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Escape Velocity

For Victory: An Interview With Narrows
The Quietus , April 22nd, 2013 05:51

Transatlantic crew Narrows, featuring former members of Botch, These Arms Are Snakes and Bullet Union, among others, are about to embark on what might be their final European tour. Quietus editor John Doran catches up with them to talk Bolt Thrower, Game Of Thrones and Greenland

Photograph courtesy of Reed Haithcock

"The world is a beautiful place if you have the ability to travel it," reflects Rob Moran of Narrows. "There are wonderful creative people making pockets of beauty at every moment." It feels like an appropriate statement given that his band are a scattered proposition, their membership split between Seattle, San Diego and London, but have still managed to piece together two albums' worth of music that's by turns severe, explosive and, indeed, beautiful. As well they might, given that they count some illustrious names in their midst: alongside Moran (formerly of Unbroken and Some Girls), Narrows' line-up is completed by Botch's Dave Verellen, Jodie Cox (a London-based guitarist also of Tropics and Bullet Union, and who has recently been playing with Earth's Dylan Carlson), Ryan Frederiksen (formerly of These Arms Are Snakes) and Sam Stothers (also of Makeout Boys).

Narrows' excellent second album Painted, released through Deathwish Inc. in 2012 and pieced together from recordings made by members on both sides of the Atlantic, feels strikingly cohesive despite its ostensibly disjointed origins - it's raw and immediate enough to suggest that it could practically have been recorded live in one room. Colossal, heaving riffs are interwoven with spidery, clearer-minded guitar figures; Verellen's roared vocals course through backdrops that by turns ooze like molten lead and cut like cheese wire. At the group's root lies the razor-edged, metal-tinged hardcore of several members' former groups, but laced with trace elements that stretch outward to the tectonic shifts and tangled guitar work of Earth, the crushing drone/doom of Khanate and even the studio-assisted spaciousness of dub. Album centrepiece 'Greenland' feels like a summation of those aspects, shifting between styles with intuitive ease.

Given the distance between them, the group's time spent together in the flesh has been mainly while playing live, including a major tour around the US last year, and Narrows are about to embark on another tour of Europe and the UK. The pressures of maintaining a band across such a distance present obvious difficulties, and Moran admits that "to be honest, I don't know if we will ever be able to come back after this tour." He cites the challenges of balancing a transatlantic band with individual members' commitments to family and other projects. "I'd like to say we'll keep ploughing forwards like we always have, but I just can't imagine us pulling it off again." Both he and Cox don't dismiss the possibility of more Narrows outright, however; more suggesting that, given how busy the individual members are outside of the band, it's hard to predict how the group's future will pan out. All of which suggests that you should be making every effort to get to a show on this current European tour, which kicks off tomorrow in Budapest and later hits Brighton, Leeds, Bristol and London (scroll down for dates).

In advance of the tour, Quietus editor John Doran spoke with the group to discover more about their inception, the pressures of balancing multiple projects, and why watching Game Of Thrones is better in the van than on the couch.

How was your last tour? What were the high points and low points?

Jodie Cox: The tour last year was pretty overwhelming. There was a collective anxiety about me getting back into the US as I was previously denied entry. I had the relevant paperwork this time but it still a bit nerve-wracking. Our first drive was the longest I've ever been on. Around 40 hours straight from Seattle to Chicago. Once we got to Chicago, we needed to get a new van as we feared the one we were in wasn't going to make it for the whole trip. That was a pretty intense start and we hadn't even played a show yet.

Once the shows started though, it was awesome. Way more people came out to the shows than we expected and we spent most of the time on the road with All Pigs Must Die who were fantastic every night. A real pleasure to hang out and share a stage with those guys. A big highlight, I'm pretty sure for all of us, was playing at around 3am on a pedestrian bridge in Austin during SXSW. A couple of hundred people showed up and it kicked off. Shortly after we were done, the old bill turned up to shut it down. It was so much fun. I also got to see some places for the first time and do some touristy stuff - particularly in Washington DC where I got to see the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, The White House and Congress but just didn't have time to go to the Smithsonian. Dave, Sam and I went to Arlington Cemetery early the next morning before heading further south and that was quite something. We also had the most amazing meal in New Orleans too. All in all, a great adventure.  

