Interviews

Abnegation Vocalist Iggy Imig Looks Back on His Time in the ‘90s Metallic Hardcore Band

Abnegation @ Willow 104, Niagara Falls, NY, circa early '90s. (Photo: Christopher Logan)

The '90s saw the influence of metal bands like Slayer and Celtic Frost, plus the death metal-leaning rosters of Roadrunner Records and Earache Records, permeating hardcore in a huge way. As controversial as that was for many purists, I was all for it.

An example of a band with hardcore roots that traveled the left hand (musical) path was Pennsylvania's Abnegation. Formed towards the start of the '90s, the group dropped a handful of releases, including 3 EPs, a split with Chapter, and some key compilation appearances.

Though founding vocalist Iggy Imig would part ways with Abnegation before their infamous Verses of the Bleeding album, I wanted to chat with him since his era of the band is the one I followed more closely. During our chat, I also found out that there will be a remixed/remastered version of the band's Stones to Strike the Cedar demo coming soon.

If you were around the hardcore scene back then, you might remember the controversy around some of Imig's lyrics, and we cover that below, but more than anything, the interview is a fun ride back to a period of music I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

I know you grew up in Erie, PA, but are you a native of that region?

[Laughs] Lake Effect was in effect since birth! Yeah, man, I spent my whole childhood there. After Abnegation got going, I was starting to float a lot between Erie and Pittsburgh.

What were your parents like when you were growing up?

My parents got divorced when I was 2. Growing up, I was definitely a momma’s boy and did what I could to push my dad away.  We never really connected until a few years before he passed. 
When we finally did, I had reached rock bottom.

I was nearly homeless, addicted to drugs and was on the verge of giving up. My father welcomed me into his home without judgment, and I was blessed that god gave me the opportunity to live with and get to know him on a much more deeper level than I had. 

What kind of music did you first gravitate to as a kid? 

My first musical passion was hip hop. I started b-boying in the 4th grade and was always rushing home to catch Video Soul and Rap City. I think the fact that a lot of the appeal of it being gritty and an underground culture is some of the same things that made punk rock and hardcore appeal to me. 

For many people in our age group, metal was the pathway into hardcore. Was that the case for you? 

I actually got iron Maiden’s Live After Death and a mixtape from my brother with Dead Milkmen, Sham 69, Dead Kennedys, and Stiff little Fingers on it. I had a defining moment when I was listening to the punk tape where I just felt that aggression and anger made more sense to me.

From that point on, I did a lot of searching for new stuff. I lucked out because the local college station had a punk show, Angry Red Radio, that really introduced me to so much of the music that I still love today. 

I know you were big into skateboarding as a kid. Who were some of your favorite skaters from that era?

i got into skateboarding around '86. Natas Kaupas and Mark Gonzales will always be 2 of my favorite skateboarders. Their style and experimentation floored me. These days, I am a big Alex Davis fan, as well as Kyle Nicholson and Silas Baxter Neal. Another ripper is an Erie kid, Mike Berdis. That dude is killing it these days. 

Who were some of the local bands that you remember seeing during your early hardcore days? 

I lucked out in that at the same time I found punk rock/hardcore an all ages venue got going called the Continental Ballroom. A couple of the older dudes started bringing in a ton of bands, although most were on the punk side. I remember this one band called Slag from State College ripping it. We had a local band, Lost, who were our DC-ish hardcore band. They definitely had a big Dag Nasty influence.

Our first straight-up hardcore band was Out of Hand/Last Warning. This was Mike Ski's (Sumthin’ to Prove, Brother’s Keeper) band and also the first to carry the Lake Effect hardcore torch out of the city. Erie was lucky in that we were sandwiched between Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. So, not only were we abvle to drive just a couple of hours to catch shows but most of the time those same bands would make Erie a stop as well.

Bands like Face Value, Outface, Integrity, Solid State/Snapcase, and the almighty Zero Tolerance, came through on a near monthly basis. These bands were a huge influence on us.

