Enumclaw understands genius in simplicity. The indie rock quartet from Tacoma eschew exotic studio effects, elongated guitar solos, and elaborate song structures. Leadsinger Aramis Johnson’s plaintive vocals of self-realization offer an aching vulnerability, delivered in a gloriously imperfect timbre. The music is introspective and whimsical, never taking itself too seriously while beckoning listeners to confront the inward forces that cripple self-growth.
Johnson named the band after a small rural town southeast of Seattle, citing his time competing against Enumclaw High’s physically-imposing wrestling team as inspiration. Other than boasting a relatively close proximity to Mount Rainier, the city is also notable for being the hometown of former NBA unicorn Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine. Needless to say, the band faces an uphill battle toward toppling that legacy.
Enumclaw is the latest in a storied and diversely rich musical lineage from the Pacific Northwest, a region whose influence stretches across multiple genres and styles. A cross-county punk community thrived before grunge forever altered the popular music landscape, and Kurt Cobain was equally enamored with the indie movement taking shape in Olympia, championed by K Records founder and Beat Happening front man Calvin Johnson. A vast pipeline of groups in the years since have made significant contributions to the hardcore and indie genres at the national level, from Unwound and Sleater-Kinney to Modest Mouse and Fleet Foxes.
The band’s creative nucleus starts with Johnson, whose initial endeavors into music came through the hip-hop scene in Tacoma, where he produced beats and DJ’d for local MC’s. When his rap ambitions fizzled out, Johnson and a friend launched Toe Jam, a series of legendary parties and creative gatherings that took place in warehouses and barns outside the greater Seattle area. Johnson credits his time in the rap industry as a valuable teacher for fronting a rock band, where his authenticity and charisma make him a natural showman.
Johnson met drummer Ladaniel Gibson toward the tail end of Toe Jam and convinced him to form a rock band during the lull of the pandemic. Gibson connected them with experienced guitar player Nathan Cornell, and Johnson’s brother Eli Edwards later filled in on bass. Other than Cornell, the members were almost entirely neophytes at their respective instruments.
Nonetheless, the band’s first project, 2021’s Jimbo Demo EP, achieved the rare feat of meshing gritty, DIY-sounding recordings with infectious riffs and highly quotable hooks. The breezy grooves of “Free Drop Billy” are effortlessly catchy; the shoegaze-y twang of “Fruit Flies” shows an unexpected grasp of slowing things down. A key component to Enumclaw’s formula is Johnson’s earnest desire for self-improvement and his willingness to probe deep insecurities. “Cinderella” expresses a genuine desire for romantic connection while acknowledging the roadblocks that self-doubt can create. Once realizing he’s not ready for that type of intimacy, Johnson mournfully croons on the chorus “I’m not the person that I want to be yet.”
Save the Baby, the band’s official debut for Luminelle Recordings, arrives on October 14th and expands upon Jimbo in glorious new ways. The record sheds some of the ruggedness of Jimbo for a more polished finish, due in part to the contributions of producer Gabe Wax, who’s worked with Crumb, Adrianne Lenker, Standing On the Corner, and more. The super-charged first single, “2002,” should frequent several end-of-year lists. Carried by a thumping rhythmic section and exuberant guitar licks, the track sarcastically glorifies the happiness that comes with an absent conscious and willful ignorance. “I might just be fine, if I lost my mind,” Johnson belts on the high-powered chorus.
Johnson has never been shy about the lofty ambitions he envisions for the band; their Twitter bio insists they are “the best band since Oasis.” Save the Baby proves these aspirations aren’t without merit; there are legitimate pop sensibilities scattered throughout the project. The irresistible melody of “Jimmy Neutron” feels like the kind of unbridled jubilance shared during the honeymoon stage of a romantic partnership. The penultimate track, “10th and J 2,” features a vibrant chord pattern that could formulate the backbone of a chart-topping hit from The Cure. Elsewhere however, Johnson wrestles with the newfound struggles that accompany success and stardom. “Park Lodge” poignantly dissects the bitter triumph of making it out of your neighborhood, only to experience guilt from leaving behind childhood peers. “Thinking of all the times we spent talking about our dreams. Who would have thought they’d all come true, but only for me,” Johnson notes melancholically.
We caught up with Enumclaw ahead of the release of Save the Baby on October 14th. – Ross Olson
For folks who aren’t familiar, what is the city of Enumclaw known for?
Aramis: It’s mainly known for horsef***ers.
I think I read that on the Wikipedia page.
