WORDS : ETHAN MEGENIS-CLARKE
In a year that has seen 90s cult legends Hum release their first album in over twenty years and genre-benders Deftones celebrate two decades of their landmark third album White Pony, you’d be forgiven for thinking the market for hazy-yet-heavy melodic rock music was well and truly saturated. Enter Texan five-piece Narrow Head. On their sophomore album 12th House Rock, the group bring a youthful slacker energy to the fuzzy grooves of their 90s influences, injecting new life into a style of music often marred by clichés.
No one’s ever heard Narrow Head in this way
“I’ve liked Deftones my entire life, I wanted to be a band like Deftones. But I didn’t want it to be a rip off,” explains Narrow Head vocalist/guitarist Jacob Duarte on the influences behind 12th House Rock. “I like Smashing Pumpkins, I like Hum and all those bands we get compared to all the time, but that’s not my direct influence.” Instead, Duarte cites groove metallers Helmet and classic rock legend Joe Walsh as influences on the record.
Whereas Narrow Head’s 2016 debut Satisfaction was a relatively straight-ahead shoegaze record with some metallic flourishes, on 12th House Rock the band are unafraid to, well, rock. The bass line on lead single Night Tryst sounds like it was pulled directly out of a classic Tony Hawk soundtrack, while the band get into hardcore territory on Hard to Swallow and Crank Case. In this respect, Narrow Head’s trajectory is the exact opposite of many of their Run for Cover labelmates; where Turnover and Citizen turned down the distortion and turned up the reverb on their second LPs, Narrow Head have returned with even more fire in their bellies.
“Our goal was to give people an authentically recorded album,” Duarte elaborates. “It’s just us, there’s no crazy production, it’s just a raw record that I don’t know if people will like at first, but I don’t care.” The frontman acknowledges that moving away from the formula they established on Satisfaction is a risk, but one worth taking to produce something that is authentically Narrow Head: “No one’s ever heard Narrow Head in this way,” he says confidently.
I wasn’t taking care of myself. It was just a dark period of my life
To achieve this level of authenticity, the band kept production in-house: “Our bass player Ryan is definitely the producer of this album,” Duarte notes, despite 12th House Rock being described as self-recorded by the band. “We always planned on recording it ourselves and getting someone else to mix and master it.” However, after shopping the album – which was completed in Summer 2018 – around, the band settled on mixing and mastering in house, too. “We realised if we want it to sound like we want, we have to do it ourselves,” Duarte concludes.
Duarte says isolation inspired the songs on 12th House Rock: “I was living at a house where I wasn’t being healthy, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. It was just a dark period of my life.” While his lyrics are sparse and his delivery hypnotic, echoing a certain Chino Moreno, some of the darker lines jump out of the mix. Night Tryst starts as a song about a secret relationship but ends with the line; ‘Let’s calm down and look for your clothes/I just want to be alone’. However, the frontman also says that touring helped get him out of that hole. “It made me feel like I had a purpose. I’ve got nothing to complain about, I’m good now, I’m happy.”
With an existing fan base and a boundary-pushing new sound, it seemed like record label attention was a given for Narrow Head. “We were shopping it around all of 2019 and no one seemed to catch on.” Duarte explains, “I don’t know what was going on.” Despite this, Narrow Head kept touring, opening for metallic hardcore heroes Vein in the UK and Fury in the US with 12th House Rock in their back pocket. It was the latter tour that Duarte and co. attracted the attention of Run For Cover Records, a label with an almost peerless track record for breaking bands with a throwback sound. “We even sent it to them, too.” Duarte laughs, “I guess it wasn’t the right time.”
Narrow Head have also teamed up with Holy Roar to release 12th House Rock in the UK. Where many would see the group as something of an odd fit on the label best known for introducing the world to riff merchants Conjurer and Employed to Serve, Duarte says they revel in the challenge of converting sceptics into fans: “Narrow Head’s a little heavy, too, in a way. When we play with bands like Vein, it only makes us think we’ve got to go harder.”
With one of the year’s best alternative rock records under their belt, Narrow Head are leading a pack of up-coming bands creating music indebted to past eras with the creative freedom afforded by streaming, alongside the likes of Gleemer and Higher Power. Gone are the days where you had to choose between being a Smashing Pumpkins fan or a Pavement fan depending on which side of the Range Life feud you fell on; with 12th House Rock, you can imagine a Stephen Malkmus fronted Pumpkins record filtered through a modern, heavier lens.