Quicksand with Guest Act:, Narrow Head at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe
Quicksand with Guest Act: Narrow Head
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
7:00 pm. – 11:00 pm.
Tickets: $27. – $32.
Meow Wolf in Santa Fe
One of the most remarkable aspects of Distant Populations—Quicksand’s first album since 2017’s Interiors—is how timely and prescient the themes running throughout its songs sound at this very moment. Thoughtful, driving, and powerful, like the long-lived band itself, the 11 tracks comprising Distant Populations have an emotional resonance that is only amplified by the events of the past stressed-out, locked-down year.
If there is a recurring theme running throughout the new album, it might be this: “Everyone is on the one hand so connected with each other,” says Schreifels, “and on the other hand is so far apart, and so freaked out about everything.”
That seeming contradiction may lie at the heart of what Distant Populations is all about. The title comes from a lyric from anarcho-crust punk band Nausea’s “Fallout (Of Our Being)” about “destitute populations”; because of the singer’s thick accent, Schreifels misheard it as “distant populations” and instantly connected with that concept. “So we’re checking out each other’s social media and we know what everybody’s doing,” he says, pointing out a sad irony. “But when we’re sitting in the same room together, we’re looking at our phones.”
That peculiar duality—our simultaneous existence in individual relationships and as part of mass society—is examined with power and surprising emotional impact throughout all of the tracks here. Cutting and sharp lyrical passages pop out on tracks such as the throbbing “Colossus”: “A new life/ We’re never meant to feel completed/As long as we’re here/It doesn’t matter what for” And alienation—from whom or what often going unsaid—and loneliness are touched on regularly, whether subtly (“Sometimes it’s better just to keep on traveling” from “Phase 90”) or stated plainly (“Living just around the corner/Share the same existence/Doesn’t make a difference/Deconstructed, isolated” from the closing track “Rodan”). Combine those sentiments with the most sweeping, powerful music the band has ever created, and you’ve got a truly unforgettable, extremely timely listening experience.
Distant Populations, just the fourth full-length album of Quicksand’s career, comes as a comparatively swift follow-up to Interiors–which itself came a full 22 years after its predecessor, 1995’s Manic Compression. Critically lauded and deemed very much worth the wait, Interiors succeeded in reestablishing the band as the powerful and contemporary entity they had always been. “Our only conscious challenge for that period, really,” says bassist Sergio Vega, “was that we felt like we needed to make a record that was worth waiting that long for.” Its success proved that they met that challenge, and, he adds, “galvanized by that, we felt like we know what we are today. We know what fits in our template. And we can build off that and expand on that.”
And expand they did. Distant Populations has a punchier, more up-tempo sound than its predecessor; its 11 songs are concise, carved sonic jewels boasting not a single wasted note; and its raw power, its gripping lyricism, leaps out from the very first listening. It is a striking step up for the band.
The songwriting itself had been no minor process: Following the release of Interiors, the band successfully toured around the world, hitting the US, Europe, Japan, and South America, and in the process fully re-established their chemistry together. Looking forward to making the next album, the three of them—Schreifels, Vega, and drummer Alan Cage—had methodically recorded various soundchecks, improvisations, and show rehearsals, and compiled the results. “Eventually, when it came time to make a record,” Schreifels says, “we would just edit down to the ones that were most exciting to us all, and then refocus on them and see if we could recapture the magic from it.”
Greatly aiding in the process was producer Will Yip, whose masterful work on Interiors had been much appreciated by the band.
“Will has a very organized, systematic mindset,” says Schreifels, “but with that, the perfect complement of that is that he is very open-minded and giving. He’s like super down for whatever you want to pursue, and not begrudgingly. And he’s also a great musician. So everyone within our little organization respects his opinion musically, and especially with the three of us, having that extra opinion that we all respect is really helpful.”
Distant populations going nowhere So far away from us, you wouldn’t know where Opposite of you, opposite of me Generations leveled and taken by the sea –from “Inversion”
The artfulness at work on Distant Populations is evident from its pounding opening track, “Inversion,” which may encapsulate all that is distinctive about Quicksand’s current music. The lyrics work on a variety of levels, for which Vega credits the “meticulousness” of Schreifels’ lyric writing. “They’re so open to interpretation, and they kind of hit you on a lot of levels,” he says. “I like those kind of lyrics best.”
