The Residents

The Residents are an American avant-garde music and visual arts group. They have created over sixty albums, created numerous musical short films, designed three CD-ROM projects and ten DVDs, and undertaken seven major world tours. Throughout their career, spanning nearly four decades, they have maintained anonymity.

The Residents supposedly hail from Undergrowth, where they met in high school in the 1960s. In 1966, members headed west to San Francisco, California. After their truck broke down in San Mateo, they decided to remain there. Like all information pertaining to the early days of the band, this is provided by The Cryptic Corporation and may or may not be invented.

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 and instruments and began to make tapes, refusing to let an almost complete lack of musical proficiency stand in the way.

In 1969 the group began to make the first of their unreleased tapes. Rumors have surfaced of two of perhaps hundreds of unreleased reel-to-reel items titled Rusty Coathangers for the Doctor and The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger. The titles may be in question (as is the idea 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 Hear 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.

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.

In 1972 they moved to San Francisco and formed Ralph Records. By this time, The Cryptic Corporation was operating as a partnership and incorporated to take over the running of Ralph Records.

Before the Santa Dog single and while recording 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 due to time, space and monetary constraints. Fourteen 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 received a copy. 'Santa' 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 '73 with the news of his broadcasts. They were overjoyed that they had finally gotten 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, Bill was given exclusive access to all their eclectic recordings. Copies from the original masters of 'Stuffed Trigger', 'Baby Sex' and the 'Warner Bros. Album' were now in his possession. 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 1000 copies of 'MTR'. Some were sent to friends, listeners and critics and two dozen were left for sale on consignment at Music Millennium Records where they sat unsold for months. It should be mentioned that KBOO DJ, Barry Schwam (Schwump, who also recorded with the Rez) promoted them on his program as well. Eventually KBOO air-play attracted many loyal fans and Portland, Oregon became the epicenter of a worldwide cult phenomenon.

The Residents, at this time, were at a rough point in their career. There was internal turmoil, which supposedly resulted in a large, "embarrassing" food fight. They decided to resolve this tension in 1974 by allegedly 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 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 60's rock 'n' 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 17 ½ minutes long, using recordings of classic rock & 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 entitled Babyfingers, 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 New Musical Express, 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 dialogs. 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.

The Commercial Album (1980) consisted of 40 songs that, like Eskimo, rejected traditional song structure. Each consisted of a verse and a chorus and lasted 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. With a leap of promotional imagination, The Residents purchased 40 one-minute advertising slots on San Francisco's most popular Top-40 radio station KFRC forcing the station to play 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, a trilogy of albums was to be released, starting with Mark of the Mole. A tour ensued, and was narrated nightly by Penn Jillette. Many think, after observation of official clues in liner notes such as those found in Demons Dance Alone, that the Mole Show caused several members of the Residents to leave, leaving Mr. Red Eye to studio duties. The Mole Trilogy is made up of parts I, II and IV.

This tour is also noted for being the first time The Residents appeared on stage wearing their trademark eyeball masks and tuxedos. The performance featured The Residents in front of painted back drops 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.

After their Japanese distributor approached them for a 2 week run in Japan, 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 dressed in a garish yellow suit wearing a Nixon mask. After the two-week run in Japan, the Residents took the show through the US.

Backstage at the Hollywood Palace show in 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.

In the late 80s, 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 90s, 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 March 1, 1995, 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, 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.

More recently 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-90's 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.

In February 2005, The Residents toured Australia as part of the "What is Music?" festival, performing a two hour retrospective set entitled 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 River of Crime, The Residents launched their weekly Timmy video project on YouTube.

Much of the speculation about the members' true identities swirls around their 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.) The Residents themselves don't grant interviews, though Flynn and Fox have conducted interviews with the media. Nolan Cook, who has been working with the band recently, denied in an interview that Fox and Flynn are the Residents, saying that he has come across such rumors, and they are completely false.

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 "the creative core of the Residents is the duo of Flynn and Fox." A subset of that belief is that Flynn is the lyricist (a conclusion buttressed by the fact that his voice bears an uncanny resemblance to one which appears on many of the Residents' albums) 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 Cryptic formed. However, many have pointed out that a songwriter can copyright a song under any name he/she chooses; the person named in the copyright assignment receives all royalties and legal requests and other information for the song, which, if Flynn and Fox are merely trusted managers who both handle the Residents' business and protect their identities, makes them the logical choice to be assigned the copyrights.

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "The Residents".

The Residents links

Weirdomusic Review: The Residents - The Big Bubble
Buy Residents CDs and DVDs at
The Moles
Bach is Dead - the Residents Discography


The Residents - Mark Of The Mole

The Residents - Commercial Album

The Residents - Meet The Residents

The Residents - Eskimo

The Residents - Not Available

The Residents - Demons Dance Alone

The Residents - The Tunes of Two Cities

The Residents - Third Reich 'n' Roll

The Residents - Freak Show

The Residents - God in Three Persons

The Residents - Icky Flix

The Residents - Tweedles

The Residents - Diskomo

The Residents - The King & Eye RMX

The Residents - The King & Eye

The Residents - The Big Bubble

The Residents - Duck Stab