Father Figures Might Be the Devil

Father Figures return with Heavy Lifting.
Father Figures return with Heavy Lifting. Jim Hesterman
“I don’t believe in the devil/I just can’t at my age,” Father Figures bassist and vocalist Tom Reardon sings on “USS Destroyer,” one of the 12 strident, post-punk songs that comprise the Phoenix band’s new album, Heavy Lifting.

It’s a record centered on ego, control, and messianic urges, but Reardon (who’s also a New Times contributor) says his idea of “the devil” is a broad one: “We destroy ourselves and because of that, I can’t believe in the devil.” Over a slice of veggie pizza at Pino’s in Central Phoenix, he says, “Either we are the devil, or the devil doesn’t exist.”

Heavy Lifting is the band’s most expressive album to date, the finest showcase for knotty, interlocked sound of the trio, which includes guitarist Michael Cornelius (a founding member of skate punks JFA) and drummer Bobby Lerma. Though you could file the band next to Fugazi and Wire, the album finds the group coming fully into its own. A project full of punk-rock lifers whose DIY roots stretch back to the late ’70s and ’80s, Heavy Lifting proves age doesn’t have to dim vitality.

While it’s tempting to hear the songs as reactions to the age of fake news and Trump (“We promise you a bridge between our great nation’s past and its robust future,” Reardon intones on “NPS”), Reardon wrote most of the lyrics more than a year ago, back when the prospect of a Trump presidency still seemed outlandish.

“Tom was almost like a prophet on this one, predicting this egomaniac who’s taking the reins,” Lerma says.
“I think this record just packages the angst any normal, thinking human would have in the last couple of years,” Cornelius adds. “We’ve always been about the angst of the everyman.”

But even if the specter of fascism hangs over the record (“It’s a lens you can see things through,” Lerma says), Heavy Lifting is far from a political polemic, drawing inspiration from Alfred Bester’s 1957 science fiction novel The Stars My Destination, Moby Dick, Scorsese films, and advance-fee e-mail scams. Drawing from varied sources, the band’s penned songs as poetic as they are cynical, which articulate much more than rage.

“I would like to inspire folks to do something, rather than sit around and bitch about things,” Reardon says. “All these people say punk rock is going to be great during these years, but only if people make great punk rock.”

Father Figures play Valley Bar on Friday, April 14.
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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.