And, like the lyrics, the music itself pounds.
“That was one of the last songs we came up with,” says Schreifels. “And it was just very primal sounding and very basic, you know, just like two parts. Especially in contrast to Interiors or even our earlier work, you know, where we would tend toward the more complex, I think. I thought it was really cool that we were in a place where we could step back from that, and didn’t have to bells-and-whistles it all out. We kind of did something pretty basic. And I think the lyrics set the tone nicely for the record.”
Another personal favorite of Schreifels’ here is “Missile Command,” a song that, significantly, emerged from a rehearsal jam, he recalls. “It really kind of focuses on Sergio’s whole motif in a very simple way. He and Alan just have this really kind of trademark groove, and I think that really sings on that one to me. I just felt like it’s a kind of song that is very us, but we hadn’t written it yet. So I’m really proud of that one.”
There are a total of 11 tracks on Distant Populations, and not one hits the four-minute mark. But you wouldn’t know it. The album is deep, brimming with substance, and thematically about as contemporary as it gets.
“Sonically, I think this album has a real urgency,” says Vega. “Something in the way that it was mixed. Partly it’s the mix that increased the urgency. But when I look at the song tracking, a lot of songs are under three minutes, right? And that creates a real sense of urgency as well.”
Appropriately, the urgency Vega speaks of reaches its crescendo in Distant Populations’ final track, “Rodan.” A throbbing, monolithic piece much in keeping with the album’s overall emotional landscape—and it is a gripping album closer—the track takes its name from the flying monster of late ’50s Japanese horror film fame.
“If you watch the news right now, it’s essentially a whole bunch of things that are going to scare the crap out of you,” says Schreifels. “And that’s the point of it. You know what I mean? Until they think of the new thing that’s going to scare the crap out of you. If Rodan beats his wings, you know, houses fall down and people die and get all crushed–but Rodan might have just saved you from some other shittier monster that’s really trying to do you harm.
“So it’s trying to capture that feeling that I was feeling–not only in the macro of our modern time, that we live in right now, but also how it plays itself in your own lived experience, and how you’re affected by it in different ways, you know? And those were the feelings and concepts that were driving me–without wanting to be polemic about it, or getting into the nitty-gritty of, well, ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’ You know what I mean? These kind of issues. There’s a lot of people’s lives are being driven by these fears and, you know, I’m no exception.”
There may be a final irony in the title of Distant Populations. Practically speaking, that’s precisely whom Quicksand recorded it for: Listeners very far away. Not a single one of these songs has ever been played live onstage. The band has dates on hold for the fall, notes Schreifels, and fingers are crossed Quicksand will be out there performing very soon. They will likely be the most memorable shows of the band’s career.
“Meanwhile,” he adds, “we’re happy at this stage of the game. We’re excited for this record. And we want people to know.”
“Nobody has riffs anymore,” says founding member/vocalist/guitarist Jacob Duarte when asked about his approach on 12th House Rock, Narrow Head’s highly anticipated LP for Run for Cover due on August 28. “That’s the kind of band we are and to me, that’s just how you write songs. Drums, bass, guitar, vocals. Nothing else. There are no other instruments on the record.”
The Houston-based band’s latest entry is the distillation of the greatest moments in 90’s alternative and hard rock with a fresh set of ears, thirteen tracks of their signature brand of bludgeoning lullabies bursting at the seams with creative ideas, new directions and yes, massive, monolithic riffs. In between the sparkle and smash, open-hearted and emotionally naked songwriting showcases a core piece of the band’s identity– showcasing 12th House Rock as one of the best releases of 2020. “It’s the definitive work of Narrow Head,” proudly explains bassist Ryan Chavez. “Recorded in a studio over a month’s span, the way they used to do it. Not just for the sake of making it that way, but because it was the right way for us.”
