Eighteen months ago, when Running With Panthers frontman Drew Podsgorski went to bed, the last thing he expected was to wake up with no feeling on one whole side of his body. But that's what happened.
The relatively clean living, late-20s dude had a stroke that altered his life forever.
Some backstory: Podgorski made a bit of a name locally with pop-punk band Just Ask, and when he needed another outlet he formed Running With Panthers with Stevie Michael of the Grande Nationals. However, RWP fizzled when various members got married or day jobs, or both.
Podgorski was working as a video editor for an advertising agency when the stroke hit him. The singer says the company, which will remain unnamed, promised to hold his job while he recovered. When he was back on his feet, the job was gone. "They fucked me hard," Podgorski says.
While laid up in the hospital and then at home, Podgorski became increasingly bored and he started working on some of the old Running With Panthers demos that had remained untouched for a few years. Before long, Podgorski and Michael (bass), plus Scott "Scooter" Crowley (guitar), Miko Mader (guitar) and Seth Reese (drums) had re-formed the band, and the singer's miraculous resurrection was all but complete.
Podgorski couldn't have predicted any of that incredible drama when Running With Panthers formed in 2009. "Stevie sings in the Grande Nationals, and I was in Just Ask," Podgorski says. "Stevie works at the WAB, which is where punk rock is in Ferndale. I was saying that I hate the way my band is and Stevie was saying the same. Scooter was in a band called Bourgeois Filth. Scooter's always been in a cool band, but he's silly and awesome. Stevie's the mayor of Ferndale. Walk around with him in the day and it's ridiculous. So Stevie and I got sick of shit and wanted to do something fun."
The band fell apart when he started work with the aforementioned ad house, where he says he worked his ass off. "I was kinda pissed because I was really busy and it just ended without a talk," he says. "I owed money to the band because I couldn't afford my tab at a bar. I owed $200 from multiple shows. It's great when you play a show and make some money, and then hand it right back to the bar. But we don't do this to make money, obviously. It's Detroit. I didn't have to pay that $200 back, so that's cool. It's the only money I ever made from rock 'n' roll."
Within a year, Podgorski had gotten sick. "When I was in the hospital, my girlfriend's dad came round and fixed a bunch of stuff for me, like a handle to help me up the stairs, things to help me shower and whatever," he says. "Stevie came over and helped, which is the kind of guy he is. He has a wife and a kid, he works a million hours, and he still does that shit for me. When you get sick, you have to figure out who you want around you, especially when you nearly die. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."
Some would likely have crumbled, as this wasn't a minor situation that required a few weeks of bed rest — just ask Tony DeNardo from the Muggs — Podgorski was essentially paralyzed on one side. Initially, he couldn't walk or use one of his arms. However, we're talking about one tough bastard and, slowly, he got back up.
"Having a stroke is intense," he says. "Everything's different. My hand is all fucked up. It feels like it's crushed in a door and it hurts all day, but I'm OK with it because what's the alternative? That's the other shitty thing — people like to point out the alternative — 'You should realize how lucky you are.' Fuck you! I'm not lucky! People say, 'Think about what could have happened.' Put that in your story: things not to say to sick people. Anyway, I got on my feet again, and I looked terrible. I looked like Rick Rubin after he got crushed by a bus."
So Running With Panthers has re-formed, and Podgorski has his creative outlet again.
Sonically, the band is a heady brew of hardcore, pop-punk, anthemic metal and, vitally, comedy rock. "Weird Al Yankovic is one of the most creative things that ever existed in history," Podgorski says. "Explain Weird Al, and then explain the pyramids. Taking a bunch of songs, putting it in one song, and playing it, awesome, on the accordion. I really love comedy. It's my favorite thing of all time, more so than punk rock. My dad never showed me rock 'n' roll. He was in a different place. We'd watch Super Dave Osborne, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison. He was really funny, my dad. He passed away when I was 15. But that's how I deal with pain — laughing. It's better than crying. Crying's OK too, but crying all the time is really annoying. So that's why I love Running With Panthers. I get to be a silly motherfucker. I've always been silly and shit. My whole thing is to make Stevie laugh with a song title and an idea for a song. If anybody else likes it, that's a bonus."
So then it makes sense that, since the reunion, Running With Panthers has played aftershow parties for ska-punkers the Suicide Machines and camp English rockers the Darkness.
They have a huge show coming up, supporting for Steel Panther at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. Besides the Panther connection in the name, it's a great match, as both bands are satirical.
"We played an aftershow for the Darkness that fucking bombed because we weren't allowed to start playing until the band had left the building," Podgorski says. "By that time, everyone else had left too. The Darkness was hanging out with us before, though. The Steel Panther show won't bomb. That'll be a party."
Look for an EP soon; the Steel Panther show is the launch party.
"We're working on a second EP now," he says. "We decided to put out two EPs rather than one full length, as there is more art. I hate going to shows and the bands have a burned CD with a piece of paper in it. If that thing isn't for free, you're an asshole."
Podgorski's an angry dude and a funny bastard. He's soft-spoken but passionate. He's suffered a lot but grins like a goon. Having his band back is helping his recovery, to be sure. He has work to do but he's getting closer to "normal."
He's sums the experience up as a life lesson.
"Getting sick, you understand more about life, politics and shittiness," he says. "With the Panthers, we have a song called "No We Will Not." One of the lines is, 'I won't be seen rollerblading down the street, or support a war before health care that's free.' That's how I feel. I'm being grouped in with a whole group of people, and it's stupid because it's really hard to get health care and I'm insulted when I hear things on television."
He pauses. Then he says, "Near where I live [in Ferndale], there's a Planned Parenthood clinic and it's not even an abortion clinic. It's just people helping people. My whole street was just filled up with motherfuckers with signs about dead babies and shit. I called the cops because they were parked on the wrong side of the road. That's the only time I've used the cops for my own good."
With Steel Panther at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on April 26; 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980.
The debut EP, "Your Face," drops Record Store Day, April 21, via Bellyache Records.