The four members of the Residents are anonymous. Since the beginning of the Residents’ career in the early 1970s, the band has not appeared in public, or been filmed or photographed, except in disguise. During the small number of televised interviews the band has given, all four members have remained silent and costumed while an associate speaks on their behalf. Their disguises took various forms— KKK robes and hoods made out of newspaper in the 1975 video for The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, mummy cloth at a 1976 performance, radiation suits in the supermarket— until the band debuted its most famous costume on the cover of Eskimo (Ralph 1979): matching tuxedoes, white gloves, canes and top hats, and a mask on each member’s head in the shape of an eyeball.
For the first thirteen years of the Residents’ activity, it was nearly impossible to tell which Resident was which. On the Mole Show tour in the early 1980s, the band performed costumed behind a scrim. One is slightly shorter than the others, and two distinct male vocalists with Southern accents can be made out, but that’s about all a fan of the band could certainly say. Then, according to the band, one of the eyeball heads was stolen after a show at the Hollywood Palace on December 26, 1985. Ever since, one of the Residents has worn a skull mask; this Resident is sometimes called “Mr. Skull” or “Mr. Deadeye.” In the Residents’ recent performances, Mr. Skull has been identified with the deep voice that sang “Hello Skinny,” “Kaw-Liga,” and “Moisture,” and that appeared as interviewer “Sid Powell” on the Residents’ 5th anniversary radio special. However, Mr. Skull stood behind a keyboard in 1985 while the singer with the deep, rough voice stood out front in a wig and fake ears, so it is not, presumably, always the same Resident under the skull head.
The Residents’ concealed identities have allowed the group to maintain nearly total control over its own image and history. From the beginning, the band controlled every aspect of its creations and their presentation, recording in a home studio, designing album covers and artwork as “Porno Graphics” (spelled differently on each release – “Poor Know Graphics,” etc.), and releasing music through the band’s own Ralph Records label. In much the same way, the band has written its own story. It is impossible to verify the claims the Residents have made about their past, since the band’s members cannot be identified. Then again, some of the story of the Residents’ early days pieced together by writer Ian Shirley sounds plausible enough: in 1966, the story goes, two or three or four of the Residents left Shreveport, Louisiana to meet up with another who had moved to San Francisco. They ran out of gas in San Mateo, a suburb outside San Francisco, and decided to live there, renting an apartment above an auto painting shop. The roommates began making tapes in 1970. These early recordings, Rusty Coathangers for the Doctor and The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger, have never been released. The band sent a tape to Warner Brothers, which has come to be known as Warner Bros. Album, but Warner Brothers apparently did not recognize the value of such tunes as “Snot and Feces Live at the Grunt Festival.” Since the band had not provided a name, Warners’ rejection was addressed to “The Residents.” Whoever addressed this envelope named the band.