The Residents are making tracks about tracks on their latest album.
The Ghost Of Hope, due out March 24, is drawn from the art rock group’s passion for trains and fascination with railway mishaps. The impetus was a book called Death By Train that collects news articles about fatal railway disasters during the late 1800s and early 1900s, translating the stories and other incidents The Residents found with subsequent research into aural tone poems, using direct language from the articles and witness accounts for lyrics.
“They’ve talked about doing a project about trains for a long time,” Homer Flynn, The Residents’ manager and president of the group’s The Cryptic Corporation, tells Billboard. “One [member] in particular has a love affair with trains from the time he was a kid. I mean, they were fans of Kraftwerk‘s Trans-Europe Express, but they never could find exactly what felt like the right entry point, the right doorway to get into their own project. But they kept batting it around.”
Death By Train, according to Flynn, provided the right portal, providing for pieces such as “Horrors Of The Night,” “Shroud Of Flames,” “The Great Circus Wreck Of 1918” and “Train Vs. Elephant.” “They became very kind of intrigued by the juxtaposition of the language of that era, which is so eloquent, with the events being described, which are so horrific,” Flynn explains.
Musically, meanwhile, The Ghost Of Hope travels sonic terrain that will be familiar to many fans. “In a lot of ways I think for them this kind of harkens back to their  Eskimo album than stuff they’ve done more recently,” Flynn says. “They thought there were certain ideas they explored at the time from the point of view of soundscape and working the idea of narrative into that, ideas they didn’t explore as much as they’d like to. This was an opportunity to go back with a completely different kind of concept, but explore some of that same audio terrain.”
The booklet accompanying The Ghost Of Hope will feature details about the stories behind each of the songs as well as photographs. Flynn says The Residents would like to mount a stage show based on the album but have no firm plans for that yet. “It’s still kind of unfolding,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like it would be a very satisfying touring show, so the reality is that we have to go out and find producers who are willing to get involved in something like this to give it the treatment it wants to have, and we don’t have that connection yet.” There will, however, be several videos released for the album tracks.
And while The Residents have two more albums in the works, the group is planning “a touring year” ahead. Among the dates will be six shows March 21-23 at the Blue Note Tokyo, the Residents’ first visit to the city in 30 years. “It seemed like such a great opportunity,” Flynn says. “It’s a show mainly of old material, but they’re doing more videos for that and it’s a show that’s about dreams and all the material that’s from their catalog, stuff that’s very dreamlike. Once that gets done, then they may actually turn back towards developing more stuff for (The Ghost Of Hope).”
Check out the group’s preview video for the project exclusively on Billboard below.