Interview: Anyone Invested in Rock’s Future Needs to Back Narrow Head

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“Rock was mainstream at some point,” says Narrow Head‘s Jacob Duarte. “I guess there is still mainstream rock, but it’s not cool whatsoever. In the 90s and shit, rock bands were famous.”

The whole “rock is dead” narrative is cliche at this point, but it’s hard to find any mainstream signifier of rock music still having a relevant cultural imprint with the masses. Tune into any alternative station and you’re far more likely to hear a stomp-clap folk song, an Imagine Dragons derivative, or a 90s one-hit-wonder encased in amber.

Narrow Head’s sonic perspective is a what-if exercise: imagine if the soul of rock music didn’t spend the last 20 years tumbling off a cliff.

Instead, what would happen if we were plunged into a golden age of hard rock where riffs reign supreme? Where alt-metal acts like Helmet, Deftones, Quicksand and Handsome built the guitar-centric foundation of which all bands are measured.

Narrow Head wants to usher in this timeline. Formed in 2013 in Dallas, TX, singer/guitarist Jacob Duarte’s take on heavy rock music was informed by years in the hardcore scene. Duarte grew up seeing the likes of Texas luminaries Power Trip and Iron Age, befriending the former and playing guitar in the latter. Taking the kinetic energy and freneticism of the hardcore scene, he brought it to Narrow Head in 2013, merging it with a love for the heavy metal of his youth.

Ten years after forming, the band is set to release Moments of Clarity, the group’s most fully-realized record to date. Their approach to min/maxing the dichotomy between crushingly heavy riffs and singable melody is on full display. “To put it lightly we wanted to make the pop poppier, and the heaviness heavier,” Duarte says. They’ve fully executed that desire, songs like “Trepanation” easily melting between seductive melody and riffage. Opener “The Real” sounds like the kind of song Billy Corgan would be writing if he didn’t break his brain, finding a comfortable dreaminess in the heavy.

Moments of Clarity is an achievement of a rock record and a reminder that there’s still so much to explore within the framework of heavy melody. We spoke to Duarte about the album, his beginnings as a singer, his relationship with late Power Trip singer Riley Gale, how much nü is too much, and more. Head to Run For Cover Records to grab your copy.

I’m sure you get this comment a lot, but Narrow Head sounds like a band I wish existed when I was getting into stuff like Deftones or Quicksand. Did that lineup with the goal of what you wanted the band to be?
Yeah, I would say that. I love Deftones and I love Quicksand. But you want to hear something else that has both of those sounds and between those two genres. But you can never really find a band that hits all those spots aside from having a song or two from that era. But yeah, I just wanted to write stuff that I want to hear.

It’s cliche at this point but it also feels like rock on a mainstream level has been really whack for a long time. Do you feel like the band is a reaction to that?
Oh definitely. I’ve even said it as a joke before just us in the band. The goal is to make rock sick again. Rock was mainstream at some point. I guess there is still mainstream rock, but it’s not cool whatsoever. In the 90s and shit, rock bands were famous. I think what we do is a reaction to that because we’d like to make it cool again, it was cool when you’d see rock videos on TV.

Moments of Clarity is excellent, man. Do you feel like this is what the band has been working towards? 
Yeah, this is absolutely what we’ve been working towards. In our past records, we didn’t have the time, money, or any sense of pre-production. That’s what really stepped up this album because I worked on the songs for a week straight. Before we even get into the studio we did pre-production in an Airbnb to flesh out the songs.

To put it lightly we wanted to make the pop poppier, and the heaviness heavier. Yeah, and just kind of go in that direction, really. And we were trying to flesh out songs, they were really going through melodies and, and phrases and stuff, you know.

I think you finally totally locked in on the heavy elements too.
Yeah that’s been a goal that we’ve been working towards, trying to figure out how to incorporate that stuff a little bit more, Not in a nu-metal sense, but we all grew up with heavy music, and we all like, heavy stuff. So it kind of just makes sense for what we’re doing. Sometimes that adds that stuff in there.

When did you start singing?
Honestly, I’ve always been singing since I was a little kid. I started a band with me and my two friends. There was no bass player, two guitars and drums. We would just play in my friend’s garage literally all day. Now that I think about it, it was probably super annoying. But I was always trying to front a band. My first band that I sang in, I was probably 16 and it was a little more figured out. That was an actual band that sounded like Jawbreaker or something.

