Q&A

Prog - - Contents - Words: Rob Hughes See www.res­i­dents.com for more in­for­ma­tion.

They re­main shrouded in eye­ball­tas­tic mys­tery and are as reclu­sive as ever, but The Res­i­dents’ ‘spokesman’ Homer Flynn gets talk­a­tive…

Elu­sive, ex­per­i­men­tal, eye-as­so­ci­ated avant-garde art col­lec­tive The Res­i­dents have long cap­ti­vated and con­founded mu­sic fans around the globe. Their spokesper­son and man­ager, Homer Flynn, in­vites us into their world… “THE RES­I­DENTS

HAVE AL­WAYS BEEN AN AC­QUIRED TASTE, THEY’VE

NEVER BEEN A THREAT TO THE POP CHARTS.”

When it comes to out-there mu­si­cal en­ti­ties, The Res­i­dents are hard to beat. The San Fran­cisco-based col­lec­tive have spent five decades travers­ing the fringes of avant-pop, ex­per­i­men­tal rock and per­for­mance art, re­sult­ing in a stack of al­bums, film scores and multi-me­dia projects. This con­cep­tual approach ex­tends to the band’s im­age, its mem­bers guard­ing their anonymity by only ever ap­pear­ing in masks and cos­tumes, their trade­mark combo be­ing a gi­ant eye­ball with top hat and tails. In the midst of an ex­ten­sive reis­sue campaign – and fol­low­ing on from 80 Aching Or­phans, last year’s ca­reer-span­ning box set – Prog is granted an au­di­ence with Homer Flynn… Last year’s The Ghost Of Hope, The Res­i­dents’ most re­cent al­bum, was a con­cept piece about real train wrecks of by­gone Amer­ica. Why tackle that sub­ject?

One of The Res­i­dents in par­tic­u­lar has al­ways had a great love af­fair with trains, so there’ve been a lot of con­ver­sa­tions over the years about do­ing some­thing like that. They loved Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Ex­press, but could never find the en­try point into the project. Then one of them found a book, Death By Train, which is a col­lec­tion of news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. What they loved was the beau­ti­ful, el­e­gant lan­guage of that era. But then the events be­ing de­scribed are so hor­rific. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of one against the other cre­ated a re­ally in­ter­est­ing sense of ten­sion.

The Ghost… lends it­self to the vis­ual el­e­ment of The Res­i­dents. Go­ing back to the very early 70s, did they orig­i­nally plan to be film­mak­ers rather than mu­si­cians?

I hon­estly think it was both. They al­ways felt like the mu­sic and the vi­su­als went hand in hand, with equal value. Ul­ti­mately, I sup­pose the fail­ing of The Res­i­dents – at least in terms of the film­mak­ing side of it – is that the tech­nol­ogy hadn’t ad­vanced as quickly as it had done for mu­sic. For the aes­thetic that stim­u­lates The Res­i­dents, which is ob­vi­ously not com­mer­cial, there was re­ally no way to ac­cess the fund­ing and tools nec­es­sary for make the films they wanted. Did The Res­i­dents ex­ist to keep the free-minded aes­thet­ics of the late 60s alive?

That was a lot of their im­pe­tus and mo­ti­va­tion, be­fore they even started to record and do mu­sic. The Res­i­dents were big fans of the psy­che­delic era, which was more iden­ti­fi­able because of its eclec­tic and ex­per­i­men­tal na­ture. There were lots of peo­ple do­ing wildly dif­fer­ent things. But as soon as some­one found their for­mula for suc­cess, that ex­per­i­men­ta­tion tended to stop and was locked down. The Res­i­dents re­ally missed that and felt like a void had been cre­ated. So they were happy to jump in there.

What role did prog mu­sic play in the band’s de­vel­op­ment? They lis­tened to just about ev­ery­thing that was com­ing along back in the 70s and 80s. I don’t think they were ever par­tic­u­larly into Yes or Gen­e­sis, but they cer­tainly lis­tened to Emer­son, Lake & Palmer. And they were def­i­nitely into Peter Gabriel.

What was the cen­tral idea be­hind the anony­mous im­age? The Res­i­dents al­ways felt that cre­at­ing this blan­ket iden­tity gave them a lot of free­dom to work be­neath it. For in­stance, there were so many peo­ple get­ting cred­its on al­bum cov­ers that they felt a lot of it was re­ally petty. Whereas their uni­fied iden­tity meant that it could or­gan­i­cally fil­ter down in a way that was un­spo­ken, but un­der­stood by those who were par­tic­i­pat­ing in it.

It also means The Res­i­dents could po­ten­tially go on for­ever… That’s been men­tioned be­fore and it does in­deed al­low for that. It just needs some young, en­er­getic Res­i­dents to come along to join.

Mr Blue’s eye­ball was stolen in 2015. What hap­pened?

It was bor­rowed for a mu­seum show, first in Cincin­nati, then trav­el­ling to New York, onto Aus­tralia and then the Mu­seum Of Pop Cul­ture in Seat­tle. The eye­ball had been out on loan for a cou­ple of years, then it was be­ing shipped back to me at home. Un­for­tu­nately, I was out of town. Ap­par­ently, FedEx just dumped it on the steps out­side my front door. My hope is that at least who­ever got it re­alised what it is and it’s sit­ting on a shelf as a trophy or some­thing. My fear is that some­body opened it up and went, “What the fuck is this?” and threw it in a dump­ster.

Was the Ul­ti­mate Box Set’s in­stal­la­tion in New York’s

Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, in 2012, the pin­na­cle of The Res­i­dents’ ca­reer?

It’s right up there. I was with Don Hardy, who was film­ing it for the doc­u­men­tary, The­ory Of Ob­scu­rity: A Film About The Res­i­dents, when the UBS [a re­frig­er­a­tor, eye­ball mask, LPs, CDs, sin­gles, EPs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, laserdisc, books, box sets, pho­to­graphs, boxed toys and USB flash drive] was be­ing placed into the sculp­ture room. It looked like a sci­en­tific lab. There was a huge Pi­casso paint­ing, about the size of a wall, that was be­ing re­stored. And lots of other very im­pres­sive art pieces, too. The fact that the UBS was sur­rounded by these things was like, “OK, The Res­i­dents are in good com­pany.”

So what’s next for The Res­i­dents?

One of the things they’ve wanted to do for a long time is an al­bum about an al­bino blues singer. His mother was white and his fa­ther was black, he was aban­doned at birth and he’s the ul­ti­mate out­sider. The idea is that he cre­ated all these songs as de­mos back in the 60s. Ul­ti­mately they were lost, but The Res­i­dents found them in a garage sale.

Do you think that The­ory Of Ob­scu­rity helped raise the band’s pro­file some­how?

If noth­ing else, the feel­ing I have is a gen­eral at­ti­tude of ac­cep­tance for hav­ing hung in there. The Res­i­dents have al­ways been an ac­quired taste, they’ve never been a threat to the pop charts. But I think a lot of peo­ple are ap­pre­ci­at­ing what they’ve done and The­ory Of Ob­scu­rity did a good job of en­cap­su­lat­ing that. Ev­ery­body likes to get a pat on the back and The Res­i­dents are no dif­fer­ent.

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