Follow TV Tropes


Music / The Residents

Go To
Meet The Residents

"It's said that the thing one never forgets about a person is their gender.
THE RESIDENTS are genderless.
The next most memorable feature is the face.
THE RESIDENTS are faceless.
The third thing we remember is personality.
THE RESIDENTS have no personalities."
Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide to The Residents

The Residents are a San Francisco-based avant-garde rock group that has released over 100 albums, starting with 1974's Meet the Residents. They helped pioneer the modern Music Video, and produced some of the creepiest songs, both original and covers, for nearly five decades — all while staying anonymous to the public.

Their persona has long been as a faceless collective who prefer to focus on their music. Their management group, The Cryptic Corporation, handles their legal affairs and public relations. The individual bandmates are credited under nicknames, when at all.

To this day, only one member is known: Hardy Fox, one of the Cryptic Corporation heads. He was the group's keyboard player, pianist and lead songwriter, among many other roles, from the founding years until 2016. It wasn't until 2017 that he admitted to being in the group. He died of brain cancer on October 30th, 2018, aged 73.

For additional info, Matt Groening wrote The True Story of The Residents for Uncle Willie. A documentary, Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents, was released in 2015.

Albums with their own TV Tropes pages:

Other projects:

"Trope American":

  • Abandoned Mascot: Mr. Red, was retired in favor of Mr. Skull in early 1986. Also, before the introduction of the Eyeball Masks in 1979, the group intended to have different looks for each album, with the newspaper costumes appearing frequently in promotional images.
  • Aborted Arc: The American Composer Series, where the Residents cover songs by prominent American musicians. Word of Saint Paul says that it was because the Residents had to pay royalties for the covers. The decline of records and cassettes in favor of the compact disc was also a factor - the albums were meant to be split into two distinct halves covering different artists, something the group didn't feel would work as well on CD, since the format wasn't divided into "sides".
    • Mark of the Mole was intended to be the first of a six part "trilogy", of which only four albums were released - the accompanying tour was a financial disaster that almost broke up the band, so they opted to move on to other projects. Of the released albums, Mark of the Mole is the only one to have an overall plot, and it ends very ambiguously. The other three (Tunes of Two Cities, The Big Bubble and Intermission) largely consist of music supposedly made in-universe by the clashing cultures depicted in the story.
  • Absurdism: The name of the game when it comes to The Residents.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: The band initially hoped to invoke this—they refused any form of musical training, as they felt their music would not be truly original otherwise.
  • Album Within An Album: The Big Bubble. The front cover even subtly references this - the photo supposedly depicting the Fake Band The Big Bubble and their logo is askance and casts a slight shadow over the rest of the design, as though the Big Bubble album has been placed on top of it. This is carried over to the album gatefold.
  • Almighty Janitor: Frequent guest singer Molly Harvey did not have a musical career at all prior to the band—their label had hired her to work in mail-order.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Before they had settled on a name, they sent out a demo tape to Warner Brothers. Because the return address didn't include a name, their rejection letter was simply addressed to "Residents," and they decided that it sounded like A Good Name for a Rock Band.
    • Similarly, the first official release using the Residents name was a single called Santa Dog, and when they had a copy sent to President Richard Nixon, the package was sent back, marked "Refused"; In 1999, they released Refused, a compilation of all their "Santa Dog" singles up to that point. The front cover even featured the original shipping label.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Discussed and deconstructed on Wormwood.
    Singing Resident: Nowhere does the Good Book say 'Jesus loves me.'
  • Avant-Garde Music: About the easiest way to describe their music.
  • Ax-Crazy: The narrator of their version of "Satisfaction".
  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: "Om Is Where The Art Is," off The Warner Brothers Album.
    Seattle wasn't built in a day,
    Did you know that? I bet you did.
    I have to be right, I cannot be wrong,
    After all, Jesus wasn't built in a day.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Their "managers" (officially speaking, pretty much friends of theirs who handle the business side of things for them) described working with them as more or less baby-sitting, but are basically willing to put up with it because they make awesome music.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Residents have shown up as characters in Matt Howarth's assorted comic-books, usually as musical wizards.
  • Concept Album: Most of them.
  • Cover Album: Their "American Composers" series:
    • George and James
    • Stars and Hank Forever, combining John Philip Sousa and Hank Williams.
  • Creator In-Joke: Quite a few.
