"Imagine your torso being cut open, and someone putting their hands inside of your stomach," says Old Wounds frontman Kevin Iavaroni, gesturing as if to disembowel an invisible foe. "Imagine them just grabbing whatever guts are in there, squeezing them, twisting them, turning them whichever way they please."
What Iavaroni describes isn't some fictional horror story; it's Crohn's disease, a chronic, incurable disorder of the digestive tract. From the time he was a toddler, the now 25-year-old musician has suffered flare-ups: unpredictable bouts of severe gastrointestinal distress lasting anywhere from hours to days. His vegan diet and straight-edge lifestyle do wonders for warding off the pain, but his preferred form of therapy is screaming his lungs out.
"I black out sometimes when I'm singing," he reveals between mouthfuls of vegetarian pho at a modest Vietnamese spot in New Brunswick, New Jersey — which he loves enough to frequently make the hour drive from his hometown in the seaside town of Asbury Park, where he currently lives with his girlfriend. "It's almost as if my brain goes numb, and my body loses all feeling: things happen to my body that I don't feel until after I'm done. When I'm performing, there's so much adrenaline being pumped through my body that I don't feel much."
By late 2016, however, even Iavaroni's primal scream therapy couldn't numb his pain, and Crohn's forced him to bow out of the band. He had two surgeries and nearly a full year passed, then on Halloween he surprised fans with a moshy, goth-tinged new Old Wounds single, "Only Your Enemies Leave Roses," and with the news that he was back with the band, in a reconfigured lineup: guitarist Ben Waugh, bassist Michael Weintraub and drummer Matt Guyre. It was a welcomed return since during his original five-year run with Old Wounds, Iavaroni had established himself as one of heavy music's most compelling young frontmen, a makeup-slathered, gender-bending force of nature — part early Davey Havok, part Cabaret Emcee — whose onstage persona was even more confrontational in hardcore's "tough guy" world than his piercing screams and theatrical tantrums. "The negative comments about my appearance have always meant that I was doing the right thing," he says with a wry smile. "Hardcore's a mindset, it's not a sound.
"I guess when it first started, it was more of a corpse-paint type thing," he continues, about the origins of his stage makeup, which takes an hour to apply. Sitting in the restaurant, Iavaroni's decked out more conservatively in everyday rocker-chic attire — biker jacket (faux leather, of course), band tee (Arizona death-metal upstarts Gatecreeper), black jeans and black Ray-Bans. "But I've always loved Prince, and I've always loved Bowie, and I was just always attracted to these flamboyant, charismatic people. So I definitely started fooling around more with makeup."
To nail the point home, Iavaroni pulls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Prince as Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns and crying purple tears. "I don't believe in God," he declares, beaming with pride. "I believe in Prince."
The singer brought his own increasingly flamboyant persona to venues across the country as the band toured relentlessly in support of its second full-length, The Suffering Spirit. But during the group's stint on 2016's Vans Warped Tour, Iavaroni's Crohn's symptoms hit him hard. "After we played, I'd be in the van, lying in the fetal position, for a good hour," he remembers.
When the marathon tour came to a close that fall, an exhausted Iavaroni sought medical attention and received some terrifying news: His condition was so severe that his colon had literally flipped on its side, placing the musician at a grave risk for septic shock or worse. He needed invasive surgery, and fast — and doctors couldn't guarantee that he'd be able to resume his frontman duties post-op. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to do Old Wounds again," Iavaroni explains. "I was just kinda done."
A few weeks before he went under the knife, on December 6th, 2016, Iavaroni announced his exit from Old Wounds in an Instagram post. His statement made no mention of his battle with Crohn's disease; rather, Iavaroni said, "I've decided it's my time to leave the group and focus on my career as a barber." And indeed, earlier this year, he enrolled in the Capri Institute's barbering program, where he still studies and styles, building up the 900 hours of experience necessary for his certification.
While going from hardcore singer to hairstylist may seem like a random career change, in actuality, barbering has served as a creative outlet for Iavaroni since his high-school days, when he gave his friends dramatic cuts free of charge. "I made my friend Dave look just like Robert Smith, and he hated it," the singer remembers. "How could you hate having Robert Smith hair? I don't get it!"
Iavaroni was excited about barber school — and he still is — but he couldn't shake the feeling that where he really belonged was on tour with Old Wounds. "I missed getting onstage and seeing various friends across the country, eating at all my favorite vegan restaurants," Iavaroni recalls. "Definitely, there was a lot of self-pity after my first surgery, which kind of geared me towards wanting to rejoin the band."
Several weeks after the operation, while the stitches on his stomach were still fresh, Iavaroni met up with his former bandmates at their practice space in Asbury Park. While they charged through Old Wounds' abundant rippers, Iavaroni got caught up in the excitement and began screaming along, blatantly defying his doctor's "no exercise" orders. After that, there was no going back, and now the band is readying a new full-length for 2018, with a significant tour to follow.
"It probably wasn't the greatest idea to start singing and screaming, but I couldn't help myself," Iavaroni admits, looking back at that crucial moment. "I've come to the realization that after two surgeries, I'm not going to live forever. Life is so short, and why would I not want to spend a good majority of my life doing what I love?"