Enumclaw: The Best of What’s Next

For years, Paste has introduced exciting, up-and-coming artists to our readers. This is the return of The Best of What’s Next, a monthly profile column which highlights new acts with big potential—the artists you’ll want to tell your friends about the minute you first hear their music. Explore them all here.

Any band willing to poke the bear that is Noel Gallagher earns my respect immediately. For Washington state quartet Enumclaw, it’s their calling card. Their Twitter bio reads, “The Best Band Since Oasis,” and with less than two years under their belt as a working band, it’s a bold claim that somehow feels right.

The band scraps themselves together over an early morning Zoom call. Frontman Aramis Johnson logs in first, followed by drummer Ladaniel Gipson superimposed on a bright blue backdrop. Guitarist Nathan Cornell sneaks in, and lastly bassist Eli Edwards arrives, slightly out of breath after rushing home from the farmer’s market. “You were up early enough to go to the farmers market?” asks Johnson, slightly amused.

“Dude, I woke up at like seven every day this week,” Edwards replied with a sly smile.If it wasn’t obvious from the playful ribbing, Johnson and Edwards are brothers, another Gallagher comparison waiting to be made.

It is early in Washington when we talk. The gray sky shines through Edwards’ window, signaling a standard gloomy day. While the band was formed in Tacoma, the members are scattered across the Western part of the state, nestled outside of grunge birthplace Seattle. Johnson himself is from Lakewood, known for (surprise!) its lakes. Edwards is from Spanaway, located about 20 minutes south. The areas represent a strong, tight-knit working class demographic, contrary to the tech haven that Seattle has become known for. It’s an area that’s disproportionately white with a more conservative voting record than its famously left-leaning neighbor.

Edwards and Johnson acknowledge the demographic shift that has grown more apparent over time, but the two had very different experiences. “Spanaway, you know, it’s right by a military base, so it’s super diverse. There’s a lot of shit about just, like, life that I didn’t even think about because everybody was around, you know?” Edwards says.

Johnson agrees: “I felt like at least in my little bubble, it was very diverse. I feel like if anything, as of late, it’s gotten less diverse. As you know, things change and stuff.”

Despite growing up in a diverse, military-dependent area with a bustling International District in close proximity to a musical hotspot, Johnson knew there was a gap he could fill.

Enumclaw was driven by Johnson’s ultimate vision: fame. It first started with a rap collective he started with some friends as a teenager. After that dissolved, he landed himself in Tacoma-based punk-rap crew Boiler Boyz Entertainment as a DJ. Despite the growing recognition of members Ghoulavellii and CRIMEWAVE, the latter of whom is now a member of the deathcore band Extortionist, Johnson was back to square one. With a foothold in the growing underground rap scene of what is otherwise known as an indie mecca, Johnson used his connections and love for rap to create Toe Jam, a series of rap parties. At its height, the parties were even sponsored by Red Bull Music for a special event, featuring a then-underground Young Nudy.

Gipson attended the first Toe Jam with Johnson, seeing the event grow into a safe, exciting space for rap music to be shared and celebrated. It was only right that as the event was nearing its conclusion, the two began brainstorming what eventually became Enumclaw, named after the best high school wrestling team Johnson remembered from his younger years.

“When we started the band, Ladaniel was gonna play bass,” Johnson remembers. “Then, we couldn’t find a drummer despite having a drum kit, so Ladaniel started playing drums. Then I couldn’t play guitar yet, so it took a second to really get things going.”

“I didn’t really have many drum influences before this,” Gipson admits. “There were some bands I liked, but I never really focused on the drums too much until now. I was just telling my boy the other day that it’s kinda crazy how I didn’t plan on drums or want to be a drummer. Some things in life just kind of find you that way.”

When I ask if he transferred any bass influences to his drumming, Gipson replies, “I didn’t know how to play bass either!”

That carefree attitude is a running thread throughout our conversation. When one guy gives a serious answer, it snowballs into a joke that the others dogpile on until you can’t tell if they’re serious or not. At one point, I ask Edwards his age. He says he’s 19 and Johnson mumbles, “allegedly.” I also ask about their obvious hip-hop influences, tipped off by a critic who compared Johnson to Playboi Carti. “No, no, no, no, no. Hip-hop? We like guitar music,” Edwards interjects.

“Tell Drake to see me on the kit, bro,” Gipson quips.

The two-piece eventually recruited guitarist Nathan Cornell (who actually knew how to play) to hit the ground running on their first songs. “In March 2020, we had three songs and a show on the calendar!” Johnson comments. “Then, the world shut down, so we kind of restarted.”

The trio used the lull of the beginning of the pandemic to practice and refine their songs, eventually creating Jimbo Demo, their debut EP released in April 2021. Rooted in the true DIY ethos of their state heroes Nirvana and Sonic Youth, the trio swan-dived into releasing music with no shows under their belt and a rough understanding of their instruments. It was a rare home run in the first at-bat, instantly garnering praise. It unintentionally tugged on the nostalgia for the ‘90s alternative sound to which Enumclaw owe a lot. Johnson embraces voice cracks that come through his classic slacker delivery. You can tell the band is slowly gaining their footing, laying off on grand flourishes and instead keeping steady time, leaning heavily on guitars drenched in feedback and fuzz.

