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pREServing The Residents

pREServing The Residents

It’s been almost six years now since I was asked to help San Francisco’s #1 beat group The Residents revisit their archive and oversee a reissues series which had been a long time coming, and it’s been quite an adventure. Between encounters with their amusing but confusing Mysterious Archivist, the transfer of many long forgotten tapes (many of which The Residents needed to be reminded they ever recorded) and panicked last minute calls to The Cryptic Corporation’s Homer Flynn (sadly, I have never dealt with the band directly) we’ve managed to unearth more unreleased material and cover more of the Eyeballs’ career than I think anybody first imagined. Indeed, the smart money was on The Residents themselves losing interest and moving on once something shiny caught their attention. But thankfully, despite many shiny things coming and going, that day has yet to come. 

Where to begin? As a fan my immediate response to being asked to help THEM figure it all out was panic. But that passed when I came to realise that chronology would be my anchor. In amongst all ofthe mythology and contradictions (you learn with The Residents to just accept those) surely there was one thing the Eyeballs couldn’t screw with – time. Yep, love him or loathe him, there’s just no escaping old Chronos in all his forms. Whether you perceive it as linear, all happening at once or just a construct of consciousness designed to save us from the void within, there was timeline to all of these Residential activities, and it was decided that we’d follow that. All of those curious mixed bag compilations and oddball one-off downloads, the revisits and reworkings (both in the studio and onstage) – it had always felt like something of a pick ‘n mix jumble to me personally, and I’m a tidy person by nature, so maybe I’d treat myself and put it all into some kind of order. File it away for posterity, so to speak. Preserve it, even (and thus a title was born). And what about those early tapes that never came out? Surely enough time has passed now for those to be embraced and integrated into the story we proposed to tell? All of that ‘Not Available’ saga stuff and the ‘Eskimo’ odyssey too? The rumoured unreleased albums and shelved projects? Let’s see if we can make sense of it all.

Fortunately the proposed project coincided with a period of self-reflection for The Residents, their having just accepted the resignation of Hardy Fox, their longtime studio guy, archivist and co-handler. They had this idea, see, that as they approached their dotage (as I say, even The Residents can’t mess with time) it might be more interesting to explore what everybody else thought they were, rather than keep having to explain it (which was getting kind of tiring). They were contemplating the ‘I AM A RESIDENT’ concept/project at the time, and so the idea of putting all of their long-forgotten old tapes on display for their fans to explore seemed to appeal. It would have been a very brief reissue project had it not.

So… amidst much ceremony (and many insurance policies) the group’s San Franciscan basement archive was prised open, old tapes were dusted off and cleaned up and the group began to pore over something like fifty years’ worth of stuff. And against all expectations they liked just about all of it! A lot more, in fact, than they thought they would, and it wasn’t long before their representatives began sending us tapes and tracklists, accompanied by long-winded notes concerning just how everything should be laid out. The ’80 Aching Orphans’ career-spanning compilation seemed a neat start point whilst we got our heads around all of this new stuff, and soon afterwards reissues of those classic 1970s albums began to flow, including the first official releases of both the ‘W***** B*** Album’ and what we came to refer to simply as ‘B.S.’. Chances are if you’re reading this you’ll understand why.

Over the following years, that flow became a tsunami as The Residents worked through the cornerstone releases of their catalogue.

Indeed, once they’d begun it turned out to be near impossible to stop them – slowly and precisely they moved, including everything they could on as many crammed CDs as we (the dreaded record label) thought people could handle. The Residents were insistent that all of the releases should include as much unheard material as possible and, crucially, remain affordable. They really are all about the music (maaaan) – it tends to be The Cryptic Corporation who remind them once in a while that it’s important to pay their rent too. The ‘Mole Box’ somehow managed to necessitate six discs, and by the time we reached ‘Wormwood’ we’d all lost touch with reality and felt sure nine discs was a good idea. It probably wasn’t, but we did it anyway. And just for laughs, The Residents decided they’d also like to fill some vinyl shaped gaps in their post-80s catalogue. Not they care a great deal for the format – it’s common knowledge that they took to the CD like ducks to fajitas – but they do understand their fans’ passion for collecting their stuff, and admit to the occasional wave of nostalgia themselves for those big old 12” x 12” sleeves. So once again we trusted their collective hive mind and did it. By that point, we at Cherry Red and MVD had learnt to trust their judgement, and to keep out of it. You know that thing about the act of observation interfering with the object one is observing? The double slit experiment and so on? Something like that very much applies when working with The Residents.