Aramis: Yeah I didn’t know that. To me, Enumclaw is a hick town that has a really good wrestling team and then we named the band Enumclaw, and everybody was like ‘did you know a guy fucked a horse up there and died?’
Eli: To me, Enumclaw is a town with a bunch of beautiful people and fun things to see.
Aramis: It is a really pretty place.
Nathan: Yeah it’s right at the base of the mountain. I got good pizza there once.
Aramis: We got in the local Enumclaw newspaper. That was pretty cool.
Aramis, I’m familiar with how you named the band after competing against them in High School wrestling. Was it a David vs. Goliath type match-up whenever you faced them?
Aramis: Yeah they were state champs twice when I was in high school. My freshman year, the guy in my weight class won state. They were the guys to beat.
I’m sure the city appreciates the plug at the end of the day.
Aramis: I think everyone is excited to distance themselves from the horse incident. It’s really wild. Sometimes I’ll look up our name on twitter and every day someone is tweeting about the Enumclaw horse sex case. Every single day there’s a tweet about it.
They’re probably glad now it’s going to be known for a rock band and not that prior disturbing incident.
Eli: I don’t know though, that shit was huge. I’m thinking about it like, we got a little bit to go to overcome that. It’s like us [hand is here], Mr. Hands [hand is higher].
Aramis: I knew about Mr. Hands way before I knew that was the Enumclaw thing.
Are all of you guys from the Tacoma area?
Aramis: I’m from Lakewood which is like a Tacoma suburb.
Eli: I’m a Spanaway boy. Same shit, same deal.
Nathan: I’m from 100 miles north of here. A little town called Stanwood. I am from Camano Island. It’s really dark at night. Whenever I go visit my parents and I have to leave their house in the dark, I’m just like ‘What the fuck? How did I know how to drive this?’ It’s scary dark. Hella weird shit has gone down there. There was this dude called the BareFoot Bandit. He would break into people’s houses and steal food.
Aramis: The barefoot bandit was in Camano island? What year was that?
Nathan: That was like ‘08-’09. He stole a bunch of credit card information, bought videos on how to fly a plane, stole a little plane and then flew all the way to Florida. They made a movie about him.
Aramis: Eli might have been too young, but back when things got a proper news cycle, that shit was on the news for months.
Nathan: My friends’ older brother went to high school with him before he dropped out.
Eli: This n***a was living real life Grand Theft Auto!
Nathan: He was on the run for years too.
Aramis: What was that one dude who stole the money and died in the plane crash? Someone stole a plane two summers ago. He crashed on this island in the middle of the Puget Sound.
Nathan: We’ve had three plane stealers?
Aramis: He stole the plane from SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma Airport).
Nathan: And we got serial killers. The first big news story I remember seeing on the local news as a kid was the Green River killer.
Aramis: Same. My Dad’s doctor growing up was that guy’s neighbor. One day he came home and the whole street was shut down.
You guys got a little bit of everything up there.
Aramis: Truly. It’s a wild place out here.
How did growing up in Tacoma shape musical influences and aspirations?
Aramis: That’s a good question. Something I seen about this last weekend was the Bay Area had such a big influence on Tacoma. I don’t know, jerkin’ got really big out here. I think I was in seventh grade when that started and it was a huge musical awakening. Going to parties, being the age I am, rap was a very big deal here. Besides the West Coast hip-hop stuff and rap, I don’t think there’s a huge Tacoma influence on our sound. I guess subconsciously all that shit that happened in the nineties.
I was going to ask if the stereotypes got kind of annoying with the Pacific Northwest rock bands following the grunge scene?
Aramis: I literally told this to someone the other day, but I used to be embarrassed about how much I liked Nirvana just cuz I’m from here. But it’s not really something people talk about. I think it’s just a byproduct of being from Washington that those things are inescapable. Everybody still dresses like that because that’s how you dress when you live here. Nobody’s like ‘I’m gonna dress like I’m in a grunge band.’ It’s fucking raining.
Nathan: Eddie Vedder was acting like a fashion statement. It’s just what people wear out here and somehow still is.
Aramis: We went on tour for the first time in the fall and I was like ‘oh shit, people don’t dress like they do in the Pacific Northwest.’
Knowing that the Tacoma music scene often gets overlooked compared to Olympia and Seattle proper, does it mean something extra to represent Tacoma?