Not only did we get to witness some legendary shows but the bonds that we built between these cities was amazing. Some of the best times weren’t even at the shows but at Perkins or Eat'n Park afterwards.

The conversations, jokes, and sometimes, arguments, definitely what made Erie special.

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Can you share some specific memories from that era that stands out to you?

One moment that sticks out was after Outface played Erie the first time we all headed to Friendly’s restaurant afterwards. I was trying my best to chat with this one girl which in of itself is a hilarious thing to picture.

And all of a sudden [Outface vocalist] Derrick [Green] starts to serenade us with "Strangers in the Night." I did everything to try and ignore it but if you knew my friends, they would not let that happen.

Soon after that, every table was singing and cracking up. Show wise seeing Integrity right as they were honing in on their sound for those who fear tomorrow was nuts. No other band was so evil and floored us every time.

Also seeing Zero Tolerance for the first time is something I will never forget. I had only gone to a couple of out of town shows by this time and had only heard second hand stories about how badass they were. It was at this huge venue and a mixed death metal/hardcore show so the crowd had a crazy energy about it.

Right before they went on the lights were cut for about 5 minutes. Then nothing but blood red lights and fog came up. Then the intro to The Exorcist ("Tubular Bells") came over the speakers and they came out ripping! I still get chills thinking about it!  

Iggy back in the early '90s (Photo: Brian Dougherty)

Tell me the story behind Break Iron, the first band you played in. 

Up until Break Iron, Erie only had Out of Hand, Antagonist, and then Mean Season (the Erie version, not the West Coast one, which was basically our version of Integrity, also a Mike Ski band). So, a lot of us younger guys were itching to start something.

A couple other frequent Continental showgoers and I kept tossing some stuff around and then Paul Nowoczynski and Chris Leonard got involved. We played a few shows around our area and recorded "Payback," which later came out on the Lake Effect comp from SA Mob. 

How did you first come across the vegan straight edge movement and what about it appealed to you the most? Did you discover it through the hardcore scene?

I think one of the first things that got me open to vegetarianism was listening to Insted. That and Integrity’s In Contrast of Sin 7 inch got me really thinking about it. So I started going back and forth on it definitely cut way back on eating animals but was not fully committed until a good friend of mine, Paul Gazo (aka SEB ONE RIP) came to visit from Milwaukee.

Paul and another friend, Adam Sehr from Drawback, came and hung out in Erie over a winter break. They were both vegan and Paul especially just made such good undeniable arguments. That was definitely the tipping point for me when it came to eliminating animals from my diet. 

What is the genesis of Abnegation? 

By this time Break Iron had disbanded, Paul had moved to Pittsburgh for school and started to link up with the straight edge/hardcore community there. He came home over one weekend and we started to toss around the idea of doing another band. Erie had never had a full-on straight edge hardcore band yet, let alone a vegan straight edge band.

Paul and I were both very dedicated by this time and we decided that we would make that our focus. 

Did you and your partner in Abnegation, Paul Nowoczynski, have trouble finding other musicians who shared your passion for the vegan straight edge lifestyle? 

While Erie’s scene was growing, it still did not really have too big of a straight edge scene yet, especially people that could play instruments and were vegan. When we started asking people if they wanted to jam, we made sure they knew that going vegan and being straight edge were stipulations to joining the band.

So, in the beginning, we definitely had some members that were fairly wishy washy but knowing we did not have to big of a pool to pick from we took what we could get. 

The Life for a Life demo came out in 1993. Since that’s Abnegation’s first release, I’m curious to find out how you feel about it today?

It is fun to listen to for sure. When we recorded that we were still way influenced by Earth Crisis and I still hear a lot of that in the recording, especially lyrically. We had seen them live a bunch by then and every time they floored us. The track “Forgotten” is one of my daughter’s favorites, so we used to jam that demo all the time [laughs].

