64 Parishes

The Residents

The Residents are an anonymous experimental art collective encompassing a music group, art project, theater troupe, and social experiment that evades genre classification.

The Residents

Ralph Records

Cover art from The Residents' 1979 album "Eskimo" features bandmates wearing their signature eyeball helmets.

The Residents are an art collective that originated in Shreveport in the 1970s. They are a music group, art project, technological collective, and theater troupe. The Residents project an uncompromising attitude, do-it-yourself aesthetic, and dedication to their anonymity and vision. Classifying them is difficult, as they do not identify themselves nor their influences, and they do not give interviews. The group is secretive and has never identified its members.

It is thought that the members of the Residents met in high school in Shreveport in the 1960s but the band’s cultivated anonymity and mystery make it difficult to confirm. In the early 1970s they moved to San Francisco, where they started making music recordings that were rejected by all the major labels to whom they had sent out demo tapes. It is believed they got the idea for their name when one of the demo tapes was returned addressed to “resident.”

The Residents started their own label, Ralph Records, to release their music. Their first release, Meet the Residents (1974), had to be removed from sale because its cover, a parody of Meet the Beatles! (1964), was a potential copyright violation. Since then the Residents have released a range of work. These include deconstructed rock and roll on Third Reich and Roll (1976), forty one-minute pop songs on The Commercial Record (1980), three records detailing the battles between the fictious Mole and Chub races in The Mole Trilogy (1981–1985), as well as their American Composer series (1986), interpreting the songs of George Gershwin, James Brown, John Philip Sousa, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams, among others. The group’s business and management team is known as the Cryptic Corporation, which speaks on behalf of the band and may be the band themselves, but no one is certain.

In keeping with their desire for anonymity, the Residents perform in masks and costumes, the most famous of which consists of top hats, tuxedos, and giant, over-the-head eyeball masks. The group’s live performances are conceptual and symbolic. They incorporate video, synthesizers, borderline noise, samples, light shows, and other props. They have also been on the cutting edge of computer technology, embracing Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology and releasing one of the first mass-marketed CD-ROMs of their album/stage show Freak Show (1990).