Of all the bands on our Weird List, The Residents probably offer the richest vein of subject matter for a documentary. You don’t last 40 years performing in outlandish costumes and releasing tons of music, video and multimedia work without racking up some serious film fodder.
And yet, apart from a short, satirical 1990 film called The Eyes Scream: A History of The Residents, no one has ever really captured the story of one of the weirdest and most mysterious bands of all time in cinematic form. A group of filmmakers from a company called Well Dang! Productions tried just a few years ago, but that project was apparently abandoned, probably due to some combination of lack of funds, the band’s unwillingness to participate, and being called Well Dang! Productions. But now, it looks like The Residents documentary void is finally about to be filled.
The film, called Theory of Obscurity, is being made with The Residents’ full participation, which is a big plus. They just completed shooting the band’s 40th anniversary tour, and claim to have been granted “unprecedented access” to the Residents archives. They’re aiming for a 2014 release, but they’ve already released a preliminary trailer, which you can watch below. You can also watch their ongoing 143-part Vimeo series called “In My Room,” featuring interviews with Randy, the band’s old-man-masked lead singer. In the latest installment, he talks about his wishbone collection.
No self-respecting independent film project doesn’t invite some form of crowdfunding these days, and Theory of Obscurity is no different. So if you want to help the first official Residents documentary see the light of day, follow this link and give generously. Hey, it’s way cheaper than a box set in a refrigerator.
Regular readers of this blog know that we can be procrastinators sometimes. We reply to comments days after they’ve been posted; we announce little things like bands getting new lead singers two months after the fact. Hey, a blog this good takes time to craft, okay? That and we may be easily distracted. Squirrel!
So please forgive us, dear reader Mike, for taking nearly two years since your comment suggesting that we add Renaldo and the Loaf to the Weird List to finally, you know, add Renaldo and the Loaf to the Weird List. We’ve been working our way up to it. (And yeah, we know, no Butthole Surfers yet, either. We’re working on that one, too.)
For those of you not familiar (and there probably aren’t many of you, since at least 10 other people* since Mike have also recommended them to us), Renaldo and the Loaf are a British duo best-known for a series of albums they released in the ’80s on Ralph Records, the label run by one of their biggest influences, The Residents. Using various tape delays and effects to distort vocals, guitars, drums and other mostly acoustic instruments, they created songs that unfurled like carnival music for lunatic asylums, full of oddly tuned guitars, funhouse percussion, nonsense lyrics, start-stop rhythms and a general sense of silliness that many a pretentious “avant-garde” recording artist could stand to learn from.
Most folks probably discovered R&L with their first Ralph Records album, 1981′ s Songs for Swinging Larvae. But Dave “Ted the Loaf” Janssen and Brian “Renaldo Malpractice” Poole actually first began making music together about a decade earlier, as they outline in the somewhat patchy autobiography on their official website. Fun fact: one of their earliest influences was
T. Rex Tyrannosaurus Rex, the early, psychedelic folk incarnation of the band that would later come to be known as T. Rex.
After they hooked up with The Residents, R&L cranked out a bunch of music, including reissues of some of their earlier material, three studio albums, and a collaboration with The Residents called Title in Limbo. But by 1988, they had decided to call it quits. Since then, both have continued to release music through various projects on their own: Brian Poole in collaboration with various artists under names like Fiction Friends and Shouting Hat, Dave Janssen mostly solo as Mr. Sneff, The Darkening Scale and The Tapeworm Vessel (the latter with Sylvie Walder). Janssen has also remixed a lot of old R&L material and posted most of the results on his website, where you can download them (along with his various solo efforts) for free.
In 2007, Poole and Janssen reunited to write some new songs for the soundtrack to an independent film called Kirk Mannican’s Liberty Mug. You can listen to one of the new(ish) tunes on Janssen’s website, buy the whole soundtrack (most of which, fair warning, is not Renaldo and the Loaf) or watch the whole film for a mere $2.99 on Amazon, of all places. Remember when you had to drive to some sketchy “artist’s district” and paw through milk crates full of old VHS tapes in the dimly lit back of an “independent” video store to find such treasures? Oh, Internet, you make our lives so hassle-free.