The Extinguish the Sickness 7 inch came out in 1994 and was released by Militant Records, a label based out of Indiana. 

So, we had been starting to play a bunch in Cleveland and Buffalo. In the beginning, this Clevo band, Fogbank, Pittsburgh’s Slowpoke, and Buffalo’s Fade Away and us all used to trade shows so word was starting to get out to other regions.

Brian Munn (the guy who started Militant) started to contact us and booked us to come through and play Bloomington, IN. We definitely felt that he was very much inline with what we were about and was willing to deal with some of the backlash of some of our politics.

The song “Birthright” was on that record, which included the lyric: “you have abused the miracle of birth as the child is sucked from inside,” and included the chant “the fetus is a life” at the end. I wanted to get your thoughts on those lyrics.

At the time, issues were very black and white to us. We saw very little difference between abortion and the killing of animals. For myself now, I realize abortion is a much more complicated issue than just right or wrong.

I feel like if the pro-life movement would focus their energy and money towards making it as easy as possible for a mom to bring up and raise healthy children, the rate of abortion would drop dramatically. I also do not think legislating any restrictions do anything but make abortion a much more dangerous procedure.   

Staying on that topic, how would you describe your views back then? Did you find yourself in endless discussions with people about the lyrics and were you stood on things? Did you enjoy that or did it become tiresome?

My views were that of someone who thought they could change the world and was willing to do whatever to make that happen. As I said before, things were very black and white for me and I saw veganism as a solution to many of the world’s wrongs.

As we started to get more noticed the amount of as well as the intensity of these discussions/debates/screaming matches started to spike. To be honest, we lived for it. I think half that was it gave us the opportunity to discuss our views. We also loved the back and forth. Paul especially was pretty well versed in debate.

Abnegation live in the '90s (Photo: Christopher Logan)

How did your family feel about your views?

My family was pretty oblivious about my views for the most part. I was really disconnected and I had a pretty strained relationship with both of my parents, so we rarely had any type of discussions that mattered. Both of them weren’t too fond of the things that mattered to me at the time.

How much was Abnegation playing out during that point? Were you strictly playing hardcore shows, or did you also get on metal-type bills? Also, was the band big locally at that point?

We were playing fairly regularly at least a few times a month. For a while, it seemed like we were going to Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh all the time with some trips to Indy/Chicago and New Jersey here and there. There was a bar in Erie called Shooter’s, which later became State Street Tavern. They had 21 and over shows fairly often and every once in a while we were able to get on those bills.

Not only were we about playing as much as we could, we sort of had the same mission to promote our message to as many people as possible. One of our best shows there was with this band Thorn from NYC. They were great and it ended up in mayhem as would most 21 and over shows were.

We were sort of in a weird position as far as Erie goes. With half of our members living in Pittsburgh or other areas, we weren’t necessarily an Erie band. Also, while I will forever rep Lake Effect, we never really claimed that as a band like Brother’s Keeper or Disciple/Shockwave. If anything, I feel like we were a bit of the black sheep of that if anything. 

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I was listening to the Sown in the Remains EP today while preparing for this interview and I had forgotten how evil the whole thing sounded! Where other vegan straight edge bands went more in an Earth Crisis type of direction, Abnegation got creepier!

I think a couple different things. First, I think we were more a part of the first wave of bands that were influenced so much from early Earth Crisis. So, as time passed, their influence—especially musically—started to diminish a bit. Plus, in between Extinguish the Sickness and Sown in the Remains (as well as compilation track "Hopes of Harmony") we got Chris Leonard on drums.

Paul and Chris were longtime friends who had been playing together for quite some time. So, once he came into the fold, I think Paul could really push the limits technically. Plus, both of them were metalheads long before they got into hardcore. Chris was now on those road trips to shows and what we were listening to became much broader. Carcass, Death, Cynic, Morbid Angel all were getting played regularly.

Vocally and lyrically, I went from primarily Earth Crisis and Raid being huge influences to everything from Neurosis to Portishead making big impressions on how I wrote and delivered. 

