It sounded, at first, as though I had wrong-footed Mr Hardy Fox, the so-called ‘spokesmodel’ for The Residents, when I summed the group up as scary-looking and strange-sounding. Although the latter could be open to interpretation – (“no, all experiments in disrhythmic, atonal sea-shanties sung in distorted falsetto with bleeping synthesizer accompaniment sound like that…”) – the former was fair comment: their most enduring public image was a handful of Fred Astaire-alikes – top hat, tales and cane – who had huge bloodshot eyeballs for heads. The last time they’d 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 didn’t 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 ‘What is Music? Onathon’. Basically, a few band members played at one side of the stage (synthesizer, guitar and drums), while a guy in a miner’s 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. I’m told that in the mid-80s, this was the height of technology and a riveting show. This time around it didn’t quite deliver on the promise. But I’m still glad I got to talk to Mr hardy Fox.
PS I suspect Hardy Fox is one of the eyeball heads when he isn’t acting as their ‘spokesmodel’.
Demetrius Romeo: What’s the best introduction for someone who’s 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 doesn’t come down to ‘everyone’, and that leaves an awful lot of people. So generally, anywhere you go, you’re going to find a few people who basically can’t stomach what’s 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 didn’t stomach what was popular during the 70s and realized that there’s 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 ‘The Residents’. Before that, they existed, they knew each other and it goes all the way back to their childhood. They’re actually long-term friends who grew up together, which is so much how they’ve been able to communicate over these years in the way they do communicate. It comes out of a lot of children’s 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 ‘The Residents’?
HARDY FOX: They collaborated as a group, but they didn’t have a name. In fact, they didn’t 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 ‘To: The Residents’ because they didn’t 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 it’s harder to fathom how it’s 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 don’t know, you know? I don’t know how music can really be a joke. Music has no value in itself; it’s a very abstract form. And if people enjoy it, then it seems like ‘enjoying it’ is ‘enjoying it’, no matter what.
Demetrius Romeo: How much of The Residents’ success is based on sensationalism; on the fact that we don’t know who they are or what they’re 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 Residents’ show?
HARDY FOX: Well, that they won’t be going to you’re 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 hasn’t really gone anywhere since and that it’s a very tired form. So they’ll see people who are at least trying to re-shape the concept of the music group. It’s 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: You’re welcome.