Delving into deep-seated themes of self loathing, desolation, self-medication, the loss of loved ones and hopeful redemption,12th House Rock is, as the title suggests, a rock-focused LP themed on transition– exploring the vast abyss of darkness just before the sun cracks upon the horizon. “A lot of the record was made in the late hours and early morning,” recalls Duarte. ”Those quiet moments alone when utter silence and my self-medication made it impossible to escape from my own thoughts. It was also from a specific time when I didn’t take care of myself and made bad decisions in all aspects of my life. These songs were a way out, temporarily anyway.”
Duarte references specific songs on the record as touchstones within that dark period. “’Emmadazey’ and ‘Hard to Swallow’ were inspired by pharmaceuticals and when the people around you know that you’re making bad decisions but are afraid to tell you,” he reveals. “’Crankcase. is about staying up for days at a time, not eating and chain smoking.” Guitarist William Menjivar is also quick to add that “’Ponderosa’ is about big life choices and the empty feelings of ‘What if?’ thinking about whether or not your decision was the right one. In the end it doesn’t matter because you can never take it back.” Yet while all the songs follow explore the darkness, Menjivar adds emphatically that 12th House Rock “does have moments of optimism and sentimentality, so it’s not a completely dark record. Nostalgia is also something we want people to feel when they listen to this.”
Rising from the Texas underground scene, Narrow Head formed in 2013 but became fully realized as a band in Houston with the release of their 2016 debut LP Satisfaction and the lineup of Duarte, Menjivar and drummer Carson Wilcox. Playing in the Texas scene instilled a can-do attitude, an ability to explore several different ideas along with a strong set of DIY ethics, qualities that still form the basis of the band to this day. “Book your own shows, book your own tours,” details Duarte about the foundation of his musical viewpoint. ”I think that having other musical projects provided a scene for us to play too. Nobody else was looking at us, so we had to make our own scene.”
The band’s second and highly-anticipated LP 12th House Rock was self-produced and born of close to a hundred takes with no click track, vocal correction, drum samples or quantizing, resulting in thirteen testaments to pulverizing pop clocking in above 50 minutes. Initially only Duarte, Menjivar and Wilcox in 2018, the trio of old friends entered the studio with a batch of songs intending to write bass parts on the fly. “I have known Jacob and Carson since childhood and they are the most talented musicians– total prodigies,” states Menjivar. The three looked to build an LP that reflected current tastes as well as “music [they] looked up to as kids,” according to Menjivar, adding their own twist on the entirety of it.
Though the primary trio was present throughout the entire cycle, fate would intervene on bass as the undeniable chemistry between the band and then strictly producer Ryan Chavez led to his inclusion in Narrow Head. “Once we got in the studio and started recording demos for the album, I got along with them well and felt full of ideas on how to play bass for certain tracks,” explains Chavez. The newly minted four piece would handle the bulk of the remainder of the LP, bringing in Erica Miller of Big Bite/Casual Hex, vocalist/lyricist on “Delano Door,” and mastering guru Sarah Register to put the final touches on the record. Guitarist Kora Puckett (Bugg, ex-Sheer Mag), who previously logged hours as a live member in the tours preceding the LP, would join Narrow Head as a full-fledged member following the LP’s completion.
Using distorted guitars as their primary vehicle, Narrow Head’s wall of riffs add stark contrast to their best quality– deceptively sweet pop melodies that channel the lessons of My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Helmet, Deftones and Guided by Voices all at once. “Distortion provides a harmonic sound that feels like static texture,” details Duarte. “It feels smooth while being loud and noisy at the same time. But some of our favorite bands don’t use distortion– all music inspires us. Loud rock is only the first part of our formula– this record is our take on music we like from the last 20 years.”
Yet despite whatever comparisons that can be made to guitar tone, mood, songwriting, timbre or virtually anything else, Narrow Head are quick to credit their native Houston, TX as the primary source for it all. “Houston is the greatest city on earth,” says Duarte emphatically. “People who know, know. In Houston, you have to give people a reason to pay attention to you.” With 12th House Rock, not only will Narrow Head have Houston’s attention, but the entire rock world as well.