The Asbury Park hardcore band Old Wounds are back and better than ever with a new single and video and a year-end weekender that will bring them to Baltimore, Worcester, Mass., and New York City.
Backstage at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, I recently chatted with Old Wounds frontman Kevin Iavaroni, who returned to the band around Halloween after a year’s hiatus to deal with a much-needed surgery and a much-desired pursuit of cosmetology school. Immediately upon his return, the Asbury Park-based hardcore band immediately released a slammin’ single and video, “Only Your Enemies Leave Roses,” a brutal, “Watchmen”-inspired tale of betrayal.
At some point, Old Wounds promise to squirrel themselves away in a remote to cabin to complete the writing process for their next album, the follow-up to their 2015 sophomore LP, Suffering Spirit. But first the band will end the year via a weekender with a reunited Eighteen Visions that will bring them on Dec. 14 to the Baltimore Soundstage, Dec. 15 to the Worcester Palladium in Massachusetts, and Dec. 17 to New York City’s Gramercy Theatre.
Enjoy the following interview with Iavaroni about his return, his solidarity with and appreciation for the queer community, and taking Old Wounds from a local DIY band to a nationally recognized alternative approach to hardcore and metal.
Q: Where are each of you from?
A: I grew up in Monmouth County. Our drummer, Matt Guyre, grew up in Monmouth County. Michael Weintraub, the bass player, is from North Jersey and Ben Waugh, the guitar player, currently resides in Canada. He played in Old Wounds. He’s helped us in the past, filling in on tours. But we were making some lineup changes, and he was the first person to come to mind when we were thinking about who would play guitar for our band. He’s a close friend of ours. He’s a great songwriter, a very trustworthy person, and those are the only things I care about. He wasn’t on the previous album, but we’re writing songs that he’s coming up with that will be on the next Old Wounds record.
Q: How did Old Wounds get together?
A: We were a different band when I first started. I was originally playing bass in the band. They just had some demos out at the time. My band was breaking up. I started playing bass for Old Wounds. With the lineup change, with my influence, we started playing a more metallic hardcore. I became the singer after more and more kids were getting involved in the music, singing along, moshing. They were knocking the microphone into my face, chipping my teeth. I don’t have any dental insurance so I felt it was necessary to fight back and defend myself, so enter Mikey, and I just started being the frontman in 2011.
Q: What inspired your new single, “Only Your Enemies Leave Roses?”
A: I try to write all my lyrics on experiences and things that have happened to me. I’ll leave it up to the people who like my band to interpret any way they want to. That’s how I listen to music. I listen to bands, I read the lyrics, lyrics are very important to me. When I listen to bands that I like, I read their lyrics, and I’m sure I interpret in a different way than they intended.
But the basis of the song is really giving your all to a person who you love, and they stab you in the back. They betray you, which all comes from first-hand experiences.
I watch a lot of movies. I read a lot of comic books, and while I was coming up with the lyrics for this song, I was undergoing a betrayal with someone I really cared for. And there’s a comic book called “Watchmen.” There’s a character called Rorschach. He visits his friend at a cemetery who has just died, and he says, “There’s no time for friends. Only your enemies leave roses.” And I thought, “Wow, only your enemies leave roses, that is such a cool title for a song.”
I feel like a lot of people can relate to being stabbed in the back by a friend or a loved one. It happens.
Q: When will that come out on an album?
A: We’re taking it slow. We’re in the middle of the writing process now. We’re probably taking it a little bit more seriously in the coming year. Our plan is to get together, whether we rent a cabin in the middle of the woods or drive and spend some time in a house in the mountains or something … we really want to be secluded from everyday life, no technology. I feel like a lot of bands talk about really getting together and writing music this way, but I don’t know how much I truly believe that in 2017 about technology and stuff. But I want to get together and write some cool songs like we’ve never done it before.
Usually, we’ll come up with parts, put them in a group chat. I’ll say, “Oh, that’s a really cool riff,” or something like that, but I really just want to get together and write strong song-structured songs. Still be a heavy band, but take things out of our comfort zone a little bit.
Q: Are any of the songs for the next album written besides “Enemies?”
A: We have two other songs. The main focus is to write 14 or 15 songs and pick the 10 or 11 of the best of those songs.
I’m in the middle of going to hair school. I graduate in the summer. It’s something I’ve always had fun with. I always cut my friends’ hair. I do weird shit to my hair all the time. It was just something I wanted to do at the same time.
Q: What do Old Wounds bring to hardcore that wasn’t there before?