Aramis: Yeah I would say so. I think it’s been cool to show that you can do it and that’s been the most exciting thing to me. Besides The Sonics in the sixties, nobody’s really come out of Tacoma musically. I guess Jerry Cantrell, the dude from Alice in Chains is from Spanaway.
When you guys first started making music, did the PNW climate play a role in the type of sound you wanted to make?
Nathan: I think it kind of subconsciously does. You kind of know where any kind of artist is from around here, even if it’s like the difference between Soundgarden and Death Cab for Cutie. You can tell.
Aramis: The fucking weather really fucks with your head. If you haven’t been out here and gone through the whole shit, you don’t understand. I was telling somebody this the other day. I had two days that were pretty much the same day. I didn’t really do anything crazy. I think I went to my mom’s house and one day was sunny and the next day wasn’t sunny. On the sunny day I had a really good day. On the non sunny day I had a bad day. That shit wears down on you. I’m going to make music that feels like how it feels looking at it raining the last 50 days in a row.
Eli: I remember all the moms would say ‘the weather is as bipolar as the people.’
Aramis, your first foray into music came through the rap and hip-hop world. Is there any aspect of that background that you incorporate into your role as frontman of Enumclaw?
Aramis: It’s definitely influenced my approach to songwriting and the things I want to talk about. We were just in LA this past weekend and have you heard of that group AG Club?
Yeah I actually saw them open up for Denzel Curry.
Aramis: Yeah I saw them the other day and I was blown away by their set. At band practice the other day, I was talking about ‘how do we bring more rap energy to a rock show?’ I think it’s a very active thing in terms of how do I think about things, you know? I was very impressed. I was like ‘this is some of the craziest energy I’ve seen come out on stage.’ Them and JPEGMAFIA. I was impressed by the crowd control and how confidently they came out.
Do you still make beats from time to time?
Aramis: No, but I was thinking about it yesterday. I haven’t made a beat in so long. I wonder what would happen if I made a beat.
You should make a beat and the whole band freestyles over it.
Nathan: We have one as a secret track.
Aramis: As part of the album, one night we took a break and made a rap song. It’s on somebody’s computer.
You should put it out as a bonus track.
Aramis: Maybe we’ll put it on the Japanese exclusive.
Eli: Absolutely not.
I know you guys are big fans of Oasis. For the brothers, do you guys fight like Noel and Liam?
Aramis: We definitely bicker.
Eli: Not really.
Aramis: I don’t think there’s as much spite.
Eli: Didn’t they break a guitar and some shit? I wouldn’t hurt the guitar.
Aramis: One of the dudes said the other one’s daughter wasn’t really his daughter. They were throwing crazy jabs. There’s no crazy jabs like that going on. There was one story that one of them peed on the other’s boombox.
Other than Nathan, it seems like you guys are somewhat new to your instruments. How did you get to a place of confidence with your instruments so quickly?
Aramis: I don’t know, blind faith? We were just like ‘here we go?’
Eli: Fuck it!
Aramis: It’s honestly cool to see how far everyone has come on their instrument. I remember being scared that I was never going to remember how to play anything on the guitar that I had played before.
That had to be scary going into your first show.
Aramis: We did have a ton of hype before we ever played a show. The second we played a show, if this show sucks, people are going to know. Looking back on it, we probably sounded so bad.
Was band chemistry apparent from the beginning or was it something that had to be developed over time through practice and repetition?
Aramis: I think it came very naturally. Especially when Eli joined the band. It was like ‘oh shit, this is a thing.’ We tried to get a couple different bass players before Eli joined the band. I think there’s definitely something special between the four of us.
The music is easy to connect with on a personal level due to the authenticity of the band, and the lyrics are really earnest and come from a place of personal truth. From the beginning, did you guys set out to create music that was true to you guys?
Aramis: I’ve tried to write songs that aren’t about anything, but it’s way harder to write those songs than it is to be like ‘this shit just happened to me, I’m gonna write a song about it.’
How are you feeling ahead of your debut album, Save the Baby, dropping later this year?
Eli: Feeling crazy, dude.
Aramis: I’ve gone through a range of emotions where I’m like ‘we’re about to sell 30 million copies.’ Then I was like ‘fuck, are people going to like it?’ Now I’m just like excited overall. I just really want to get it out there.
Eli: I’m ready to flex up. I think I can speak for all of us. We just want to go crazy.
You guys seem to have a lot of pride in being from the Pacific Northwest, but also express a desire to make it out and strive for something bigger. Is the goal to find a balance between staying true to who you are and where you came from while also achieving success on a grand stage?