The Residents

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The Residents

The Residents are an avant garde music and visual arts group. They started performing in the early 1970s and released their first album in 1974.



Throughout their 30+ year history, The Residents have always cloaked their lives and music in obscurity. The band members, who appear to be 4 or 5 in number, refuse to grant interviews, and do not identify themselves by name or even individual pseudonyms. Concerts and photo shoots are always performed in full disguise, most recognizably in white tie tuxedos, top hats and giant eyeball masks (in the mid 1980s, one member's eyeball mask was stolen, so it was replaced with a giant skull mask). Any interviews or PR work are done directly by the band's hired management team, known as The Cryptic Corporation, and despite speculation, the members of the PR group deny that they themselves are members of the band. It is believed that at least one member of the group is female, and it has been speculated that the group may include well-known musicians who, perhaps, are under contract to other record companies, which would necessitate maintaining some form of anonymity.

For their part, The Residents simply feel that artists do their best work without the influence of an audience, should only be judged by their work, and that a band members' genders, ethnicities, line-up changes, and most importantly daily life outside of the band, are irrelevant.

Early history

Due to the obscure nature of the band, it's difficult to get an accurate history of The Residents. What follows is information from one authorized account. The Residents originally hail from Shreveport, Louisiana, 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.

Whilst attempting to eke out a living they experimented 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 named Philip Lithman and the mysterious N. Senada (who Lithman had picked up in Bavaria) paid them a visit, and decided to remain.

The two Europeans would eventually become great influences on the band. Lithman's guitar playing technique earned him the name Snakefinger.

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. One of their first public performances was at the Longbranch in Berkeley, California.

By 1970 they had completed two tapes, Rusty Coathangers for the Doctor and The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger. In 1971 the group sent a third tape to Hal Halverstadt at Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, despite having worked with Captain Beefheart, Halverstadt wasn't at all impressed with "The Warner Bros. Album" and it was rejected. Because the band had not included any name in the return address, the rejection slip was simply addressed to Residents. This is where the band got the name.

The first performance of the band using the "Residents" moniker was at the Boarding House Club in San Francisco in 1971. That same year another tape was completed, the charmingly named Baby Sex with its cover lifted from the pages of a Danish porn mag.

In 1972 they moved to San Francisco and formed Ralph Records.

Around this time, the band developed their "Theory of Obscurity", which states that the artist can only produce pure art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into consideration. One of the ex-members took the theory so seriously, he vanished into nothingness six months after joining after trying to commit suicide five times in one week.

Noted projects

In a test of the "Theory of Obscurity", the Residents allegedly recorded the "Not Available" album in 1974, releasing it in 1978 after the band had almost forgotten about it. Eskimo (1979) was almost nominated for a Grammy, had a self-parodying disco mix titled Discomo, and was rereleased in 2003 as a surround-sound DVD. 1980 saw the release of The Commercial Album, which consisted of 40 songs each exactly one minute in length. To promote the album, the band purchased 40 one-minute advertising spots on San Francisco's most popular Top-40 radio station, which forced the station to play each track of their album over 3 days. This prompted Billboard magazine to write an editorial questioning whether the act was really art or advertising.

When MTV was new, music videos from The Residents were in heavy rotation, as they were among the earliest videos ever made (and thus among the few available). Their earliest videos are in the New York Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. The videos were eventually released all together in 2001 on the Icky Flix DVD, which includes an optional audio track to hear remakes of all the songs. Also in the 80s was the Mark of the Mole album and its sequels, plus the band's first official tour, narrated nightly by Penn Jillette. Following this was the American Composer Series which consisted of cover songs of an American composer on each side of an album.

The Residents were also one of the first bands to release multi-media CDs, the first two of which were both voted by Entertainment Weekly magazine for top computer entertainment software. They contributed to soundtracks for The Census Taker, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, a Discovery Channel nature show titled Hunters, plus assorted commercials for MTV. The band continues to release new material, special re-releases of out of print material (The Residents have over 700 songs to their name), and more DVDs. They still tour, but very minimally.




External links

de:Residents fr:The Residents


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