“When I’m playing music, I’m not really thinking about anything.” This is the sentiment echoed by both Chad McCall and Van Hillard, the D.C. musicians who make up the ardent two-piece that is Public Figures. This singular state of mind, however, signifies not an absence, but instead an acute presence that feels as honest as breathing. It is the presence born out of a deep comfort, a natural ease, and a 20 year history of musical collaboration that now, finally, allows McCall and Hillard the ability to create a language that feels entirely like their own.
When Public Figures was formed in the early days of the pandemic, McCall and Hillard had recently seen through the benign break-up of their latest project, Park Snakes, and were considering starting a new three-piece band. Instead, they stumbled upon a sound that needed nothing more than the two of them. With Hillard on drums and McCall on bass, the duo was able to unlock a world that feels at once expansive and succinct. Their debut record ‘Year of Garuda’ unfolds straight from the source, a riotous, fun, and sincere chapter in the artists’ decades-long journey.
McCall and Hillard met in the late 90’s in Tallahassee, FL, and within years they were collaborating in various projects in the Tallahassee scene before making the decision to move to D.C., drawn to the underdog energy of the scene that inspired D.C. bands such as Jawbox, Shudder to Think, and the Dismemberment Plan, among others. They were quickly welcomed into the local punk scene and went on to play in several projects over the following two decades.
“Sometimes you find that some relationships just click better than others,” McCall says of the musical and personal connection that formed over the years.
Their latest single, Shark Song, is a spirited embodiment of what Public Figures is: creative and seemingly effortless expression. From amidst the wallop of Hillard’s drums and McCall’s lively bass—which is split between two amps to create what has become Public Figures’ signature sound—emerges a playful, delightfully odd collection of call and response lyrics: All hail the shark, and not just the great white shark (Your dear friend is circling beneath). “It just kind of came out of the blue while walking. One of those wayward ideas of such unidentifiable origin and so leftfield that you absolutely must trust them,” Hillard says of the song. “It’s a lot of fun and very pure of heart.” Listen to the track via SoundCloud below.
Indeed, Shark Song, though lighthearted, carries with it a kind of compelling authenticity, an infectious delight that seems poised to be shared with a crowd.
“One of the most important things that I know from being a music fan is going to see live music and just being a part of the song,” McCall says. “There are certain bands in certain concerts that I go to where I sing along at the top of my lungs. Music is a very powerful thing, and I just I want to be able to pay that back.”
‘Year of Garuda’ was recorded by McCall and Hillard in their basement studio – the affectionately titled House of Decay. The songs were tracked almost entirely live, creating a sound that promises to be fulfilled faithfully and with vigor when live shows return. The pair have played in various D.C. bands including Park Snakes and People Chasing People, which have shared the bill with a host of notable acts, such as French Vanilla, Priests, the Dismemberment Plan, Lithics, and more.