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Eyeball Orphans [2017-12-27]

For nearing a quarter-of-a century the collective known as The Residents have created a wholly unique & distinctive back catalog of work. Their recorded work has blended & dipped into many genres over the years- taking in elements of pop, avant-garde composition, rock, electronica, musical theater, ethnic- ambience, and beyond. 2017 saw the project release of their 34th studio album The Ghost Of Hope, it also saw the release of a  four-CD anthology entitled 80 Aching Orphans, and they’ve also managed to fit in a tour too. The collective never give interviews direct- so I tracked down the project's manager Homer Flynn & last remaining member of the Cryptic Corp for an email interview.

M[m]: The Residents have now been active for over 45 years- did they ever imagine the project would last this long? And did you ever imagine you’d be involved with them as long as you have been?
HF When The Residents started, they boldly declared they were in it for the long haul. I’m not sure if this was youthful bravado on their part or perhaps they had suspicions that, in a culture, as saturated with the idea of pointless celebrity as ours, and it’s only gotten worse since the early 70s, it might take a while for this anonymous thing to catch on. Regardless, they have steadfastly insisted that they didn’t have anything better to do. As for me, I’ve always been along for the ride as long as it lasts. 

M[m]: How has your job changed with-in the Cryptic Corp over the years? And did you and the original members of the corp have set job roles to start with?
HF Initially, I was the graphics person for The Residents and Ralph Records. As years have passed and others have left, I have picked up more overall management duties such as helping arrange tours, overseeing the I AM A RESIDENT! PledgeMusic campaign, producing the Double Trouble film project, etc. The original Cryptic members did all have specific jobs. Jay Clem was the label manager; John Kennedy was the production manager; Hardy Fox was the engineer and A&R dept, and I was the Art Director and graphics dept.

M[m]: You’ve recently just got back from a euro tour with The Residents- how did this go & what where some of the high & low points of the tour?
HF The recent Euro tour went quite well. At this point, everyone is good at what they do, happy to be involved and we sold lots of T-Shirts. For me, the high points were the seven shows in France, where everything was first class and the food was great, and the fact that there were a lot of young people at the shows. The low spots were being involved in nine shows in a row near the beginning and being away from home for five weeks.

M[m]: You mention there been a lot of younger people at the recent concerts- how do you feel the make-up of the audience at live shows over the years?
HF The typical Residents' audience has always been fairly diverse. I've often spoken of the fan base as not being huge but it quite wide in terms of cutting across social strata. Of course everyone sees the fact that a lot of young people are showing up at the shows as a good thing. No one quite understands why but The Residents do have a good presence on social media so maybe that accounts for it.

M[m]: Sadly on this tour, the band didn’t make it to the Uk for a date- are there any near future plans for a UK date?
HF The Safe as Milk Festival and its demise was the reason there was no UK show. The Residents received a great offer to play the festival but the contract stipulated no other UK shows for six months before and after, consequently, we had to turn down a great offer from the Barbican. After the festival went under, The Residents’ agent went back to the Barbican, but the date was no longer available. But the venue is still interested so it’s looking like there will be another tour about a year from now with the Barbican being a prime date.

M[m]: During the late 70’s/ early 80’s The Resident’s got a huge amount of coverage & praise within the UK music press. Why do you think The Residents sound so appealed to UK audience at that time? And where the Corp & The Residents surprised by that success?
HF  Well, as I'm sure you know, the British Music press is a hungry beast and I don't know that if was ever hungrier than the 70s and early 80s. The Residents did indeed get their 15 minutes of fame but I often saw it as more of them offering a certain novelty or change of pace to a lot of the prepackaged and manufactured groups of that era. I have at times compared them to Pee Wee Herman and Mister T, who offered similar off-the-wall images and entertainment to American audiences. And yes, both Cryptic and The Residents were surprised by the reaction they got in the British music press. Albums - Meet the Residents, Third Reich 'n' Roll and Fingerprince - that had been gathering mold in a basement were suddenly flying out the door - nobody had a problem with that.

M[m]:The Residents have recently put out the four-CD anthology entitled 80 Aching Orphans?. Tell us a little bit how this came about, and how did The Residents go about choosing the tracks from such a huge back catalog as thiers?
HF As you know, The Residents are prime proponents of the “concept” album, and while they’re quite proud of their prodigious output, they also feel most of their songs work best in the context of the albums they were created for. Consequently, they saw separating these songs from their parent albums turned them into “orphans.” The group worked quite closely with Cherry Red for the selection of tracks. They viewed an outside perspective as useful for a collection like this - and were quite happy with the results.

