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Narrow Head on Power Trip, Jimmy Eat World, and Growing Up DIY Hardcore

Hailing from Houston, Texas, Narrow Head and their Run for Cover debut 12th House Rock (due on August 28, preorder) perfectly capture ’90s alt and post-hardcore greats into a neat and seamless package. Influences like Quicksand, Deftones, Hum, Smashing Pumpkins and others come and go, but never settle in long enough to be pinpointed in a one-to-one comparison. On these thirteen new tracks, Narrow Head succeeds where so many others who live in the same realm fail — by leaning heavily on emotional power and creating memorable, thoughtful work with melodies built to last. It’s an impressive and maturely crafted effort, rendered even more so considering the band’s limited output and touring thus far. 12th House Rock is a must for fans of the genre, but also anyone who, in this age of declining rock gods, still believes in the power of the six string. 

The new effort features semi-recent members Ryan Chavez (who also produced the record) and Kora Puckett (Bugg, ex-Sheer Mag). The center of Narrow Head is based on the friendship between William Menjivar, Carson Wilcox, and vocalist/guitarist Jacob Duarte, the latter of which is an active member of punk faves Sex Pill, muscular hardcore enthusiasts Skourge and even a live member of the reunited Iron Age. With the new LP on the way, we sat with Jacob Duarte to discuss the new effort, Texas, moving from fan to a member of one of his favorite bands, and how he’s dealing with the pandemic. 

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Do you feel like you’ve been using your time during COVID well? Or do you feel like it’s tough to focus? If you have been working, what band would you say you’ve been focusing on?

I feel I’ve been using my time pretty well. I go to the practice space a couple of times a week and I’m just steady trying to create something. The rest of the time I think is trying to make time to go. I wouldn’t say I feel guilty though, I feel like I’m taking care of it.

Since the album was announced, I’ve kind of just been stuck on Narrow Head world. We have a shitload of songs, and hopefully we can get into the studio for at least preproduction by the end of this year.

How do you think punk and hardcore has shaped not only Narrow Head, but your personal viewpoint, way of life and the way that you approach bands in general?

The best way to describe it is the first time I heard that Outburst demo. It was pretty rough and I wasn’t familiar with hardcore like that yet. It’s like raw energy on tape just coming straight to you. And I think that’s kind of what has shaped my way of thinking for music. It doesn’t matter about the production or the quality. It’s really just the content you show off.

The DIY aspect and the ethic, that’s important too. We booked our own tours and I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t get into hardcore. Cause when you’re into that, you have this sense of community, of “Oh, I’ll just do it myself… my friends will be down and that’s all that matters.” That’s kind of how I see music and booking tours and the guiding the Narrow Head stuff — just kind of the DIY thing. That said, I would love to work with a big producer or something, but deep down to the core, that’s kind of where we come from.

So the most key thing for you is not production, but songwriting. At the same time, your bass player Ryan Chavez produced the record. Chemistry aside, do you think that was a crucial component in the full Narrow Head story?

He definitely stepped us up when he joined. He just started getting our tones better and made us step up, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I do care about the production stuff, but it’s not number one on my list.

Who are some bands that you’ve admired over the years as far as trajectory and how far they took their music? “These guys did it right” sort of thing.

Title Fight is a good example of that. They’re an awesome band and they came from hardcore and they had their own aesthetic, their own thing. And kids just loved it. I’ve admired how they came up. I was thinking Alex G too, though he’s not really straight from that scene, but he’s amazing. Power Trip is a big one for me because I’ve grown up going to their shows since 2008. I’ve seen every step of the way and that’s inspired me a lot.

You are currently a member of Iron Age and as a Texas hardcore fan, I’d imagine it must be utterly surreal to play with them. How did that come about?

You know, it just fucking blows my mind still to this day. Even though those are my friends, it’s a dream come true for me. It felt like a crazy big band because they’re important to me and to Texas. I’m glad I got to be a part of that.

So, it’s a funny story. Before I met Wade, I went to see Back to Back and I was moshing super hard and I did a Cartwheel into some guy’s face and the guy attacked me back. Turns out it was Wade. So we met by fighting each other somewhat. I didn’t even notice. Fast forward a year or so after that and we just became friends, and then through that he asked me if I’d be down to play guitar.

So hardcore is populated by a few guys who have several bands that are great, and one of those is Chris Ulsh of Power Trip/Impalers etc. He has admitted in interviews that he was inspired by Alex Hughes and his work ethic — Hughes played in Hatred Surge, Iron Age, Mammoth Grinder and others. With your Narrow Head project and some of the other bands you’re in such as Sex Pill and Skourge, do you feel like you’ve also been inspired by that work ethic?

I will straight up say that Ulsh is the guy that made me think, “Oh, I can do this.” You know, I could say, “If Ulsh is playing at Chaos in Tejas 20 times in the same day, so can I.” He really got me going — I’ve actually never told him that. I grew up on Mammoth Grinder, Hatred Surge, Iron Age, Impalers and all of that. They were a big deal to me. And now I’m friends with all of them but when I was getting into it, they were like gods. They were the Texas Kings.

Texas is sort of its own country in a lot of ways, and Texas punk and hardcore is definitely a thing onto itself. Why do you think that is?

I think that just happens naturally because people overlook Texas. When you think of Texas, you think of the Austin bands for the most part, like Glue. And those bands are great, but Houston gets overlooked a lot, I think. And as we’re being overlooked, we are still doing our thing and eventually people are forced to pay attention to us. No one’s really paying attention, but then we get in your face regardless.

I feel like in Texas, everyone is influenced by their friends because the scene is small. That’s what is keeping it strong — everyone is inspired by each other.

What do you think is your favorite song on the record and why?

“Crankcase.” It’s kind of just a hardcore song to me. It’s fun. It’s angsty. It’s…. about being a crank case. I love the energy and it’s my favorite one to play. I’d like to see some stage dives and crowd surfing to it someday, if shows are allowed to do that in the future.

Musically, you aren’t a hardcore band but there are many bands that sound nothing like that who self identify with the genre or fall into it. Title Fight is an example, you could argue Lil Ugly Mane to a degree, and there are tons of others. Do you consider yourself a hardcore band?

I guess we are post-hardcore or rock in style, but as far as where we sit, I think I could consider us a hardcore band just because of our associations and by live show, like the energy. I feel like you could get the same feel from a hardcore show cause people are dancing, jumping on top of each other. But the performance, I mean, is just as emotional as a hardcore set.

During quarantine, a lot of people are spending time going back to classic stuff. What are some of the old favorites that you’ve been going back to?

Jimmy Eat World’s Static Prevails LP. I started jamming that again. I used to love that growing up. Jawbreaker is something that I grew out of that I recently jumped back into. I’ve been going back to my old favorites, like the nineties emo shit. Even though I kinda grew out of a lot of that stuff, I jumped back in the other day. Saves the Day, Taking back Sunday, records like those are my childhood.

Who are some ideal bands that you would love to go out with?

My number one dream tour would be Narrow Head, Quicksand and Deftones. That’s the goal in my life. I’d love to tour with Alex G or Young Gov or Tony Molina. But yeah, I’d love to do Deftones or Hum or Helmet.