Renaldo & the Loaf fans are a technologically adept bunch, so practically everything the duo ever recorded has been uploaded on YouTube. But apart from the occasional fan-made video, very little visual accompaniment to their music exists. They never really cashed in on the whole MTV thing and their only live performance, in 1980, was not videotaped. (It was, however, recorded and just released on CD for the first time this year, along with a reissue of their first album, Struvé and Sneff; only 500 copies were made, but if any are left you can order one from this place called the Klanggalerie.)
Fortunately, however, we do still have access to a short film from 1981 called “Songs for Swinging Larvae,” based on portions of various tracks from the album of the same name. It is literally the All-Time Most Posted Video in Our User Comments, so most of you have probably seen it by now—but it’s worth watching again. By now, that little kid must be pushing 40. And he probably still has an irrational fear of hair rollers and hand puppets.
*Others who have repeatedly suggested we write about Renaldo and the Loaf: Hambu hodo, TommyTopHat, Melody Felicia-Baril McGinn, EThan and Frederson. Sorry it took so long, y’all.
Even in the world of weird bands, The Residents have pretty much always hummed their own tune. So it figures that at a time when seemingly ever band on the planet is launching a Kickstarter to fund their next record, The Residents have basically decided to force fans to start their own Kickstarters just to buy their next record.
Did I say record? I meant box set. Wait, did I say box set? I meant MOST GARGANTUAN SET OF MUSIC EVER RELEASED BY ONE BAND IN THE HISTORY OF RECORDED MUSIC.
Seriously, this thing is ridiculous. It comes in a fucking working refrigerator, for starters. It includes everything The Residents have ever released in their entire 40-year history, including 40 LPs, 50 CDs, and approximately one metric butt-ton of singles, EPs, DVDs and God knows what else. It even includes an authentic Residents eyeball mask and top hat. Who knows, maybe even one worn by the actual Residents, since they’ve ditched the eyeballs lately in favor of an old man mask and what I’m gonna call Tusken Raider lounge singer costumes.
And oh by the way, here’s the most ridiculous part: Each Ultimate Box Set (UBS) will set you back a mere $100,000. No, that’s not a typo. You could literally buy a house in Pittsburgh right now for less than the price of this box set. I’m not even misusing the word “literally.”
There are only 10 of these things in existence and they go on sale Christmas Day. Wonder if anyone will give them as gifts? Wonder if anyone will have the balls to put this on their wish list? “Never mind the Xbox, Mom. Or college. Just give me a fridge full of Residents!”
After they’ve raked in a cool million from these box sets, The Residents will kick off 2013 with a bunch of tour dates celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band. After the dates below, stick around for an Ultimate Box Set infomercial starring The Residents’ lead singer, Randy Rose. Oh yeah, hadn’t you heard? The Residents “revealed” their identities in 2010. Apparently their names are Randy, Chuck and Bob. So now you know.
The Residents “Wonder of Weird” Tour Dates:
January 29, 2013 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
January 31, 2013 – Austin, TX – Scottish Rite Theater
February 1, 2013 – Dallas, TX – Kessler Theater
February 2, 2013 – Dallas, TX – Kessler Theater
February 3, 2013 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
February 5, 2013 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
February 6, 2013 – Carrboro, NC – Carrboro Arts Center
February 8, 2013 – Northampton, MA – Iron Horse
February 9, 2013 – New York, NY – Stage 48
February 10, 2013 – Washington, DC – Sixth & I Synagogue
February 11, 2013 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café
February 12, 2013 – Boston, MA – Institute of Contemporary Art
February 15, 2013 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
February 16, 2013 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
February 17, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
February 18, 2013 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
February 21, 2013 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Theatre
February 22, 2013 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre
February 24, 2013 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s 365 Club
February 25, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
February 26, 2013 – San Diego, CA – Belly Up
February 28, 2013 – Santa Cruz, CA – Rio Theatre
Now here’s that infomercial. I could be wrong, but after watching all seven minutes of this thing, I’d swear The Residents must be Insane Clown Posse fans.