  • Creepy Children Singing: Isabelle Barbier, Homer Flynn's youngest daughter. She was only three years old in her first appearance (The Gingerbread Man) and eleven or so in her most prominent (Demons Dance Alone). In Demons Dance Alone era performances, Molly Harvey sang the parts originally sung by Isabelle while putting on a more childlike voice.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: Where to begin?
  • Darker and Edgier: Nobody can agree when exactly, but after a certain point, their albums became progressively heavier and bleaker. This is especially overt with 2000's-era output such as Demons Dance Alone and Animal Lover, with somber music and lyrics and almost none of the band's more surreal or tongue in cheek elements.
  • Dirty Old Man: Randy, off-again on-again.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The band spawned from a loose collective of friends, who were all still learning to play when the group started. Songs from around this time were not so much written as they were worked together piecemeal from snippets of jam sessions. In the case of Santa Dog and prior works, they didn't so much have a lineup as a rotating cast of personnel.
    • There was no one Singing Resident when the group started. All four of them sang on recordings throughout their time on the band, and in several cases the other three would even sing lead. To muddle matters further, the member now understood as the Singing Resident also played sax for the group around this time.
    • The role of Mr. Skull was originally played by Hardy Fox, under the alias "Dead-Eye Dick".
    • Initially, the band did not use their signature eyeball masks or tuxedos, instead using a variety of one-off costumes for their publicity photos (such as the Beatles parody costumes for Meet the Residents era or the newspaper costumes for the The Third Reich 'n Roll music video). It wasn't until 1979's Eskimo when the band settled on the eyeballs and tuxedos as their "default" appearance, and even that was a compromise from their first idea.
    • Originally they used 4 eyeball masks. The skull mask was a temporary replacement after one eyeball mask was stolen, and they just decided to keep it after that eyeball was later discovered too damaged to use.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The titular character of Gingerbread Man.
    But the cookie man somehow escapes his usual fate, and he becomes the hunter, instead of the prey. But being more spirit than substance, this gingerbread man has an unusual appetite, and he feeds on energy; dark, brooding, soul-sucking energy... and the human race offers more than he can count.
  • Electronic Music: The Residents were notoriously early adopters of electronic instruments in general — it began influencing their overall sound as early as the late seventies. By the '90s, it was a key aspect of their sound.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Meet the Residents opens with a tuneless, caterwauled cover of "These Boots Are Made for Walking" with a loud, wheezing brass section, quickly summarizing what the band was all about.
  • The Faceless: The band always performs masked, and would leave their true identities to speculation. During The New '10s, however, the bandmates began going under individual names, and a former member eventually outed himself.
  • Faceless Eye: Their signature masks.
  • Fake Guest Star: Oh, so many of them. Notable instances include Snakefinger, Carla Fabrizio, Molly Harvey, Nolan Cook, and Eric Drew Feldman.
  • Fanservice: The cover of God in Three Persons depicts the protagonist, Mr. X, and the two twins, who are naked and seen from behind. Since part of the story is that Mr. X can never quite figure out which of the twins is "male" and which is "female", this comes with a hefty dash of Viewer Gender Confusion: see YMMV.
  • The Freak Show: Freak Show
  • Harsh Vocals: The lead singer of the group is known for extremely twangy vocals, which got progressively more gravelly as he aged. The others could get in on it, too — particularly on Not Available, where even Hardy manages a pretty good take.
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: According to the emcees at the Mole Show tour, "The Secret Seed" is more-or-less Mole porn funk.
  • In the Style of
  • Kayfabe Music: Has always been present to some degree, with at least one member using the Cryptic Corporation as a front to face the public without blowing his cover. Became more prevalent in their later years, as the band began taking on distinctive personas. The most notable cases are the lead singer, who often takes on numerous personas at once, and Hardy Fox, who kept up his Charles Bobuck persona even after leaving the band.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: By the late 2000's, the eyeball and Mr. Skull costumes vanished from live performances, with the band shifting towards a revolving door of costumes and individual alter egos (whereas previous eras restricted individual personas to the Singing Resident).
  • Marionette Motion: The band's stage choreography often tended towards this, sometime extending to the band themselves.
  • Mind Screw
  • Miniscule Rocking: Commercial Album, which contains 40 tracks all lasting a minute each.
  • N-Word Privileges: Averted a couple times, but in one case ("Walter Westinghouse") it's a character song about a miserable old couple, and in another (the "Black Barry" suite of Cube-E), it was the band's cover of an old spiritual.