Your dad has been really supportive of your music. What’s his favorite track of yours?
Yeah definitely. I saw him this past Christmas, and he told me it was “Gearhead.”

It’s kind of a perfect single, really encapsulates the heavy and soft stuff. 
When we wrote it, it was exactly what I think a Narrow Head song should sound like. If I ever had to explain what we sound like in one song, it’s “Gearhead.” Which was our goal, there’s a poppy chorus with a heavy, dark riff around it.

I saw you guys last fall and when you played the song, you put down the guitar and went full singer frontman mode. Do you want to drop the guitar in the live setting?
That’s hard because I write a lot of my parts for the guitar. So some songs call for it. Some songs don’t. But we’re working out a set where I do a block of songs where I just sing. But I don’t think I’ll ever go full singer mode, I never want to look like a hardcore frontman or anything.  I just feel more comfortable with an instrument.

Was it weird being in that mode?
It wasn’t weird. It felt right. I just didn’t have it quite figured out yet. It’s not like I have to have a choreographed thing but I can’t groove around that because it sounds like I’m shaking or something. It’s just putting on another hat in the band. I’m not focused on the instrument anymore, so I have to make up for it by doing something else. I’m not really sure what that is. But it feels natural.

Do you avoid listening to bands that sound like you?
No, I think I just naturally just don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I like rock music and singing and stuff like that, but I’m not jamming shoegaze all the time. When I see a band with that vibe, it just doesn’t really catch me. So I wouldn’t say I tried to avoid it. I just naturally don’t pay attention to that style of music.

Does it feel like bands are trying to rip off what you’re doing right now? In the same way that there was a tidal wave of shoegaze bands ripping Nothing, I feel like I’m seeing a lot of bands do what you’re doing.  
I mean, it’s easy to say that for me, but I don’t really know. There are a couple of bands that I see where I’m like… are they trying to sound like us or am I just fooling myself or something? I mean, I can’t deny it. So yeah, I have noticed a couple of bands doing stuff like that, but I don’t think they would ever admit it. It’s kind of like when Title Fight came out. There was a flood of bands trying to sound like that, but they would just deny it.

How did “Soft to Touch” come together? I feel like I don’t hear a lot of bands in this lane use beats like that as percussion. 
Yeah, so that riff came from Will, who plays guitar. I think we were originally going to do drums with it. Me, Will [Menjivar] and Kora [Puckett] stayed in LA after a tour Phil Boden’s house, and we just doing some Narrow Head ideas but he didn’t have anyone there to play drums. Kora called his brother over, Lil’ Aaron, and he pulled up and just put together a beat. And that was the first idea of it. And then when we were doing the record with Sonny [DiPerri, producer], he pointed out that we should try to bring that song back. So we did it.

We’ve always been into “Manchester” bands. They do [rock music with] a jungle beat or a sample over it. So we’ve always had the idea to have a beat like that but throw a Big Muff on top of it.

Oh, a random hypothetical. If offered both at the same time, would you rather do a tour with The Marked Men or P.O.D.?
Probably the Marked Men. That seems sicker to see than fucking P.O.D. right now. They have that one track but yeah, no, I’m good on P.O.D. [Laughs]

I ask mostly because I feel like a P.O.D. fan would fuck with Narrow Head potentially even though it’s a different vibe or scene. 
That’s kind of the goal too, to be able to tap into those markets. I’d love to play festivals. It sounds cool. Although we haven’t played very many festivals so it could get annoying, you know, I’m down to tap into that.

Would you ever rap on a Narrow Head track?
Rapping? Nah, I don’t think I got it, I don’t think I can do it. Trust me, I’ve been listening to rap my entire life. I jam rap when I’m driving all the time. I don’t have that flavor on me. [Laughs] I could probably sing in a rappy way. I would do a track with some SoundCloud rapper or something, but I don’t think I could personally rap, I don’t think that’s me. And I don’t think Narrow Head needs a rap track. [Laughs]

I know you were really close with Power Trip’s Riley Gale. What was his loss like for you? 
It just didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real some days, it’s weird to know that I’m not going to see him when I’m going to Dallas or when I’m at a show in Austin. It just felt not real, we were all fucking devastated but still, it’s hard to process still. He was such a powerful, important figure to all of us. He was our friend but he just had this different energy about him. That energy is still there, but not seeing him is just kind of strange.