Another old-school weird band that probably needs no introduction, unless you’re only acquainted with them by way of “Whip It.” Oh, there’s so much more to these guys!
Lots of bands have concept albums, but DEVO (or Devo, or occasionally DEV-O) are sort of a concept band. Their name is short for de-evolution, a quasi-satiric concept developed by the band’s founding members when they were art students at Kent State University in Ohio in the ’70s. Basically, the idea is that humans are actually devolving into less sophisticated life forms, and DEVO are here to save us from our slow descent into mindless puerility—or possibly speed the process along. Or at the very least make merciless fun of it in the form of catchy yet deliberately mechanical songs with lots of synthesizers and spastic vocals.
Part of the DEVO mythology centers around the group’s matching outfits, usually brightly colored jumpsuits that look like a cross between factory worker and Star Trek alien combined with a round, multi-tiered hat called the Energy Dome. According to band member Gerald Casale, “the Dome collects energy that escapes from the crown of the human head and pushes it back into the Medula Oblongata for increased mental energy.” It also makes you a total babe magnet. (Okay, that last part might only be true at DEVO shows.)
Fun fact: in 2008, McDonald’s released a Happy Meal toy called “New Wave Nigel” sporting the signature DEVO Energy Dome hat. Initially it was reported that the band sued McDonald’s for trademark infringement, but DEVO’s law firm later insisted that no suit was filed and the dispute had been “amicably resolved on mutually agreeable terms.” (Which we’re pretty sure is lawyer-speak for “McDonald’s paid us a crapload of money.”) You can’t get New Wave Nigel in your Happy Meal anymore, but last we checked, he was going for $2.95 plus shipping on eBay.
DEVO broke up in 1991, and although they’ve continued to make public appearances over the past decade or so, they haven’t done much in the way of new material. But they’re going on tour this November to promote the reissue of their two most seminal albums: their 1978 debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and 1980’s Freedom of Choice, the set that featured “Whip It.” So this seemed like an appropriate time to give them a spot on TWBITW.
Good to have you back, guys! Now here’s a clip of DEVO performing on Letterman way back in 1982. Pop music was so much more interesting in the Eighties.
Jake and I debated for hours over which band should be the subject of our First Ever Post, but in the end, there was only one band we could agree on: The Residents. Weird bands don’t come any weirder than this mysterious foursome, who have been cranking out bizarre, experimental music (some of which most folks probably wouldn’t even call “music”) for about four decades.
Right from the get-go, The Residents were unlike anything that come before them. They kept their identities secret and rarely gave live performances until the early ’80s, when they finally began doing concerts dressed in matching tuxedos, top hats and giant eyeball masks. Their albums were pastiches of tape loop samples from other recordings, atonal skronk, carnivalesque psych-rock and avant-garde noise. They are perhaps best-known for 1980’s Commercial Album, a collection of 40 one-minute songs that the band explained could be rendered into conventional pop songs just by playing them three times in a row. To get the songs on San Francisco Top 40 radio, the band bought advertising time and broadcast them as commercials.
We know you’re probably asking yourself: Why the one skull mask? In 1985, the lead singer’s eyeball mask was stolen, so he replaced it with a giant skull mask and changed his stage name to “Mr. Skull.” When a fan returned the old eyeball mask, the band announced that the mask was now “unclean” and therefore would be retired. See? It all makes perfect sense.
We could go on about how unbelievably weird The Residents are, but honestly, our writing skills are probably not up to the task. Instead, we leave you with this video from one of their live shows. This song, “Constantinople” (not to be confused with the catchy ditty popularized by They Might Be Giants), comes from the 1978 album Duck Stab/Buster & Glen, which is widely considered to be one of the band’s more “accessible” efforts. Accessible to who, exactly, we’re not sure.