Mr. Fox was kind enough to provide a telephone interview one fine September afternoon, and the results can be found below. Please note my inability to come up with a single follow-up question for any of his answers. This was due in part to a poor telephone connection that demanded my full attention to just hear Hardy's words. It was also due to me not being a very quick-thinking human being. My questions are in bold; his answers are regular.
Could I speak to Hardy Fox?
This is him.
Hey! How ya doing?
I can barely hear you.
Hmm. Do you want to try calling back?
Yeah, let me try that.
Is that better?
(*BEEEEEEEEEP! SQUIGGLE SQUIGGLE*)
Hardy? Are you still there?
Okay, I'll call back again.
(*calls back, gets busy signal*)
(*waits five seconds, calls back again, hopes phone company isn't charging for a full minute each time*)
Is that better?
Yeah, that is better!
My phone has been acting strangely.
What was that weird beeping? Did I fax you?
No, the phone just like cuts off sometimes. Sorry about that.
That's okay. So what's a normal day in the life for you, with the Cryptic Corporation?
Oh... Sitting on the computer all day. Talking on the phone. Nothing too exciting.
Have the Residents ever indicated to you whether or not it's difficult to play their instruments when their heads are covered in giant eyeballs in concert?
Well, yeah. They didn't wear them at first. Not until they were able to create new ones out of a different material that was more porous, so they could breathe through it and see and everything. It looks solid from the front, but they can see through it. But even these aren't particularly comfortable. In fact, we just sold one of the eyeballs at auction.
For how much?
The eyeball was never intended to be the visual identity of the band. But people liked them. Some people have even tried making their own, but it's not easy to get the top hat to stay on there.
They were just really intended to be for the one record, right?
Yeah, they were originally meant just to be for Eskimo. But you know, the thing caught on. And they were getting a lot of photo opportunities at the time, so they figured they had to look like something. They wanted it to be recognizable; they didn't want to look different in every photo. So by making the eyeball the visual representation of the band, they were able to put forth a consistent look over time, which makes it easier to attract publicity year after year. Well, I guess Michael Jackson has completely changed his look over time, and he still gets publicity.
Not good publicity!
Well, publicity is publicity.
Does the band ever regret its decision to remain anonymous? I mean, even Kiss eventually took their make-up off. Do they ever have any interest in being better known as individual artists, rather than just the group concept?
No, I've never heard any discussion like that. I think they're pretty happy with the group.
So there could never be a solo album by just one member of The Residents?
Well, there could be. But it would probably still be billed as "The Residents." They know they can do whatever they want, even within the group framework.
How many people are regular members of the band?
Oh, last time I checked, I think there were about 46.
I made that up.
And what is the process? Is it usually one person comes up with an album concept and then everybody brings in their input, or do they just start writing music and then eventually writing songs and then a theme develops there or -
Well, the main thing that they do is just make sure not to use the same process twice. Like if they use one method for one album, they then use a completely different method for the next one. So it depends on which album you're talking about.
Like how did Animal Lover come about? Did they write the lyrics and then - or did they come up with the stories and then - or what was, what was, eh....
With Animal Lover, the members of the band all worked separately on the songs, without being told even what type of music the others were writing. Then they came together afterwards and put the record together. It was also thought of sorta like a film, with the stories being different scenes from the film. You know how, in some of the tracks, the music will suddenly shift from one style into an entirely different one? That's because they were all working on the music separately.
Oh. Are all the lyrics written by one person or does the whole band contribute on those as well?
On which album?
Oh, it changes? Oh, how about like Animal Lover?
Those lyrics were all the work of one person.
Oh, okay. You've been working with the Residents pretty much ever since they started, right?
Have you always supported their changes in direction?
Heavens no! No, sometimes they'd veer off into a style that, although it certainly interested them, didn't necessarily interest me.
Were there certain records that you think didn't really fully capture what they were trying to achieve?
No, it was more like they would go in a direction that I personally just didn't like. But the band members have had disagreements about their direction at times too. I think that happens in every band.
Which of their albums are your favorites?
