Josh Krajcik returns from the brink

The singer and songwriter, who headlines the Columbus Arts Fest on Saturday, June 8, opens up about the near-death experience that inspired new album ‘EPIPHANIAC.’
Josh Krajcik
Josh KrajcikChris Casella

“Don’t look back/Don’t be sorry,” Josh Krajcik repeats on the pulsating, meditative “Pillar of Salt,” which kicks off the Columbus singer and songwriter’s new album, EPIPHANIAC.

And yet, much of what follows ignores at least part of this advice, the musician conjuring a series of synth-heavy, inward-looking tracks born of a near-death experience that occurred five years ago and with which he is still coming to terms.

“I had a medical emergency where I almost died, and I was in the hospital for 14 or 15 days,” said Krajcik, who was rushed to the intensive care unit at Wexner Medical Center with a failing liver that he attributed in part to years of heavy drinking. “And that experience was, of course, a trauma. But it was also this big shift in my whole trajectory as a person. And, honestly, much of this record is about my survival. I mean, it’s easy to call your own [music] heavy when it’s just art, right? But in this case it’s sort of true, in that there was this contemplation of self to discover my wounds and heal them. … I’m sure someday I’ll listen to [the album] and get spooked out by the whole thing.”

The songs populating the record are at turns desperate and hopeful, the musician balancing alarm and anger (“Out into Orbit,” a track Krajcik described as “more caustic” and “a bit of a tantrum”) with an understanding that better days could still be possible should he pull through. “If I survive,” he sings amid undulating electronics that whirr like medical machinery on “Save Me,” “I’m going to show you all my love again.”

EPIPHANIAC never sugarcoats the challenges inherent in this process, tracing the slow arc as the musician pulls himself from the hospital bed and slowly reestablishes a precarious sense of footing. Falling near the end of the album, “Please Take Me” finds Krajcik “getting stronger,” even as he cautions that “I’m probably still dead as hell.”

Krajcik said he started work on the songs that make up EPIPHANIAC on the day he was released from the hospital, and the heaviness of that experience gives weight to the album even in those moments he sings about being adrift in the cosmos, which he does on both “Out into Orbit” and “You’re Waking Up.”

The musician traced some of these lingering interstellar themes to the allure the night sky held over him as a child, and in particular the sense of mystery it inspired in him that there are worlds and realities that could exist outside of our own.

“I’ve always been fascinated with and terrified by the cosmos, in general. But then I could see a thinness to the fabric of reality in some of my more manic states,” said Krajcik, who plans to perform EPIPHANIAC in its entirety when he takes the stage at the Columbus Arts Festival at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 8. “And I began to imagine myself in many places at once. … Like, there’s a Josh who didn’t make it out of the hospital. And then you start asking, ‘How many have made it?’ And I began to think of infinity that way. And I think that dancing with the Reaper, being that close to death, made me see it. I used to think of infinity as something a long time from now, but it hit me that it’s everything and it’s all now.”

The album’s denser, electronic soundscapes were similarly shaped by Krajcik’s earliest memories, with the musician incorporating rich layers of keyboard, an instrument he initially gravitated toward as a child. “It’s a really keyboard heavy record, and I think it’s because keyboards were my first love when I was a little boy, and a lot of this record is reconnecting with him, in a sense,” said the musician, who in the process of making the album began to wrangle with the patterns of self-destruction that have plagued him from adolescence. “And I think [that process] is easier if you personify some of your emotions, and imagine him, tiny Josh, who’s still not made whole and who’s still unfulfilled. … And then I took that idea, and sonically I leaned into some of the sounds that I always loved as a kid. I really wanted to take those things I loved listening to in the backseat of the car in 1987 and then corrupt them and make them my own, and then give it to that personified emotion that is tiny Josh.”

While Krajcik wanted the album to musically sound “as busy as [his] mind felt,” he takes a more simplified approach with his words, which often project a comparatively meditative, mantra-like quality. “I think there was maybe a subconscious attempt to be almost childlike, at times, in my approach,” he said. “I liked that idea of saying very little but that could still make somebody feel a lot.”

Krajcik has grappled with the idea of mortality in the past, pointing to the song “Oblivion,” off the 2017 album of the same name, as just one example. On the track, which arrives filled with allusions to looming shadows and grinning devils, the musician positions death as the end of consciousness, driven to tortured screams by the belief his existence will one day be swallowed whole by an all-consuming blackness.

“And now I reject the thought of that,” Krajcik said. “With this record, I’ve come to a new conclusion that’s more hopeful, and more in line with those ideas of infinity and space. For me, it’s like the possibilities now are so endless, how could I ever possibly narrow it down?”

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