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.