  • Odd Friendship: With Penn, who at one point joined them on tour.
  • Orphaned Series: The Mole Series of six albums, of which only three appeared.
    • The American Composer series, which got buried two albums in under a load of royalty discussions.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The band, in their earliest years, billed themselves as pioneers of "the San Mateo Sound."
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Hardy Fox had a uniquely unpleasant variation of this — in interviews as Chuck, he stated he had horrible stage fright, which bandmates and producers would openly encourage.
  • Precision F-Strike: Their songs are usually rather clean, but they will belt out an expletive every now and then.
  • Pun-Based Title: The Third Reich 'n Roll
    • The song titles "Guylum Bardot" and "The Booker Tease" are puns on the names of musicians: Guy Lombardo, a big band leader, and Booker T. Jones, front-man of the instrumental soul group Booker T & The M.G.'s. Simiarly "Krafty Cheese" references Kraft cheese and the fact that the group thought the song sounded like "cheesy Kraftwerk".
  • Put on a Bus: After the "Randy, Chuck, and Bob" personas were retired following the conclusion of the Shadowland tour, Randy Rose was established to have been "fired" by the band and begun a new career as a painter.
  • Revolving Door Band: Right up until Meet the Residents, the group wasn't so much a band as a loose collective of friends. Word of Saint Paul has it that some of their earliest recordings featured as many as fifteen performers. This resumed during the 1980s, to a lesser extent—the band has at times been a three-piece, or even a two-piece, with the lead singer and Hardy being the only constant until 1999 at the latest.
  • Rock Opera:Though they've never been referred to as such, most of their concept albums could technically be this.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Appeared in the costumes they wore during the Cube-E tour on Pee-wee's Playhouse, which they also scored on occasion.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Mother No More".
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: Discussed on "The Crash at Crush"
  • Skull for a Head: What the band resorted to when the Red Eyeball mask was stolen and returned in a beat-up state — the skull in question was originally a prop for a photoshoot.
  • Stealth Pun: Their Cover Version of "Kaw-Liga", originally by Hank Williams, prominently samples "Billie Jean" - this has been interpreted as a reference to Williams' marriage to Billie Jean Horton.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • Their cover of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" isn't called the "most intentionally repulsive song" for nothing.
    • The Big Bubble, a Self-Titled Album by a fictional band.
    • All over the place in their demo albums, which combined a conscious lack of professional training with an irreverent sense of humor.
  • Surreal Music Video: Every music video they've ever made.
  • Take That!: They've taken half(?)-joking potshots at The Beatles a few times. Around the time The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play The Beatles was released, (since-debunked) rumor had it that the Residents completely despised the Beatles. note 
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Third Reich 'n Roll has only two tracks, "Swastikas on Parade" and "Hitler Was a Vegetarian". The cover art depicts Dick Clark in a Nazi uniform surrounded by drawings of Hitler dancing.
  • Train Song: The concept album Ghost of Hope is all about notable train wrecks, so this is inevitable.
  • Updated Re-release: Inverted; WB:RMX saw release over a decade before The Warner Brothers Album.
  • Uninstallment:
    • Initially invoked with their second album Not Available. As part of the band's "theory of obscurity", the album was withheld from release, with The Third Reich 'n Roll (the second album to be released) being billed as the band's third album in its liner notes while Not Available was only alluded to. This was replicated in the band's "pREServed" series of archival re-releases by having the reissue of Not Available and its catalog number skipped over in the first wave of re-releases and instead released later on.
    • The Big Bubble is billed as "Part 4 of The Mole Trilogy" despite the third part never being released or finished.
  • Un-person: Mr. Red Eye is a subversion. While reissues (and recent music videos) of work he did before becoming Mr. Skull still show him as Mr. Skull anyway, they still issue videos that featured him (including the old "This Is a Man's World" cover and the One Minute Movies.)
  • Vocal Evolution: The lead singer's trademark style wasn't really happened upon until the mid-seventies, and even then, he tended to play around with it an awful lot.
  • The Voiceless: They never do public interviews themselves; questions are always fielded to a "spokesperson" (often Homer Flynn). When it's a televised interview, the Residents are left to wander in the background, and the result is often hilarious.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Their lyrics are sometimes oblique enough to evoke this trope, but in a few cases, this is the intended effect.
  • Yandere: In Wormwood, "Bathsheba Bathing" basically presents King David as one of these, the unsettling melody only adding to it. Especially due to how there's some rapey implications too.