Oh man, I can't even begin to think about that. I have too much involved in all of them. I think they each have their own interesting points.
To me, it felt like the last two records were really really mournful, maybe even more so than anything the Residents have done before, including The King And Eye, which was pretty mournful! Do you feel that way as well? Musically and lyrically, they're both just very sad.
Yeah, I think so. Demons Dance Alone happened pretty fast, right after 9/11, so that played a big part in the mood of that record. And I think Animal Lover might be the most 'down' record they've done.
Yeah, I would agree with that too. What do you attribute that to? Is there some overriding sadness, or is it just maturity with age, or just what they're into right now?
I suppose that with age comes an awareness of how the world works, and that there is a great deal of struggle and sadness in life. And also, age brings an increased awareness of death. When you're young, you don't really think about it, even though the risk is just as great. As you get older, you slowly begin to realize that death isn't just something that happens to other people. So there's a certain sadness in coming to terms with that. And accepting it.
Why is discomfort so central in the Residents' career? The films with the creepy visuals and the keyboards with the grating tones and the clashing vocals and strange chord combinations. Is it just something they wanted to do to separate themselves from the other bands?
No, I don't think so. They never purposely set out to separate themselves. And I don't think they are different from any other bands in that sense. I mean, they're certainly not playing teeny-bopper music, like The Residents certainly couldn't be compared to Britney or Christina Aquilera. But I think serious artists who put time into their craft and are trying to really create something special -- I think most of those artists gravitate towards sadder, darker material. Not everybody does, but for example, I don't think of U2 as making really happy, positive music either.
Do the Residents listen to any other modern bands you know of? Are they into any new music at all?
I don't think so. When they're not busy working on their own music, they generally prefer silence! You know, when you're playing music all day, the last thing you want to do when you're done is listen to somebody else's.
Do they have to work day jobs as well?
It is a day job. They don't work nights!
Oh, okay. So it's full-time. But when you hear the Residents, it's an instantly recognizable style. Even though they change from album to album, you can kind of always tell that it's the Residents because they have that unique way of approaching things - of looking at things. Do you think it's conceivable that they might step outside that approach at some point? Or is it too central to the way they think about art?
Anything could happen. Seriously, anything could happen. The Residents do whatever they feel like doing. And by that, I mean The Residents create the sort of music that interests them at the time, whether or not it fits into other peoples' perceptions of what Residents music should sound like. That doesn't concern them. I've heard people complain now and again that a certain record doesn't sound Residentsy enough or something, but that doesn't affect what the band is going to do. They make the music they want to make, without worrying about what people expect from "The Residents."
What were they listening to, or reading, or what at the very beginning that brought together this group of people creating music that - I mean, was there music that sounded like that before? That whole sort of "the notes seem wrong, yet right" and everything sort of clustered on top of each other? Nobody sounds like that, that I've heard. I mean, do you know what they were listening to at the time? Like The Residents' first album, Meet The Residents - how did that sort of sound develop?
Well, to them it sounded right. I think most people in the Western world are accustomed to the Western scale, because that's what you hear all the time and kinda what your ears expect. But that doesn't mean that the Western scale is more "right" than any other scale. If you go to China, for example, their music is played on an entirely different scale.
What scale are The Residents playing in mainly, when they do that?
All sorts of different ones. Sometimes they make them up! They'll do things like only play the black keys, or only play the white keys, or put pieces of tape on certain random keys and limit the full band to just those notes.
That's really interesting. Are there other things like that that they've done over the years to try to experiment with sound?
Pretty much everything they do is experimenting with sound.
Can you give a few other examples? Because that's pretty interesting. Like what was going on on The Third Reich 'N Roll? There are some noises on there I couldn't figure out whether they were guitars or synthesizers or weird instruments or -
All of the above. For that one, basically they took a stack of '45s and played each one of them, and either played along with them or came up with an alternate way of playing them, and then strung segments of each song together. It was sort of like a terrorist attack on '60s rock.
What are some other things they've done? Like Not Available. They recorded it and then just didn't put it out for four or five years?
