Punk rock duo Public Figures make music to amplify the imagination

Van Hillard grew up dreaming of aliens. His childhood in Caddo Parish, Louisiana was spent staring at the night sky — what he calls “imaginative fodder.” Decades later, the self-proclaimed “cryptid-head” is making music for “the amplified imagination” with DC-based punk rock band Public Figures. His second album, “Where to find a werewolf”, was released at the end of September.

This isn’t Hillard’s first punk project in the DMV. He began playing with bassist Chad McCall in the first month of the millennium, and the two haven’t parted ways in nearly 23 years, lending their talents to the quartet People Chasing People and the “militant-minded Park Snakes.” “. But the latter — in a tale artists know all too well — has been disrupted by the pandemic, leaving McCall and Hillard with an abundance of free time. They used it to form the thundering punk art duo Public Figures.

Named after the paranormal “The Mothman Prophecies” by John Keel, the band’s debut album, “Year of the Garuda”, is musically intense – smashing drums, heavy bass gear and occasional synth – and lyrically easygoing: the raw vocals from the single “Shark Song” keep repeating “All Hail the Shark”. Hillard says he uses this repetitive frame to “tell a story.”

“A lot of [lyrics] will come for a ride, and I just ride with that,” Hillard said. “These odd, fortuitous little moments, you have to wait for them, or sit back, work for them to happen.”

But the local scene veteran describes the band’s next release as sleeker, more polished and fueled by a new band identity. Political and a little nostalgic for a simpler time, the instrumental tracks highlight the duo’s hard-earned confidence in their respective musicality, as well as a willingness to try something newer and more experimental.

With lyrics about being “X-rated” and “little green men,” it should come as no surprise that Hillard is a dedicated field investigator for the International Mutual UFO Network, researching civil claims of objects not identified above. His next novel, which he describes as a “goofy little read,” is a DC-based thriller featuring interdimensional space travel.

Despite song names like “Death on Layaway” and “The Terrorist, He’s Watching,” Hillard says his main inspiration on the new album — besides aliens and creepy woodland creatures — is the pursuit of fun and positivity.

“We try to keep it simple,” he said. “We are artists. It’s still the best thing on the planet, performing in front of others. I think just about all 8 billion of us would agree, whatever your medium, it’s fun to share these things with people.

Opening for Outerloop Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. at Songbyrd, 540 Penn St. NE. songbyrddc.com. $14 to $17.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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