Rob Moran: The tour went really well and it is very rare that every show you do is not only well attended, but kids are actually into it. Playing with All Pigs Must Die was fantastic as well. Great people and an amazing band live. Playing on that bridge In Austin for SXSW was unreal. A few hundred people losing their minds and just total mayhem. I've never been a part of anything like that before. One of the highlights for me personally was having Rich Hall on tour with us. He is a promoter from NYC that does a ton of shows. He came on the road with us to TM and was so much fun to have on tour.

Do you want to make like James Brown and introduce the band?

JC: Dave Verellen - throat; Rob Moran - bass; Sam Stothers - drums; Ryan Frederksen - guitar and myself - guitar. 

You're Anglo-American - how did that come about?

JC: Rob pretty much put this together. I met him years prior to Narrows when each of our previous bands had played together in Berlin. That was an awesome night in general. I then saw him again the day after, at a US tour I was hanging/helping out on with Ryan's previous band, These Arms Are Snakes, at a Locust show in Seattle, and we caught up. I was then going back to hang out for a few weeks in Seattle a few months later and hit him up to suggest getting dinner or something. He then asked if I would be into doing a quick band thing while I was there, and I said sure. He said that Dave and Sam were going to be involved and wanted to ask Ryan about it too. We had two practices at Rob's house with unplugged electric guitars and then one practice with Sam in a practice space before heading into a studio the next day to record. That ended up becoming our first 7" and we have been asked to do more stuff since.

Your last album Painted features what appears to be a young lady in ICP clown make-up - are you fucking with our heads or is there something else going on here?

RM:  We are the 10th Joker, didn't you know? Actually, it's a nod to the Mexican Day Of The Dead folklore. Ryan came up with the whole idea and I was pretty blown away by it all when it was done. It's so beautiful and so ugly at the same time. The contrast and stark nature of that record makes you stop and take a second look for sure.

The song 'Greenland' is amazing. Sounds a bit Pig Destroyer, a bit Khanate, a bit Whitehouse, a bit Lee 'Scratch' Perry and then a bit like Earth. The population of Greenland have terrible problems with mental health issues, alcoholism, drug abuse and chronic unemployment... is this something that Narrows can empathise with? 

JC: Thanks! This is one of my favorite things we have done. There was a lot of different conversations as to how to proceed with putting this one together and I was so pleased with how it come out. 

RM: I can't speak to the name or lyrics of the song, but when writing this. Sam and I were in San Diego coming up with ideas for songs before we left for tour. Sam had this idea for a song that had one drum beat that carried on for a while. When we actually got in the studio, I hooked up like five pedals to my bass and started making tons of noise. Jodie had this beautiful quiet guitar line he had sent over a few months prior as an idea. The parts after that was something Sam and I had worked on in the studio while recording Painted. Adding the layering by Ryan and Jodie with loads of guitars over it all. It was a really fun song to create in the studio.

What is it that inspires you to be in a band? You've all got other jobs – why go on tour which must get you really knackered when you could just crash on the couch and watch Game Of Thrones?

RM: I feel that with this type of music, what makes me feel inspired to do it is to bring a piece of art to cities around the world. I feel so grateful that I am involved with people that helped create these songs and I want to share that with people. Is it easier to sit around and watch Game Of Thrones at home? Sure, but why do that when I can be on tour and watch it in the van? The best of both worlds I say. I have a wonderful job and I love what I do for work... an added bonus is being able to work from home and work while on tour. It's a great situation and one I never take for granted. Also, being that Sam and I don't drink or "partake" etc, touring isn't as rough for us as some of the other guys in the band... they wake up up with splitting headaches and gnarled bellies. I'm probably one of the few Mexicans in the world that doesn't like booze and drugs... but believe me, I can rage soberly when called upon.