How was touring for you guys during that period of the band? Did you find certain regions where Abnegation did especially well?

“Touring” may be a bit of a stretch. Did we go out in a van with another band for weeks at a time, yes. Was the time filled with shows, not so much. That said, though, I would not replace those times for the world. Our first tour with Ritual (Mike D'Aquilante from Encounter) was amazing even though we probably only had 4 or 5 shows between 2 weeks.

Most of the time we were posted up at a truck stop in Toledo. That said, with both of our first 2 labels being out of Indiana, shows there and Chicago were always fun and well attended. Eastern PA/NJ also got me excited when we were coming through. 

Abnegation @ Kendzies, Lockport, NY, 1994. (Photo: Sean Gill)

Were labels hitting the band up or did you guys reach out? It was a time period where so many labels were popping up all over the country, let alone the world.

With Militant, I believe Brian had reached out to us after we dropped Life for a Life. That led to us coming through Indy, which connected us with Kurt from XcatalystX. To be 100% honest, I am not sure we connected with Andy from +/-/ Earthmover for the Chapter split. When we recorded that, we did that in the basement of Andy’s house, which was in Detroit.

One night, we were all outside and saw maybe 10-15 cop cars all swirl around his hood. Next thing you know cops are cops are going in between houses with their shotguns out. First time I ever saw anything like that. Think I peed my pants a little [laughs]. Also, Steele got one of his first well done tattoos and he had to do a shitload of dishes for it. 

I’ll be including footage from Abnegation’s appearance at Cleveland Fest in 1996. What memories stick out to you from that show and overall experience?

Cleveland Fest '96 was easily the best show we ever played as far as response and how packed it was. This was at the height of Integrity and One Life Crew not being the hugest fans of ours, so I definitely thought there was a good chance I would be taking a thumping or two. At the time, I still had no idea why they were so mad at us. Needless to say, I was pretty apprehensive about playing the show.

Once we got there, Paul and Chris, who had been there the night before, for the One Life Crew “riot” relayed the prior night’s happenings, so we thought for sure that it was going to be over once we got on stage. Maybe it was that tension that was bottled up in us but we definitely let loose.

It was also one of the last times I got to see Paul Gazo, who as I said before, was a huge inspiration for me going vegan and what not. So, yeah, that show will always be one of the most important shows we ever played. 

I’m sure many folks will agree with me when I say that the aforementioned “Hopes of Harmony” is one of the standout tracks of Abnegation’s discography. What’s the story behind that song and its lyrics?

That was written for the Stones to Mark the Fire benefit compilation for Rod Coronado. At the time, I was reading A Declaration of War: Killing People to Save Animals and the Environment and following what had happened to Rod. I was really trying to channel those feelings into the lyrics.

Also, we knew that the comp. was going to have some other really great bands that we loved, so I think we kicked it up a notch. Out of all our songs, my kids are getting moshed when I throw it on [laughs].

The As Stone Strikes the Cedar demo from 1996 is some my favorite stuff Abnegation ever released. Why did you release it as a demo instead of a proper record? 

I think by the time we recorded this we sort of had a bad taste in our mouth when it came to labels. Mostly that it always seemed so long for anything we recorded to actually come out. Usually, by the time something came out, our sound had developed a lot further. We had started to hear various rumors that some of the metal labels who were starting to sign hardcore bands like Earache, Roadrunner, and Century Media were showing some interest in signing us.

We were hoping to shop it around a bit. Lyrically, that was a huge step of growth for me. I was going through some very difficult times and started to use Abnegation as a release. Plus, my scope widened about the scope of the shitty things I was seeing in the world.

While veganism was still very important, especially for Paul and I, that was when I started to want to get out a lot of what was going on in my mind. 

Why did you part ways with Abnegation? Did it get ugly?