They actually didn't release it at all. The idea behind that album was - they were operating under the theory that if you try to create music while knowing that it is going to be heard by an audience, then that knowledge necessarily affects the music that you create. So what they did was record an album with the knowledge that it would never be heard by an audience. They recorded it and filed it away. That record was only made available for purchase much later because of an argument with a record company. But that wasn't until like 1979, and they recorded it in 1974.
Did it seem like they were spending - There was a period about fifteen years ago when they seemed to be really involved in - I saw some CD-ROMS they were putting out, kinda the new artistic format. Did it seem like they were focusing as much on the actual music as they were on things like Bad Day On The Midway? I ask because, for example - although I guess they may have done this on purpose - on Gingerbread Man, all the songs have the same melody.
The same melodic phrase, yes. I don't know that they were less concerned with the music, but I know they've always been interested in new technologies and visual expression. They'd like to do more film, but it's really a difficult, crowded market to get into. It's difficult to get distribution.
What are the main goals of the artists? Have they remained the same over the years?
I couldn't say. You mean like their motivation? I guess it just must be fun. I know it's fun. So many bands get into this business because they want to be world-famous after one or two albums, and you can't think that way. You're just going to get discouraged. It has to be fun. The Residents enjoy doing what they do.
Is that what's kept the band together for so long?
Yeah, I'd say that's a big part of it.
Do you know if they ever heard any of the later San Francisco underground bands that kinda picked up their ball and went with it? Like Caroliner or the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282? Bands that were kinda doing more rock-oriented things, but kind of out of the same experimental -
No, I think they've always been kinda in their own world.
Have they ever specifically worked in any way to increase the size of their audience? By trying to change their music or trying to find a larger record company or get more TV appearances or anything? I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I'm just wondering how they go about trying to increase the number of people who at least get to hear them.
They've done things like that CD-ROM you mentioned earlier - that helped them reach a different audience. And they're actually on a pretty big record company right now. EMI's Mute label.
Oh, I didn't realize that! Okay. Do you know how well the new album is selling?
I have no idea.
Do you get the sense that there are one or two records that are considered to be the best-selling for like when people are first getting into the Residents? Like is there one record, or is it just all over the place because the catalog is so huge? Like do you think that Eskimo -
I think what normally happens is that either they'll pick up a CD and hate it, and throw it away and never listen to another one -- which is most people --
Or if they like it, then they'll go out and buy up everything the Residents have ever done. That's usually how it works.
Have they ever gotten into trouble for using samples of other peoples' music?
No, but it's gone the other way. We've sued other people for sampling the Residents' music.
Who had used the Residents' music?
Levi's and T-Mobile.
Yeah, we got a pretty large settlement from it!
What did they take? What samples?
Levi's used a piece of music from the first Residents album in a commercial. You may have seen it - it was a pretty big campaign. It had these buffalo running through the streets of New York.
How was this brought to the Residents' attention? Did they see the actual commercial?
Yeah. I remember I was sitting at home watching TV and that commercial came on, and I knew I recognized the piece of music, and suddenly it hit me - "Wait a minute!" So luckily I had TiVO going, so I captured that spot and sent it off to the appropriate contacts and lawyers and we got everything sorted out.
Oh man! Just sitting there, "Hey! That's us!" What song was it?
Oh... I don't remember the name of it.
That's crazy that they thought they could get away with that.
Well, I'm sure it wasn't Levi's themselves. It was just their composer.
Okay, I guess I've kept you for about half an hour. What's next for the Residents?
I can't tell you.
Are they touring?
Alright, well thank you very much for your time.
I'm happy to be able to answer some questions for you.
Are there any other interesting things that you'd like to have in here?
Uhh... I don't think so.
How about - what was the most expensive Residents album to make?
I'd have no idea about that.
How about - which album did they spend the most time on? Or is it always about the same amount of time?
They spent four years on Eskimo. I don't think they've ever worked that long on any record since.
Okay, well thank you very much!
Good talking to you.
Hoping you'll change the link at the bottom for readers to "buy Residents" instead from the Residents directly!
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