It sounded, at first, as though I had wrong-footed Mr Hardy Fox, the so-called âspokesmodelâ for The Residents, when I summed the group up as scary-looking and strange-sounding. Although the latter could be open to interpretation â (âno, all experiments in disrhythmic, atonal sea-shanties sung in distorted falsetto with bleeping synthesizer accompaniment sound like thatâ¦â) â the former was fair comment: their most enduring public image was a handful of Fred Astaire-alikes â top hat, tales and cane â who had huge bloodshot eyeballs for heads. The last time theyâd toured Australia was in 1986. I was a school boy but I still remember the first time I became aware of them, on a giant poster on the wall of Red Eye Records. I even purchased a few CDs. Let me tell you: the bloodshot eyeball Astaires really were scary looking, and their music is weird-sounding.
Seeing them live didnât quite live up to the mystery, although they were less painful to listen to than many of the other performers sharing the bill in the 2005 âWhat is Music? Onathonâ. Basically, a few band members played at one side of the stage (synthesizer, guitar and drums), while a guy in a minerâs hardhat-with-lamp moved bits of the set around. A man and a woman with fake witchiepoo noses (not unlike Connie Booth in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), looking like rejects from HR Pufnstuf or any other Sid & Marty Krofft-produced television shows from the 70s, made the entire thing look like a bad high school musical. Iâm told that in the mid-80s, this was the height of technology and a riveting show. This time around it didnât quite deliver on the promise. But Iâm still glad I got to talk to Mr hardy Fox.
PS I suspect Hardy Fox is one of the eyeball heads when he isnât acting as their âspokesmodelâ.
Demetrius Romeo: Whatâs the best introduction for someone whoâs coming to The Residents for the first time?
HARDY FOX: Well, probably not to tell them that they have eyeball heads and that they play weird music. That scares pretty much everyone away right off. We actually found that not everyone likes mainstream music. You know, maybe most people do, but that still doesnât come down to âeveryoneâ, and that leaves an awful lot of people. So generally, anywhere you go, youâre going to find a few people who basically canât stomach whatâs currently popular, and those people love to hear about someone like The Residents.
Demetrius Romeo: The Residents have been making the distinctive music that they make for a few decades. How did they come into being? Where they a collective of people who just didnât stomach what was popular during the 70s and realized that thereâs a different way, that there are different sounds to be made?
HARDY FOX: Well, The Residents as a group begins when they have the name âThe Residentsâ. Before that, they existed, they knew each other and it goes all the way back to their childhood. Theyâre actually long-term friends who grew up together, which is so much how theyâve been able to communicate over these years in the way they do communicate. It comes out of a lot of childrenâs games, I think, and a type of understanding. They actually became The Residents in the 70s, when they decided to more formally organise to do something, or to do things together.
Demetrius Romeo: Had they collaborated together in smaller groups before they decided to come together as âThe Residentsâ?
HARDY FOX: They collaborated as a group, but they didnât have a name. In fact, they didnât have a name until they sent a recording in to Warner Brothers without a name on it and when the demo was returned to them, they had just addressed it âTo: The Residentsâ because they didnât know who to send it to. So they took that as an omen that they were to take that name.
Demetrius Romeo: Because so much is constructed behind an artifice of some sort, because there are hidden identities, because the music is unlike anything we have heard and because itâs harder to fathom how itâs made, is there ever a sense that it could all be some sort of on-going practical joke?
HARDY FOX: I think some people do think that. If it was, or if it is, it should at least be acknowledged as one of the longest-standing and longest-running practical joke in history, perhaps. But I donât know, you know? I donât know how music can really be a joke. Music has no value in itself; itâs a very abstract form. And if people enjoy it, then it seems like âenjoying itâ is âenjoying itâ, no matter what.
Demetrius Romeo: How much of The Residentsâ success is based on sensationalism; on the fact that we donât know who they are or what theyâre really doing back there?
HARDY FOX: I think, a large part originally, but I think after thirty-three years, not very much. I think the people who have been hanging in there for this long are in there because the things that The Residents do are actually very interesting and entertaining. Anyone who sees them on this tour will find that to be true.
Demetrius Romeo: For the uninitiated, why should they come and see the Residents? What can you guarantee at a Residentsâ show?
HARDY FOX: Well, that they wonât be going to youâre typical rock show. In fact the Residents sort of abhor the concept that bands have become, which they sort of feel is embedded deeply in 70s mythology, and they just feel that it hasnât really gone anywhere since and that itâs a very tired form. So theyâll see people who are at least trying to re-shape the concept of the music group. Itâs sort of like being captured by aliens, but that in itself is not a bad thing.
Demetrius Romeo: Hardy Fox, thank you very much.
HARDY FOX: Youâre welcome.