Jodie has been playing with Dylan Carlson under his English folk music DrCarlsonAlbion moniker. What are you going to do if he turns up to practice wearing a ruff and tights playing a crumhorn and insisting you do a song about 'the little people'?

RM: Then we would oblige and do a Billy Bragg cover. 'Milkman Of Human Kindness' or 'Sexuality' would do just fine.

Are you recording material for a new album? Can you give me a blow by blow account of what it's like and what direction you're taking Narrows in, in the future?

RM: I don't see another album being a possibility. We were exhausted after Painted and as straightforward of a record as it is, we only showed up to the studio with three completed songs. Jodie was staying up until 2am everyday on Skype with us, files were being sent back and forth. I love Painted, but as proud of it as I am, I just can't see us pulling something like that off again. Every recording we have ever done has been at that pace and it's brutal. I'm over it to an extent.

We have been asked to do some EPs and splits with various bands and labels. Something like that seems doable, but again, getting us all together at time when work is crazy, schedules are crazy and kids are being born: it's just tough and I can't see us doing much more. To be honest, I don't know if we will ever be able to come back after this tour. I'd like to say we'll keep ploughing forwards like we always have, but I just can't imagine us pulling it off again. I have new projects starting while I'm in London and here in San Diego, Ryan has a brilliant new band he just started, Jodie has Tropics and is invited to work with Earth, Sam has his other band and Dave just had a baby. It's all so much right now to even think about doing another album or any sort of meaningful touring. We have some US dates planned this fall, but beyond that, I can't say what will happen.

What is the thing that has brought you closest to thinking, 'I can't do this band anymore?' Whether that's physical danger, philosophical quandary, insane intoxication or physical discombobulation?

RM: Most of how I feel is previously stated, I can't speak for the other guys entirely, but I know on some level they feel as I do. I just don't know how this can keep going. I will say what most people want to hear: can Botch just play some fucking shows already? As a fan who has seen them five times when they were around, I think people would love to see that. People reading this, harass Dave if you see him on tour... I ask him almost every time we speak.

Why do Electric Wizard kick so much ass?

RM: Can we now talk about Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, Converge, Craft, Iron Monkey, Engine Kid, fuck, even pre '90s Metallica... the Wizard has been around since the '90s, and in the last few years people just took notice because they wanted a new soundtrack to compliment the new length of their beard. Supercoven is a great EP and I think they have some good jams in their catalogue, but kick ass? Hmmmm, the jury is still out for me on this one.

How dare you sir! Step outside... to disparage the Wizard is to disparage Her Majesty's green and pleasant realm itself. But seeing as you are wise enough to realise the mightiness of Bolt Thrower I shall let it pass. Do you go with Warmaster or To Victory?

RM: I hardly find what I said about Electric Wizard to be of any disparagement. I merely stated I like them, but I find other acts to be more of my taste when it comes to kicking ass... but a pox upon your person for the error in your Bolt Thrower album title. It is FOR VICTORY, not TO VICTORY... seriously though, For Victory is my favourite. I was on tour in Europe in late 1994 when I first heard the album and the band. I was hooked. Probably because it's the first album I heard from them as well, [that] might be why it's my favorite. The title track and that ripping solo in 'Grave Images' - it had the gritty Entombed/Sepultura sound that I love. I ended up getting a long sleeve BT shirt from this guy I knew in Belgium. I was a fan ever since.

I'm as humbled by your love for the mighty Bolt Thrower as I am appalled by my own mistake. I shall be availing myself of the bottle of whisky/lockable shed/revolver exit directly after this interview. Justin Broadrick has said that Godflesh will eventually record again when the time's right. How do you feel about classic, groundbreaking bands like this getting back together again and recording on top of that?