And now, here in what passes for 2023, The Residents are turning their attention towards their post-2000 work, which is already beginning to bear fruit thanks to a fortuitous turn of events. In January, the group performed a once-in-a-lifetime 50th Anniversary Show in their hometown of San Francisco, and insisted that myself and a couple of other New Ralph Too representatives attend as their guests. Nice work if you can get it, and the following day we were all invited to visit and pay homage at the Eyeballs’ basement archive space, overseen by Homer Flynn. Now, I wasn’t there at that time – something had caught my attention and I’d wandered off down a weird corridor which seemed to lead full circle around the building – but the story goes that my young assistant (who has since moved on to work for Mr Big Records) partook in one too many COMPLETELY LEGAL Californian jazz cigarettes, leaned/passed out onto a door and fell straight through the aged and rotting wood. After the dust had settled and Homer had picked the kid up and checked The Residents’ insurance cover (again), everybody present realised this wasn’t just an old cupboard full of unsold eyeball T-shirts (although there were plenty of those). In fact, this seemed to be an annex to the main archive, containing a batch of tapes we’d all written off as lost, dating from the early ‘80s right up to the moment Hardy sealed that door shut the day he retired. Those lost Sun Ra sessions? Check. The ‘Man’ album? Check. The Civil War album? Check. Demos for ‘Demons Dance Alone’, ‘Animal Lover’ and so on? Check. It was an incredible moment, which I arrived just in time to miss. But in that moment it became clear there was still work to be done, and I was going to need a bigger hard-drive.

Which brings us up to the present, where we find ourselves sifting through those ‘Demons Dance Alone’ and ‘Animal Lover’ demos in preparation for 2024’s releases. But during the last six years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about The Residents and this archive I find myself neck deep in. I tend to smile politely, terrified of saying the wrong thing or accidentally feeding a narc, but let’s take a stab at answering my own personal Top Ten her

1. “So whose in The Residents?”
Despite the names that commonly crop up, it was immediately apparent the day we began receiving copies of tape tracking sheets (which feature dozens upon dozens of names) that putting those names in the spotlight was probably The Residents’ greatest trick. I understand that in the mafia they call it a “lightning rod” – the guys at the top of the tree and whose names are publicly known have been put there intentionally to pull focus from what’s really going on by the people in charge. Same thing here.

2. “What about those early pre-Residents albums?“
As mentioned above, ‘W***** B*** Album’ and ‘B.S.’ have since been reclaimed. In fact, it turns out both were edited into LP side length suites back in the early ‘70s, suggesting they may have been intended to be pressed onto wax and released at the time. But The Residents stand firm when it comes to their rejection of ‘Ballad Of Stuffed Trigger’ and ‘Rusty Coathangers For The Doctor’. In truth, those two aren’t really albums at all. If you and your closest pals got really, really high, invited your wider social group over with their guitars and tambourines and then, just at the moment the party starts to lose shape and everybody is too far out to know what’s really happening, you hit ‘Record’….. well, I suspect you’d produce something almost identical to those two tapes.

  3. “OK, but what about ‘Not Available’?”
Well, as anybody who bought our 2CD ‘Not Available’ pREServed set will know by now, the original 1974 ‘X Is For Xtra (A Conclusion)’ sessions which were later reassembled into ‘Not Available’ by Ralph Records were discovered, cleaned up a little and released as an entire bonus album on that. It’s absolutely amazing – you should really check it out. 

