Q&A: The Residents
Avant-garde mystery men from San Francisco play Hawthorne Theater this Friday, celebrating 40 years of confounding their audience. Feb 22.
San Francisco avant-garde musicians and cultural provocateurs the Residents have been blowing the minds of unsuspecting audiences and record-buyers since the Nixon Administration. They have over 60 albums, that range from ruthless interpretations of popular 20th century composers (Hank Williams, James Brown, George Gershwin, Elvis Presley, among others) to eerie ambient soundscapes to conceptual fits of delirious storytelling. Onstage, they wear outré headgear (the giant eyeballs and top hats being the most recognized, though they do change things up) and attempt to maintain secret identities. Beyond that, you'll have to hit the Internet or consult your weirdest group of friends. I chatted with spokesman Homer Flynn (who in all likelihood is a band member, but will never admit it) about their 40th anniversary tour and an Ultimate Box Set the Residents have for sale that comes inside a full-size refrigerator and retails for the princely sum of $100,000.
So this is Wonder of Weird, the 40th anniversary tour. How are you picking a set list with 40 years of material to mull over?
I honestly can’t say exactly what the process was that went into picking it. I guess as you can expect from the Residents it’s not an obvious set list in any way, a lot of the things are fairly obscure and they have been so radically rearranged that even a hardcore fan could go and barely recognize anything. Certainly no "Constantinople" or "Man’s World" or some of the songs they’re known for.
So even if fans yell out songs, it’s probably not going to do any good?
Probably not, you’re pretty safe to say that
Can you give me an idea of what this stage show is going to look like?
Well, since it’s the 40th anniversary, and since the Residents traced that 40 years back to the release of Santa Dog in 1972, the whole thing is a kind of a, shall we say, unusual Christmas theme, so everything is all red and green—there’s like giant inflatable candy canes on stage and it’s kind of your typical surreal Christmas, we’ll put it that way.
I guess the big ticket item on the tour is the $100,000 Ultimate Box Set, of which there are only 10. Have you received any preliminary offers?
We’ve had several inquiries, no one has yet to come up with the 10 percent down of the box set it will take to own one, so, um, at this point, no. Like I say there have been several people, but nobody’s come up with the hard cash.
These are tough economic times for artists, that’s for sure. Is $100,000 carved in stone or is there room to haggle?
Well, I mean, you know, make us an offer.
No reasonable offer will be refused?
No reasonable offer, we’ll certainly talk about any reasonable offer. It’s a fluid situation.
Is there any hint you can give me about the one-of-a-kind $5 million mystery item you're selling? Like does it have moving parts, or, uh, is it animal, mineral, or vegetable, or anything like that?
No moving parts, um, no parts at all, actually. It has substance, but its substance is… somewhat ephemeral.
Hmmm. Well, I’m going to have to chew on that one for awhile that’s for sure. But you will actually have, when you’re on the tour, you will have a refrigerator, on your persons, somewhere, on the bus, or…?
I wish we did, honestly, I think the highlight of the show would potentially be [Residents "lead singer"] Randy, uh, having an intermission and doing the whole thing, but you know, carrying a refrigerator around on tour is not the easiest thing from a logistics point. [They tend to be] bulky and heavy. It was certainly talked about, but nobody could justify it.
I take it there will be some kind of legal document, that upon delivery of 10 percent down of the $100,000 that the refrigerator will soon materialize?
Does the $100,000 include shipping?The Residents play
Feb 22 at 8pm
No, the $100,000 does not include shipping.
Oh, wow. Ok, wow.
The thing is, shipping is too varied for something like this. If it’s somebody here in the Bay Area it wouldn’t be any big deal, if it’s somebody in Japan… all of a sudden, God only knows how much you’re talking about!
Say, if it was somebody in Portland and they agreed to just get a van and drive down there you could arrange it at little to no extra cost?
Yeah, sure, probably.
What’s the next big conceptual project the Residents are working on if you're allowed to say?
They are working on several things right now, one of the most interesting is… do you know…the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park? It’s essentially a really big, kind of state-of-the-art natural history museum, you know, a planetarium, an aquarium, it’s recently been rebuilt and very nice. Well anyway, conversations have just come up within the last couple of months about the Residents potentially doing their Eskimo album. They did a DVD of that about 10 years ago, so the whole thing would essentially be reworked as projections inside the planetarium dome. That’s very exciting.
Would it be like, the Residents midnight laser show?
Yeah, more or less, yeah.
So people can get baked and go to that and go "ooh and aah" and stuff… But I’m sure that’s not the message the band wants to put forth.
Well, yeah, I don’t think that’s what the Academy wants people thinking, but that’s what they know people would be doing.
Will the Residents ever do a farewell tour, or will they just stop one day?
Honestly it’s pretty hard for me to imagine them doing a farewell tour, I won’t say that it won’t happen, but to me, any time that they still have the energy and ambition and determination to do another tour, it’s hard for me to see them saying, 'yeah, this is gonna be the last one.' It’s like you, you have to get it up to do a tour.
Yeah sure, I would imagine too, wearing headgear of that size, you know, your back has to be in pretty good shape.
Well you’ve gotta be in pretty good shape all the way around. You’ve gotta gear up for it, so when you’re at that point where you have geared up for it, you’re not just thinking, 'OK, I’m just gonna do this one more time and then I’m gonna quit.' You sorta see your future at that point as going beyond the tour. So my vote is to say, probably they would do one, and then, probably for whatever reason, another one just never happens.
Here’s something to think about. I think a lot of artisits, when they reach a certain age, they gravitate toward the comfort and spectacle of Las Vegas. I think Vegas is ready for the Residents. You could be ‘Residents, artists-in-residence.’
Well, uh, yeah, that’s possible…Vegas was not really great for the Residents when they were doing their Wormwood tour in 1999 & 2000. They played Vegas, it did not really draw a great crowd.
I’m surprised, I mean Blue Man Group does very well. Keep an open mind on the subject. Good luck on your tour.
Nice to talk to you.