The star of the EP is “Fast N All.” Hazy shoegaze guitars melt into the bass, accented with occasional cymbal pitter-patter. Johnson captures the stereotypical nihilism born out of the Pacific Northwest gloom as he sings, “What’s the point of even trying if there’s no one left?” There’s also “Free Drop Billy,” a groovier indie-rock romp. “I don’t want to be a loser,” Johnson croons, hanging onto the final syllable in a way that would make Kurt Cobain proud.

Jimbo Demo was a success, arriving just as the world opened up for live music again. They recruited Edwards on bass (a role that Cornell initially took up alongside guitar.) They quickly signed onto independent label Luminelle Recordings and supported modern shoegaze heroes Nothing for their fall tour, as well as embarking on another short tour with Naked Giants at the top of 2022. Again, this was all off one EP. Rather than pad out their setlist with at least another one, they went full-speed into album mode.

“We wanted to jump off the porch, I don’t know!” Johnson says with an exasperated laugh. “I feel like people who do that shit are scared. I’m trying to be poppin’.”

It’s not exactly common to go from one EP to an album in less than three years as a band, but Johnson’s hunger is undeniable. He thrusts his entire being into everything he does, whether it be DJing for a rap collective or fronting a buzz-rock band. In everything he’s ever done, his confidence never wavered. That attitude is spread throughout the rest of the band.

“People ignore EPs, too. There’s something about calling it an album that has more weight to it. The shit Kanye was dropping is seven songs and he could’ve called it an EP,” Cornell says. Everyone nods in agreement. If Kanye can do it, so can Enumclaw.

The band’s forthcoming full-length debut Save the Baby (Oct. 14, Luminelle Recordings) was born, showing a clear growth from the charming roughness of Jimbo Demo. There’s still the grungy scrappiness that will never go away, keeping in theme with the band’s humble beginnings as a group forged by YouTube tutorials and elbow grease.

Lead single “Jimmy Neutron” opens with the band’s jovial chatter. From there, Gipson’s drums usher in Johnson and Cornell’s dreamy guitars. The difference in production quality is immediately noticeable. There is a depth and atmosphere to the song, indicative less of a sacrifice in their lo-fi aesthetics and more of the resources that give the band a chance to shine brightest. Throughout Save the Baby, there’s Jets to Brazil-esque guitar melodies and soaring solos. Johnson’s vocals are inflected with touches of pain, sarcasm and bemusement. If Jimbo Demo was created out of an urgent necessity to turn a dream into something tangible, then Save the Baby is Enumclaw capturing that lightning in a bottle and unleashing it as full-blown fireworks, a reward not only for those who stuck around, but also for themselves.

Digging deeper into Enumclaw, past the charm and humor, Save the Baby is Johnson baring his soul. “I think people who are afraid to say, ‘This is my debut album,’ are scared that they’re never going to write a good song again,” he tells me. “And I haven’t even written my best song yet.” The album is colored by Johnson’s experience with losing his father to sickle cell anemia when he was a child and being raised by his mother on government assistance. Johnson found solace in his childhood friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“When we were like, 18 or 19, he got diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was one of the main people I would meet up with and hang out with Park Lodge,” Johnson remembers. “He was the first person I called when I had my real crush on a girl at school. When I said I wanted to be famous and do X, Y and Z, he was my confidant. It’s been very weird and hard to process him not being here in this moment, while all this stuff is finally happening.”

The band recalls Enumclaw’s first headlining show in their hometown of Tacoma back in February of this year. Johnson’s friend was in attendance. “I think he had to go home early because it just was too much of a situation for him.”

Underneath the layers of blissful guitar melodies and crashing guitars on Save the Baby is a recurring theme of survivor’s guilt and healing. It manifests in different ways across the album, whether it be reflecting on losing a father, seeing a beloved friend grapple with mental health issues or emerging from the ashes of lost love. In one track, Johnson even gives a shoutout to his therapist.

With Enumclaw on such a fast upward trajectory, with several tours and an album on the way, what’s the sign that will say they’ve truly “made it”? Maybe it’s fancams on Twitter or Instagram fan accounts. Edwards quickly interjects, “When I can Google my name or like Google all of our shit and see someone’s anime fan art. That’s when I know we made it. That’s what I’m looking for, or like an AMV. Something that takes a little too much effort for it to be chill.”

“I’m just waiting for someone to bootleg our merch,” Gipson replies. There is a resounding agreement.

“Or we pull up to the Cleveland mall and get rushed in the food court,” Cornell suggests. “That would be pretty famous. I feel like if you get recognized in the middle of the country, that’s a good sign.”

The band settles on Wyoming as the fabled state that holds the key to their ultimate fame. I hone in on Johnson and commend him for being so open about his desire to be famous.

“It’s gross. It’s like the most embarrassing thing about me, but I want to be ‘can’t go to the grocery store’ famous,” Johnson confesses, much to the amusement of his bandmates. That type of inescapable notability doesn’t feel too out of reach for Enumclaw, with the right amount of humility, charm, humor and talent to become indie-rock darlings and more. Who knows? Drake may just take up Gipson on his drum challenge, or they may be the missing piece to bring Oasis back, if only to tell them to stop using their namesake in promotional materials. Whatever the case may be, Enumclaw’s dreams won’t be in vain.

You can preorder Save the Baby here and revisit Enumclaw’s Paste session below.

Jade Gomez is Paste’s assistant music editor, dog mom, Southern rap aficionado and compound sentence enthusiast. She has no impulse control and will buy vinyl that she’s too afraid to play or stickers she will never stick. You can follow her on Twitter.