  4.  “So who plays what in the band?”
The short answer would be that everybody has a go at everything. Between them, The Residents have a knack for turning their hands to just about any instrument, despite never having read an instruction manual in their lives. And when they can’t quite get the sound they’re after, they’re fortunate to have a wide circle of extremely talented friends to call on and help out. That’s the short answer. The long answer would be incredibly dull, and would necessitate a complicated Venn diagram.


5.  “What happened to Pt 3 of the ‘Mole Trilogy’ and those abandoned ‘American Composers Series’ albums? And the ‘Man’ album, come to think of it.”

Todate, Pt 3 hasn’t yet appeared from the archive, save for one possible track, ‘Now It Is Too Late (They’ve Begun To Mate’, as featured on our ‘Mole Box’ release). What does seem clear, though, is that Pt 3 of the ‘Mole Trilogy’ and the ‘Man’ album may share some common threads. But then that’s also true of the ‘American Composers Series’ and the ‘Man’ album.

As mentioned above, the best part of an LP side’s worth of Sun Ra material was found in that newly discovered annex, and there are a number of cover versions on those tapes that may just as easily havefounda home on an ‘ACS’ record as on ‘Man’. Also, if you take the Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘man’ and then convert it to hexadecimal via Hebrew, then hold that up to a mirror, it says ‘Mole Three’. You can check that out for yourself.

  6.   “Is there anything The Residents have refused to release?”

Fortunately not often, but yes, a few things. Those two early non-albums for one (although they did allow a ‘Rusty Concentrate’ to slip out, having trimmed the entire tape down to around seven minutes they felt were vaguely listenable). A couple of close to the bone ‘X Is For Xtra’ things too perhaps (there’s an awkwardness around the Nobody character written out of the album’s final story). But in the main, they’ve been very generous, and intrigued to see what their fans make of it all as they try to keep up.

7. “Why Cherry Red and MVD? What have they got to do with The Residents?”

The truth is we don’t really know – they chose us, which is what they do. Or at least the Cryptic Corporation do on their behalf. Presumably The Residents are old Jane And Barton fans, or maybe Lawrence acolytes. They did, after all, appear on Morgan Fisher’s Cherry Red released ‘Miniatures’ album back in the day, so a mutual awareness of each other’s existence goes back decades. And their relationship with MVD goes way back too, as does ours here at Cherry Red. Somehow those three stars aligned.

8. “Why do The Residents record and release so much? I can’t keep up, and my wife/husband/life partner/booty call/dog is going to leave me if I try”.

Again, we really don’t know. They just kinda do what they do, as and when they feel like doing it. For sure, there are lots of them, and they’ve a lot of energy to burn. I imagine it’s something like that room full of an infinite amount of monkeys with infinite typewriters, all figuring that eventually they have to hit on the works of Shakespeare, right?

  9.  “Who should I write to and tell them how much I love The Residents, how much I know about The Residents or to try to sell an old tape that fell off the back of a truck in San Francisco in 1982?”

That’d be infonet@cherryred.co.uk – we’re always up for some Residents chat.

10.  “When you die, can I have your job?”

Sure. You can use that same email address given above.

  11.  “And your cat?

You’ll need to fight my wife for the cat.

 I do hope you enjoy all of our collective efforts, and know that The Residents sincerely appreciate every penny spent, every tantalising treat foregone in order to buy their stuff, every significant other left in the past as you pursue that must-have collectable. We’ve all been taken aback by the enthusiasm for the pREServed series, the recent albums, the Record Store Day releases and so on, and The Residents do so enjoy an audience. The word “independent” is increasingly thrown about as an all-conquering virtue, and maybe it is, but The Residents understand that a true state of non-duality necessitates a far more intricate relationship based on the acceptance of a healthy dependence. They need you, you need them, and there’s nothing Sigmund Freud can say that will take that away from us all.