A: I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel by any means. We all came up in DIY hardcore and punk bands. I’m influenced by so many different singers and artists. I found that people who looked androgynously was something that I was cool with whether it was David Bowie or The Cure or anything like that. I just thought that was cool. Coming up in hardcore, I thought that it would be cool to be myself in a supposed scene where everyone is accepted — whether it be how I look or how I dress, the clothes I wear. I feel like anybody should feel that way too.
Q: I saw my first hardcore show in 1985 with Agnostic Front at CBGB, so I was really happy to see that rainbow flag out there on your amp because you wouldn’t have seen that at a hardcore show not that long ago. It seems like you’re taking a stand.
A: Yeah, we’re very aware that we can’t change everybody’s minds, but we can play a show with bands who would not necessarily see our band play. If we can change their minds a little bit, if they refrain from using any homophobic remarks, that means we’ve done something right. I feel like in the current day and age it’s very exciting that you can love who you want … be with whoever you want, and I don’t think anyone in hardcore or outside of hardcore should make any derogatory remarks about people and how they feel.
Q: Especially when you’re a hardcore band from Asbury Park. Did the strong community there influence you?
A: They have a great community. We came up there. Asbury Park was a very different town 20 years ago, 15 years ago, even 10 years ago. They have a huge queer community there. I really think it saved that town. They brought so many cool, diverse people in town. They have these drag shows there, they have shops and boutiques. I think the queer community really saved that town from disaster.
Q: Tell me about your transition from a local act to a national act. What about that was most memorable to you and most surprising?
A: I’ve been pretty vocal with my friends in the past, especially when we were first starting out. We always wanted to do a DIY thing, play small clubs, really close environments. But along the way I changed because a lot of the people in hardcore, as much as I love it, you can’t change everybody’s minds. A lot of people are close-minded, and they’ll see a guy like me, and they’re judgmental, which is fine. I can’t change everybody’s mind, tell people to feel one way or another. It’s probably at that point I wanted to not necessarily change our style, but we wanted to go on tour and see what we could do playing for a different (crowd) that didn’t come to see our band.
I was pretty vocal against doing Warped Tour. It took some heavy convincing … but I ended up loving it, meeting a lot of people that I continue to talk to. They’re very close friends of mine that we played with. We played to great crowds some days, some not so great crowds, but we were a fresh face on the Warped Tour. A lot of kids saw me, and they felt comfortable to make it known that I was an inspiration to them. … I feel like owe it to kids like that to push this as far as I can. If I can inspire others to change or to feel comfortable in their bodies or with their sexual orientation or whatever, I think that I did a cool thing. My parents would be proud of me.
Q: What advice do you give local bands about what the most important thing is to get to the next level?
A: Touring as much as possible, not pigeonholing into any genre or any one style of show, and just play as many shows as possible. Go on tour. Get a van, get some solid equipment, make merchandise because that’s the only way you’re going to fund going on tour, and just have fun and not care about what anybody thinks about you.
Q: What is the biggest show or festival you’ve played so far?
A: We played this fest called Don’t Call It a Fest. It’s in Detroit. I don’t think it’s a fest anymore. We played in this tiny room with 500 kids losing their minds. There were these Jack O’Lanterns right before Halloween and kids were smashing them over their heads, throwing them, jumping off the ceiling. It was insanity. That is definitely in my Top 5 favorite sets.
As far as the biggest crowd we’d ever played for, I’d say it was this last Halloween. We played in Philly with our friends in Motionless in White. That was my first show back at Electric Factory. It was really cool. We played to 3,000 kids. We had our intro, and kids before we even came out onstage, were screaming and crying. And it was cool because it my first show with Old Wounds in over a year, and it was a really, really good feeling. We had been on hiatus and been through some member changes.
I have crohn’s disease. I’ve suffered with crohn’s disease since I was 5 years old. I’ve actually had two major surgeries this year. I had two feet of intestines removed, so with that, and with me doing school, it put us on a little hiatus, but we’re back, kickin’ and screamin’.
Q: When do you think you’ll play Asbury Park again?
A: Whenever we can. We don’t have anything in mind, but I would love to play the Stone Pony again. I would love to play at the House of Independents. It’s just when somebody asks us to play or we’re playing our own headlining stint. If we can make it work, we would love to play in Asbury.
Q: What bands within the Asbury music scene are you closest with?
A: Probably Blind Justice. They’re another hardcore band from the Jersey Shore. They practice in Asbury. They’re some of my closest friends. I grew up with them. They’re going to be putting out a seven-inch this year. Really fast, angry hardcore. It’s really cool.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.