Well, first Paul left, which definitely sort of hit hard. We had just done a couple weeks with Chapter, had a pretty bad accident on the road, and I think he was just over it by the time we got home. Paul and Steele were covering a lot of the expenses at that time. Tensions were just running high to begin with. Paul decided to take a break, which ended up with him joining Chapter, which then turned into Creation Is Crucifixion.

I took that pretty hard and held a grudge for a bit. Looking back now, I totally understand. Once he was out, Chris and Steele really wanted to take things in a different direction. I had already been battling those guys about wanting to remain more hardcore influenced, while those guys were ready to ditch pretty much everything and go full-on death metal.

Also, they weren’t about straight edge or veganism, so I didn’t really feel comfortable with keeping it as Abnegation. All things considered it just didn’t seem like the right fit for me. 

What are your thoughts on Verses of the Bleeding, the album that came out after you weren’t in Abnegation anymore?

I think that it is a great death metal LP, but I also think it would have fared much better if they would have changed their name. I understand why they didn’t. Both of those guys invested in Abnegation pretty heavily and didn’t want to give that up. I don’t think they knew just how much of a backlash they were going to get though.

I do feel a little bad for the Good Life Recordings guys because I am pretty sure that they didn’t know all the changes that had happened. 

Did you try and start another band after splitting with Abnegation, or did you feel a bit burned out from the experience?

I tried here and there but with everything that was happening in my life at the time, I started to get pretty heavily involved with drugs. I was still vegan for a bit but even that fizzled out. Once you add drugs to any situation, you start to care a lot less but other things, at least for me.

Recently, I have been having a bit of back and forth with Sean from Funerals, hopefully something will come of that. 

Abnegation @ Virginia Tech, circa mid-'90s. (Photo: MArk X Miller)

I see that you opened a skate shop at some point years later?

Yes man, 2189 SKATESHOP. This was truly a lifesaver. Things just came together at the right time for it, in some ways. The only spot to get skate shit at the time was this barbershop, Dick West (shout out to a real OG right there). Dude was a huge supporter of BMX and skateboarding and was always trying to get in whatever he could for us.

A good friend of mine, Steve Maynard (also Abnegation’s OG bass player), and I were starting to skate pretty regularly again and felt like it was time to give it a shot. Unfortunately maybe after 6-7 months, Zumiez opened up a store in our mall.

Erie is a pretty small town and the mall is still a popular spot. We couldn’t really keep up with it. That said, I feel like it was one of the best learning experiences I could have. Hopefully when the time is right, I will get another opportunity. 

Tell me about your life today. What field do you work in and what else keeps you busy? 

Some folks may remember that I used to work for a number of dudes with muscular dystrophy, these guys were regulars at all of our Erie shows. I did that from 1993- 2014. That was some pretty amazing shit.

One of the last dudes I “worked” for Alex Harrilla, who runs Gimp Guy Promos, dude is a beast. He wasn’t supposed to make it past 25, now in his 40s and still booking shows and making shit happen in Erie.

In 2014, my family and I moved to Eugene, OR and I started working at one of the county’s community health centers. Now I am at our methadone/suboxone clinic. 

Do you keep up with the hardcore scene? If so, what are some of the more recent bands that you’ve been impressed by?

For sure! Portland gets some pretty good shows through there, so my daughter and I head up for those. I always try and catch Racetraitor and SECT when they come through. All those guys still make some of the most brutal music out there.

I find myself digging the sort of nu-metal stuff coming out, Vein.fm and Sanction both were pretty rad live. Dying Wish is out of Portland, so I have seen them a few times, and they rip. 

Lastly, if you had to pick your favorite song from the ‘90s hardcore scene, what would it be and why?

Great fucking question! For me, it would be either "Face the Panic" or "Minute to Pray" from Zero Tolerance. There is just so much sentimental feeling tied to ZT and those songs especially. That said, the second I hear the first chug of "Firestorm," my kids are getting moshed again. 

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Stay tuned for a a remixed/remastered version of the Stones to Strike the Cedar demo reissue coming soon.

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