How Narrow Head tapped into a shoegazing '90s alt-rock sound with “poppier pop and heavier heavies”

Narrow Head
Narrow Head [from left]: Carson Wilcox, Jacob Duarte, Rubio Richie, William Menjivar and Kora Puckett (Image credit: Nate Kahn)

The fact that Houston’s Narrow Head have a song called Gearhead on their latest album, Moments of Clarity, is no surprise. Throughout its 12 songs, vocalist-guitarist Jacob Duarte and guitarists Kora Puckett and William Menjivar put on an immersive tone clinic, obliterating a mix of alt-metal grooves and shoegazing melodies with amber washes of fuzz pedal, flanger and more. 

Duarte’s tastes, in particular, lay with the workhorses, the guitarist generally linking together a series of Boss pedals instead of something boutique – the kind of stuff you’re not worried about scuffing up, whether playing D.I.Y. dives or festival stages.

“I think the first pedal I ever got was a Boss Digital Delay, super non-expensive,” Duarte says. “I tried to get into the vintage, boutique stuff when I was 19 or 20, but it’s kind of dumb to do. It’s expensive! It sounds good, but I’m not playing at church, you know what I mean?”

“Sometimes it’s fun to chase vintage pedals,” Puckett concedes. “Like, I have the same op amp Big Muff that Billy Corgan used, but the majority of the fuzzy tones [on Moments of Clarity] are not from that.” 

Moments of Clarity fittingly revels in the feel of ’90s-era Smashing Pumpkins (Break Up) and Hum (The Real), while retaining the scrappy edge Narrow Head’s members honed in various hardcore bands. On their latest album, Puckett says Narrow Head pushed those poles to the extreme by writing “poppier pop and heavier heavies”. 

They manage both feats, whether spooning stacked fifth sweetness into Caroline or compressing spines with Trepanation, a pummeler that plunged the group’s general drop C# tuning down to a sub-sonic drop Bb (“We just kept going down until the melody fit,” Duarte says).

While Duarte tracked all the guitars on 2020’s 12th House Rock, Menjivar and Puckett harmoniously integrated themselves into the mix for Moments of Clarity. The trio are prone to rotating rhythm and lead duties, sometimes pushing Duarte’s tone-bent scale work to the forefront, other times Puckett’s octave-driven soaring.

Of their newly amorphous roles, Duarte concludes: “I wouldn’t say it’s a free-for-all, but we [each] do our own thing.”

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Gregory Adams

Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.