Those giant eyeballs lurking in the shrubs outside San Francisco aren’t extras from a sci-fi flick. Well, at least we don’t think so. Trouble is, there’s not much about the Residents that’s truly certifiable, other than their talent, perhaps. Despite 13 albums in 11 years, the four members of the sexually indeterminate band—anonymous Bay Area cult heroes—give no interviews and no clues to their identity, and never appear in public unmasked.
During the past 20 months the foursome, disguised as moles rather than eyeballs, have made a few rare forays to the concert stage. Their purpose? To promote the first two LPs in their “Mole Trilogy” (Mark of the Mole, The Tunes of Two Cities), which focuses on an underground tribe confronting civilization. Critics praise the group’s music—a Mixmaster blend of jazz and classical, rock and syntho-pop—but most listeners find it as bizarre as the group’s penchant for sending up the Beatles. (Their first album was called Meet the Residents, their latest “hit,” The White Single.)
A few facts about them are known: The four were schoolmates near Shreveport, La., migrated to California and, during the 1967 Summer of Love, set up housekeeping over a San Mateo paint-and-body shop. “The constant fumes may have influenced their music,” surmises Hardy Fox, 39, the group’s sound engineer and co-owner of Ralph Records, the Residents’ label. “Brain damage, maybe.”
The group’s newest LP, George and James, is the first volume of their American Composer Series and features the Residents’ version of George Gershwin on one side, their impression of James Brown on the other. Next month they will offer rock clubs an hour-long video of the 1982-83 Mole Tour plus segments from Vileness Fats. That film—four years in the making—tells of two opposing races of midgets, one a band of fugitive bellhops. From moles, that’s a move toward the mainstream.