "Chuck" and guitarist "Bob", wore dreadlocked wigs and some kind of illuminated optical gear over their faces. The songs were stories about various characters' obsessions with ghosts, imaginary people, and supernatural phenomena. One of these performances was featured as part of the edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival curated by Matt Groening in May 2010 in Minehead, England, UK. The band released several albums related to the "Talking Light" concept, including the instrumental albums Dollar General and Chuck's Ghost Music, live album Bimbo's Talking Light, and studio album Lonely Teenager.
In October 20th, 2010, Randy, the Residents' singer, performed in Olomouc Moravian Theatre in collaboration with band Už Jsme Doma 13 songs of The Residents. Arrangements were made by Miroslav Wanek (he was musical director of The Freak Show, too).
In October and November 2011, the Residents presented an early version of Sam's Enchanted Evening at The Marsh performance center in Berkeley, with the lead singer appearing as "Randy Rose". A new version of Sam's Enchanted Evening was subsequently performed in March 2012 at Henry Street Settlement in New York City in a production directed by Travis Chamberlain, co-starring Joshua Raoul Brody and Jibz Cameron (aka Dynasty Handbag).
On January 10, 2012, The Residents released Coochie Brake; it focused on an ambient, slightly ethnic sound, with lyrics in Spanish spoken by, apparently, a new singer. On 7 December 2012, as part of the celebrations of the upcoming 40th anniversary of its first release, the Santa Dog EP, the Residents released an infomercial starring its lead singer, "Randy Rose", who notified the public of the release of the Residents' Ultimate Box Set—a 28-cubic-foot refrigerator that contained the first pressings of every Residents release to date as well as other ephemera (such as an eyeball mask and top hat). The Cryptic Corporation advised in a press release that the intended audience for this project was the realm of fine art, and, accordingly, the price of the set is $100,000.
Much of the speculation about the members' true identities swirls around its management team, known as the Cryptic Corporation. Cryptic was formed as a corporation in California by Jay Clem (born 1947), Homer Flynn (born April 1945), Hardy W. Fox (born 1945), and John Kennedy in 1976, all of whom denied having been band members. (Clem and Kennedy left the Corporation in 1982, much to the chagrin of some fans.) The Residents members do not grant interviews, although Flynn and Fox have conducted interviews with the media.
Nolan Cook, a prominent collaborator with the group in both the band's live and studio work (as well as being a live member of I Am Spoonbender), denied in an interview that Fox and Flynn are the Residents, saying that he has come across such rumors, and they are completely false. However, Cook himself is considered a member of the band by some, as he is known to wear the same head coverings as the rest of the group during live shows, even wearing the trademark eyeball mask during the Wormwood Tour.
William Poundstone, author of the Big Secrets books, compared voiceprints of a Flynn lecture with those of spoken word segments from the Residents discography in his book "Biggest Secrets". After noting similar patterns in both, he concluded "the similarities in the spectograms second the convincing subjective impression that the voices are identical." He posited that "It is possible that the creative core of the Residents is the duo of Flynn and Fox." A subset of that belief is that Flynn is the lyricist and that Fox writes the music. In addition BMI's online database of the performance rights organization (of which the Residents and their publishing company, Pale Pachyderm Publishing (Warner-Chappell), have been members for their entire careers), lists Flynn and Fox as the composers of all original Residents songs. This includes those songs written pre-1974, the "Residents Unincorporated" years, the year Crypticformed.
Simon Reynolds wrote in his book "Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978–1984" that "The Residents and their representatives were one and the same", elaborating on one of his blogs that "this was something that anybody who had any direct dealings with Ralph figured out sooner rather than later". Reynolds quotes Helios Creed, who identifies The Residents as a keyboardist named "H", a singer named "Homer", and "this other guy called John"; and Peter Principle of Tuxedomoon, who claims that: "We eventually figured out that the guy doing the graphics and the engineer in the studio were in fact the Residents".
Cryptic openly admits the group's artwork is done by Flynn (among others), under various names that, put together, become "Pornographics", but the pseudonym is rarely spelled the same way twice (examples: Porno Graphics, Pore No Graphix, Pore-Know Graphics); and that Fox is the sound engineer – meaning that he is the main producer, engineer, master, and editor of all their recordings. (Since 1976, the Residents' recordings have all listed their producer as the Cryptic Corporation, presumably meaning Fox in particular.) Many other rumors have come and gone over the years, one being that 60s experimental band Cromagnon shared members with the band.
Most recently, the group's Facebook presence lists the members of The Residents as "Randy", "Chuck", and "Bob". Furthermore, a synopsis for their 2012 stage production "Sam's Enchanted Evening" provides the name "Randy Rose" as that of the Residents' lead singer. While it is clear that the Cryptic Corporation has chosen to share this information publicly, no further confirmation—nor any context as to the roles of "Chuck" and "Bob" in the group, or if these names are, indeed, the names of the group's members appears to have been issued to date.