The Residents: reveling in obscurity_lowres


The Residents seem like a band as well designed for alternative culture weirdness in the 1970s, when surreal imagery on its album covers helped attract crate-digging fans in record stores, as for the age of the internet, conspiracies and fake news. Band members have managed to remain anonymous through nearly five decades as they've repeatedly embraced new technology to create a voluminous catalog of everything from bastardized and deconstructed pop to elaborate sound collages and haunting ambient experiences.

  "The Residents have always looked for new creative horizons," says Homer Flynn, the spokesman for The Cryptic Corporation, an entity created to represent the band. "The Residents did an album 30 years ago called God in Three Persons. They always thought that would be a theater piece. They've got interest from museums about taking this same piece and developing a large-scale installation."

  The group formed in Shreveport and moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, when improvements in multitrack recording enabled The Residents to create their music with its layering of effects. As much an art collective as a band, the members only learned to play a song well enough to record it so they could work on it in a sound studio. Performing live wasn't possible for them until the 1980s when sampling devices allowed them to approximate what they produced in the studio. The Residents made music for a decade before the band went on its first tour.

  The band is currently on tour, and it performs at The Music Box Village April 30.

  The Residents always have appeared in costume. People unfamiliar with their music may recognize early images of four members in tuxedos and top hats with eyeball masks covering their heads.

  The current In Between Dreams tour has its own theatrical design. The band culled its catalog for songs about dreams, and it features video interludes with characters talking about their dreams. One of the characters is a blues singer, who is the subject of an album in development.

  "One of The Residents always loved the blues and wanted to do a blues album," Flynn says. "But for The Residents to do a straight blues album didn't seem like a good fit. We had to find a context for it. They came up with a character who wanted to be a blues singer."

  The show also includes some work from The Residents' most recent album, The Ghost of Hope, which is about train wrecks. Lyrics go into details and personal accounts of actual train crashes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Aside from its extended storytelling, it's one of more conventional albums The Residents' have released.

  The band's forthcoming album, Intruders, is more abstract. Conceptually, it's about people who one can't get out of one's mind. Such intruders might be a long-term love interest turned recent ex or a person on the street begging and in need, Flynn says.

  Some of The Residents' music demands an acquired taste or indulgence. The band learned that a bar in Berkeley used its tortured version of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" to help clear the house after last call, Flynn says.

  But the band very successfully built its own mythology, partly through its masked identity. A 2015 documentary titled Theory of Obscurity featured an array of fans, from Simpsons creator Matt Groening to an array of musicians who have had to deny being members of the band, such as Les Claypool of Primus.

  "The Residents have always fostered rumors and, shall we say, misinformation — fake news as they call it now," Flynn says. "They love all that. They love to engage people's imagination. If people believe one of the residents is Ringo Starr, well, then, hey, that's great."