Nick Podgurski's cerebral, enigmatic lyrics, both for his current project, Feast of the Epiphany, and his previous band, Yukon, might be echoes of his speech. He's an affable, funny guy-he begins answering many questions with an enthusiastic "for sure!" and at one point offhandedly quotes Eddie Murphy Raw. But he's also the guy who will open a song with a line like "Something that was never felt is now bleeding unforced negation."
Asking Podgurski about whether songwriting typically begins with lyrics or music yields a typically heady metaphor: "I'm trying to think of how I'm visualizing it," he says. "There's one thing happening over here and another thing happening over here, and those two cylinders are just filling up with sand until they overflow and then the whole room is full."
Overflow has been a defining quality of Feast of the Epiphany since Podgurski embarked on the project less than three years ago. In that time, he's released five full-length albums, as well as a split release with Rumination, and most recently, in January, the "Radiance of Mania" 7-inch single. The albums are typically brief-most running around a half-hour, if not less-and only the first, 2011's Indivinity, and the most recent, late 2012's Temperance, are heavily composed songs with a lot of lyrics. Still, it's a staggering amount of music to take in. "It's a good bit to digest, and my preference is to do things on the shorter side and make it more manageable for the listener," he says.
A Maryland native who studied music at UMBC, Podgurski became known in the Baltimore indie scene as an enormously talented and creative drummer with the band Yukon, which formed in 2004 and underwent several changes in lineup and/or sound before finally disbanding in 2010. Around that time, Podgurski founded the label New Firmament, which released Yukon's final, self-titled album, and gave a couple of solo percussion performances as Feast of the Epiphany. But by the time studio recordings started surfacing under that name, something unexpected happened: The drums disappeared. Nearly all of Feast of the Epiphany's music is driven by Podgurski's synthesizer and vocals, with occasional contributions from bassists and guitarists, and very rarely some minimal looped or programmed beats.
At the time, Podgurski was playing drums in Extra Life, a New York-based avant-garde band led by Charlie Looker of Zs, which played its last show in January after three albums and several tours together. "Creatively, I felt pretty satisfied with working with Extra Life, as far as drums were concerned," he says. So Feast of the Epiphany took his mastery of rhythm and arranged it into a more abstract space. "The interaction between the parts is kind of a drum set, that's the way I sort of hear it," he says. "It's so interactive it becomes static, kind of forcing the drumset into another set of instruments, and then forcing those elements into such amounts of interaction that they become a static ambient field. And then simultaneously, that static ambient field can't be evaluated as a static ambient field because of its inherent parts within." He seems to realize he may be getting carried away with his own internal logic and sheepishly adds, "if that makes sense."
Feast manages to be quite heavy even without drums, and Podgurski acknowledges the influence of metal even while hesitating to put the band in that category. "I find a lot of connection to a lot of Russian black metal bands, I kind of grew up on that when I was 12 or 13." The complexity of Podgurski's music has always made it difficult to categorize: Yukon's busy polyrhythms and high level of musicianship made them stand out in indie Baltimore, where instrumental chops have not often been a high priority, but terms like math rock can be limiting.
"I don't like the notion of anything like 'music for musicians,'" he says, adding later, "Prog is hairy territory, that stuff's kind of a hole to get out of." Still, his multi-instrumentalist skills have made him a valued player in the scene; when Jon Ehrens (White Life, Dungeonesse), who contributed a guitar solo to a Feast of the Epiphany album, had an Art Department tour booked and the band's bassist dropped out, Podgurski stepped in to learn the songs quickly and play the shows.
Lately, Podgurski says, his life has consisted of "a lot of touring and couch surfing." He's now done several regional American tours with Feast of the Epiphany's current lineup-which includes Tony Gedrich (also of Extra Life) on bass and Andrew Hock on guitar-and spent much of November and December on a solo tour of Europe.
Both of Podgurski's bandmates are based in New York, though, and he says he may not be in Maryland much for a while-a January release party for the "Radiance of Mania" 7-inch at the Copycat Building was billed as "probably" his only Baltimore show of 2013. Still, it seems pretty likely that the flow of new releases will continue unabated. At the end of our conversation, when he worries that he's been babbling, I reassure him that, in interviews, "saying too much is better than saying too little." He responds, "You just explained my entire output."