RM: I find it fantastic that a band will get back together and write new material. If it sucks, at least they tried. Some bands come back and do it incredibly well though. The new Suede album will most likely be my album of the year, they climbed out of an abyss to become an incredible band again. My Bloody Valentine is another band I think that did great work on their new album. I just think that if your heart is in it, your music will have a sense of purity and/or tension in the songs/lyrics. If you go through the motions, it's really easy for most people to tell that you're grasping for relevancy. If you're playing out of knowing this could be the last chance and you give it your all, it comes off sincere and people feel the heart of what you put into the songs.

So the tour must be tinged with some regret if it's possibly your last. Which cities that you're visiting mean the most to you and the band because of previous shows and experiences there? 

RM: No regrets at all actually. This band is fantastic to play in and being that we live so far apart and we accomplished more than just that first EP speaks volumes to me. I don't know if this is it, we just don't know what 2014 has in store, so it's more that hopefully we will be back to Europe, but have no clue if we can make it work again. London, Leeds, Brighton, Paris and Prague are all really great places for us. We've had some great shows and fantastic energy from the people at those shows.

Can you tell me a bit more about your future projects and where/when people can check them out online/live?

RM: I have time booked at a studio with some old friends and new friends. Songs have already crossed the Atlantic via a series of tubes (I believe outside the US it's called the internet), so hopefully it will see the light of day this summer. We're hoping to grind out two to three songs and release it if we're lucky. So as it stands, no name/no recordings just yet, but I will send over something if you'd like to poke at it with a stick once it's done. I will say it's not metal or hardcore in any way.

JC: I'm honoured to say that I have been invited to play on the next Earth record, and am working on finishing up releases for Tropics, Rohame and some other bits and pieces I'm involved in. I'll hopefully find time sit on my arse and watch some Game Of Thrones too.

If it does end after this tour, what will be the greatest life lesson that Narrows has taught you?

RM: That the world is a beautiful place if you have the ability to travel it. I've been all over the US, South America and Europe and I can say that despite the ugliness in some places right now, there are wonderful creative people making pockets of beauty at every moment. The sun rising every day, the sound of a needle touching vinyl, the brush touching canvas, pen meeting paper... there is beauty everywhere, go out and find it.

I asked other Narrows members individually to tell me what they were up to next…

Dave Verellen: My hope is that we can still find time to work on a split that we've been offered. I'm looking forward to playing a few select dates this year, including Fun Fun Fun Fest and a few SoCal shows. I've been in talks with the guys from Ken Mode and going to the depths of Canada with them is something I'd be into doing as well. Narrows is my only band so other than music I spend the majority of my time with my family and raising my eight-month-old daughter.

Sam Stothers: After this tour I am doing a triathlon. Probably thinking about doing an Iron Man, depending on how the tri goes. I am also playing in a doom band called Dead Ghosts with Sal Gallegos (ex-Some Girls, Secret Fun Club), Jon Reider (Secret Fun Club) and Troy Oftendal (ex-Cattle Decapitation) and playing some local shows.

Ryan Frederksen: I'm in a new band called Dust Moth that's still new so it's a bit tough to describe. There are too many "ex-members of" to list and we don't sound like any of our previous bands so I'll skip that. It sounds like our individual personalities for sure which makes it different as a whole and that's what we want. We're currently writing and have shows coming up. For more info we have a FB page.

Narrows' European tour commences tomorrow - catch them live at the following shows::

Tue 23 - Durer Kert, Budapest
Wed 24 - Klub 007, Prague
Fri 26 - New Noise Fest @ Die Stadtmitte, Kalsruhe
Sat 27 - Le Point Ephemere, Paris
Sun 28 - Groezrock Festival, Meerhout
Mon 29 - Green Door Store, Brighton
Tue 30 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Wed 1 - Exchange, Bristol
Thu 2 - XOYO, London

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