M[m]:The projects last full-length album of new material was this year's Ghost of Hope- which is a concept album based on American train wrecks of the 19th century. What initial triggered the interest in this subject and over what period of time was the album worked on?
HF One of The Residents has had a lifelong love affair with trains and this obsession was the stimulus for the project. While the idea of train album had been long discussed, it was the concept of making it about train wrecks that created the necessary traction to move forward. Then, in the process of researching the idea, they found a book titled Death by Train, which was the final inspiration. They worked on the album for a little over two years, fitting it around tours.


M[m]: The idea of doing an album based on train wrecks sounds like it would be an entire bleak &  troubling affair, and while these elements are certainly present in the album. There are also touches of dark humor & pathos present too- did The Residents find this a difficult album to get the balance of moody right on?
HF In fashioning a project, The Residents primarily rely on instinct and intuition, consequently, there aren’t a lot of discussions about finding a balance between dark and light elements, but the ideas of humor and pathos are critical to their values, so they always try to include these elements in their work. It’s nice that you felt those emotions.

M[m]: The Ghost Of Hope was the first release on respected & long-running British independent label Cherry Red. Tell us a little bit about how this deal came about?
HF My primary partner in managing The Residents over the past 40 years has been Hardy Fox. Two years ago Hardy came to me saying that, due to health and other personal reasons, he wanted to retire. Since The Residents didn’t seem to be slowing down and I had no desire to retire, I spent most of the next year looking for new partners before finally deciding to go with Cherry Red in the UK and MVD (Music Video Distributors) in the States. While the transition was difficult in many ways, so far the new arrangement has worked out quite well.


M[m]: Coming early next year Cherry Red is putting out the first in their series of Resident albums reissues- starting with the projects debut album Meet The Residents, and 1976’s Third Reich & Roll. Can you tell us a little bit more about these first two reissues, and what to expect from the reissues?
HF I inherited The Residents’ tape archive as part of the transition away from Hardy, who was the group’s engineer and keeper of their vast collection of tapes. In the process of organizing and cataloging these audio tapes, a significant number of experiments, impromptu recordings and early versions of songs were discovered. After consulting with Cherry Red, the decision was made to include a large number of these supplementary and occasionally extraordinary recordings as bonus material for the remastered re-release series. I think long time true Residents’ fans will be quite excited by these mostly obscure and unknown recordings.


M[m]: What’s next lined up in this reissue series?
HF The plan, for now, seems to be going through the catalog chronologically, releasing several titles a year until all the major album have been re-released. As you mentioned  Meet the Residents and The Third Reich ’n' Roll are set for release in January; Fingerprince and Duck Stab are currently in the works, although I’m not sure if a release date has been set or not. Also, The Residents’ legendary Warner Bros Album, the “audition” tape they sent to Warner Music in 1970 is set for release as an LP on Record Store Day in April, 2018.


M[m]:In 2018 The Residents have two new albums due- I am a Resident, which will see the project collaborating with fans. And Intruders- an album of new Resident only material. Could please discuss each of these upcoming HF releases, and give people idea of what to expect theme & musical wise from both of these releases?
As you mention, I AM A RESIDENT! is an experiment in creating an album in collaboration with the group’s fans. The idea is that fans could create their own versions of Residents’ songs which were submitted through a crowdfunding campaign with PledgeMusic. So far over almost 120 songs have been submitted by fans. While the initial idea was to have fans vote on the best songs to be included in the I AM A RESIDENT! album, in light of the amount of material and enthusiasm the project has generated, the group has been rethinking the concept and are promising some surprises. Intruders, on the other hand, is a departure from The Ghost of Hope in that it’s a much more internal and introspective album about the mental baggage or psychic entities all of us carry around inside, often unwanted. 


M[m]:You mention that Intruders is a lot more introspective in its themes- will the musical side of things also be going towards this side of things too? And if so could we expect an ambient album?
HF No, The Residents like content and have never exactly been into ambient music. Brian Eno seems to have covered that territory well enough.

M[m]: Both of these upcoming albums will be the first releases without the input of long-time Resident songwriter Charles Bobuck. How do you feel this has affected the way the projects writes, conceives, and realizing work now?
HF Mr. Bobuck was highly involved with most of The Residents’ projects and, while his absence has definitely been felt, The Residents are nothing if not resilient. There is a concept often referred to as “addition by subtraction;” in this instance that concept could be applied in a way that allows new contributors to step forward and new directions to be pursued. The Residents, as always, are full of ideas and excited to move forward.

Thanks to Homer for all his time & efforts with the interview. The Residents website can be found here, and both The Ghost Of Hope & 80 Aching Orphans are out now on Cherry Red/ MVD. Photo credits: main front page pic, menu front page pic,  First in interview pic from the bands live performance in Belgium taken by Creeping Mac Kroki, 2nd in interview pic backstage at Belgium by Creeping Mac Kroki, 3rd  pic from live show at Tokyo by Great The Kabukicho, 4th pic from Belgium show by Creeping Mac Kroki.

Roger Batty
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