An Interview with Homer Flynn, Spokesperson For
The Residents have returned with their first album of new material since the 1998’s Wormwood. In Demons Dance Alone, the thirty-year-old anonymous quartet from Louisiana have found a distinctively new muse. Where departures into multimedia ventures (ranging from CD-ROM to stage shows) have caused for the past decade of The Residents’ career to be slightly fragmented, Demons finally shows a more mature band focusing solely on music again, this time from a slightly more wary viewpoint. As the actual band members have consistently refused interviews, an elected spokesperson, Homer Flynn, agreed to discuss some of The Residents’ current affairs.
By completely manufacturing their public identities and often choosing to critique popular music (Third Reich n Roll being one of the most clear-cut examples), The Residents have shown an acute sensitivity to how music is perceived by the public. In addition to this, several anniversary-related albums have been released; a 13th anniversary concert recording, Our Finest Flowers; a double album of reconfigured favorites to celebrate their 20th anniversary; another double album, Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses for their 25th; and finally, to celebrate their recent 30th anniversary, Petting Zoo, a discount-priced greatest hits, of sorts. With original intentions of obscurity and a desire to create an almost objective form of “folk art,” where do The Residents see themselves now in relation to music culture?
At this point it seems that The Residents feel they have almost come full circle. Originally, as with anyone at the beginning of their career, they were obscure, but what made them different was embracing this obscurity. From their perspective it was a blessing, allowing almost complete artistic freedom and they reveled (some would say wallowed) in it. But obviously it’s impossible, especially in our media saturated culture, to be both successful on any level and obscure. As soon as The Residents could unexpectedly read a review of one of their albums, they no longer felt that they were working in “obscurity.” But things change, and with the demise of the album as a valid cultural form (and a definite favored form of The Residents) and the rebirth of the song as the ultimate musical statement, The Residents drifted back towards obscurity again.
As four seperate individuals, how do The Residents approach composing and arranging? It seems like a rather autonomous activity. How do they manage to bring unique and individual elements to an equation that no one in specific is credited for? To use an example that The Residents might appreciate, you can try to pinpoint what George, Paul, Ringo, and John each individually brought to The Beatles, what disparate elements go into The Residents?
In general, The Residents approach all creative efforts the way some people approach cooking spaghetti — they throw it at the wall until something sticks. Beyond that, it’s difficult for me to get into many specifics. The example of John, Paul, George, and Ringo is exactly the type of comparison The Residents have always tried to avoid; to them it’s important that their aesthetics be seen group values and not individual values.
Beyond music culture, The Residents seem to have a decidedly technological slant to their work. Their implementation of template-laden MIDI synthesizers seem to suggest an interesting alternative from their earlier experimentations, as if they’re taking universally familiar sounds and twisting them to accommodate themselves. In addition, The Residents have been working in directly visual terms for most of the past decade. Unlike a lot of other musicians with such electronic predilections, there doesn’t seem to be much comment by The Residents’ on their use of technology, their feelings towards the capabilities and limitations of MIDI and CD-ROMs, among other inventions. As someone who has worked closely with them on technological ventures, how do they generally seem to approach so many potential prospects? How do you feel technology has affected their work?
I think as they have matured, The Residents have come to see themselves more as writers and arrangers, and less as mad scientists, feverishly exploring the basements of hell. They spend as much, if not more, time as ever on a project, but more energy is put into writing and arranging material than trying to create exotic soundscapes. This also explains much of The Residents’ interest in CD-ROM; not only did CD-ROM offer more visual opportunities than any previous form, it also offered (and demanded) much more writing. But technology is a two sided boomerang — at the same time it offers opportunity, it creates limits, and CD-ROM was very limited. Bad Day on the Midway was the most amibitious project that The Residents have ever produced… and at this point, it’s their only work that is truly Not Available. They are definitely looking for these opportunities again, but hopefully they will come in an area with a little more shelf life than CD-ROM.
The new album, Demons Dance Alone, seems like in a lot of ways a continuation of their last album. Where Wormword looked to biblical parable for insight into family, suffering and bizarreness, Demons Dance Alone seems to take a more modern view, the press release even describes it as being in some ways a post-9/11 album. This album also seems to signify The Residents’ return to present culture, something that hasn’t seemed like a major part of their work since God in Three Persons. How have The Residents as people, rather than musicians, been affected over the past year? Considering the somber tone of the album, how do The Residents reconcile Demons Dance Alone, which is a rather emotionally draining piece of work, with such a long history of work inspired by absurdity, humor, and direct morbidity?
It’s interesting that you should connect Demons and Wormwood; I felt similar connections, but haven’t heard it from anyone else until now. For me the common ground is vulnerability. Part of the idea of Wormwood was to reveal the humanity of a bunch of old biblical geezers with names like Jephthau, Belshazzar and Onan, who have been judged as culturally irrelevant except by extremists even whackier than the characters themselves. While the context of Demons, a collection on unrelated songs, is not as bold as the biblical Wormwood, the characters and their concerns are much the same: looking for a way to hold on to hope despite the failure of their expectations. Reflecting back on other comments above, it seems to me that The Residents were attempting to be culturally current with Wormwood and failed; after giving up, re-embracing obscurity and recording Demons Dance Alone, they may have actually connected again. Sounds like real life to me, or as real as it gets.
All of this seems to prove that vulnerability is a bit of a change of pace for The Residents. Their work shows a consistent use of character models, often grostesque and pathetic, occasionally goofy, but with the acute sensitivity that appears on Demons Dance Alone, The Residents themselves seem to be closer to the spotlight. You refer to them being connected to “real life” again, it almost feels like the shroud of obscurity is getting in the way of a directly, almost normal personal vision, rather than representing a wildly fictional creation. You refer to The Residents’ humility as being the result of attempts at remaining culturally concurrent, but the album seems to be hinting at more than that. What other circumstances led The Residents to produce such a different, direct album?
I think most of the circumstances are those that everyone eventually encounters as they experience life: mortality, aging, the consequences of bad decisions, a sense of hopeless towards things one can’t control, flat tires, weight problems, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, lost remote controls — the regular stuff.
Being as consistantly busy as they are, what are The Residents up to, now that the album has been released?
At this point The Residents are preparing to take Demons Dance Alone out on tour — and looking forward to it. It looks like this show will be a little more experimental than the last two and The Residents are excited about that.