How Tacoma's Enumclaw managed to become Seattle's next big hype band

click to enlarge How Tacoma's Enumclaw managed to become Seattle's next big hype band
Colin Matsui photo
Aramis Johnson (right) and Enumclaw deliver refreshingly unvarnished indie rock.

If a band creates a buzz in the forest but no one is around to see it play, did it even make a sound?

It was a fair hypothetical question to ask for Tacoma indie rock outfit Enumclaw.

The band made immediate waves in February 2021 with the release of its first song, "Fast N All." The tune's vibe instrumentally dips into the realm of casually loose early '90s indie rock, but singer/guitarist Aramis Johnson gives the music a slightly different flavor — delivering lyrics about kinda aimlessly trying to find self-identity as time drifts away, with a sort of facade-free unpolished vocal sincerity. Within months the song and the band had already garnered rave write-ups from the tastemakers at KEXP, Pitchfork and Sterogum.

There was just one catch. Still in the grips of the COVID pandemic, the band couldn't play any concerts. In fact, at that point Enumclaw had never played a live show.

But in our digital age, little details like that aren't momentum killers. And Enumclaw continued to ride the hype wave even after finally playing a gig for some pals in the backyard of a former Tacoma vintage store in June 2021.

Despite being located south down Interstate 5, it's safe to say Enumclaw is the current holder of a title that's launched many artists into stardom: Seattle's buzziest band.

For the extremely confident Johnson, who just turned 27 this week, the band's quick rise isn't shocking. It's a result of him betting on himself. He'd long been a very active player in the Tacoma music scene, but not really in a performance way (apart from some DJing). Despite no real experience singing or playing guitar, he just decided to go for it and start a band.

"I don't want to wake up one day and be like, I spent my whole life helping other people do what I wanted to do."

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"It just was something I had always wanted to do," says Johnson. "Actually, right before the band started, I had started a creative agency with my friends Scooby and Eric. We were trying to do a magazine, and managing this local rap group who was starting to get a little bit of buzz."

"We were helping out [Enumclaw drummer LaDaniel Gipson] with his solo music," Johnson continues, "and we had a little office space in downtown Tacoma. I also was toying with the idea, especially toward the end of college, that I was going to move to LA and be in A&R and consult for some bigger labels. I had taken a meeting with Capital and thought I was going to do that."

"And one day after shooting a music video for the rap group we were working with at the time, me and Eric went to the bar," he continues. "And we were talking, and I kind of just realized, like, I don't want to wake up one day and be like, I spent my whole life helping other people do what I wanted to do. Because I had never put myself first. I had, like, DJed for other artists or I tried to do all this other stuff for my friends. And I was like, I want to see what would happen if I put myself in the driver's seat, per se. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my friends that I was doing the agency with, and we started the band up."

Johnson brought in Gipson to drum and his pal Nathan Cornell as another guitarist, before eventually looping in his younger brother, Eli Edwards, to play bass. Again displaying no lack of bravado, the band dubbed themselves "The Best Band Since Oasis." And while the immediacy of the band's popularity might not have been expected, it was in part because of all the networking Johnson had done over the years, which led him to have deep roots in both the Tacoma and Seattle music scenes.

"I knew a lot of people, but I didn't really ever have a product to utilize all the people I knew," he says. "So I did think once I finally put the band out that it would definitely be able to have the right eyes in front of it. I was pretty confident that it'd work, but I don't think like the first song we put out would do it. 'Fast N All' is still our most popular song."

Enumclaw kept the hype train rolling along in 2022 with the release of its first LP, Save the Baby. Produced by Gabe Wax (who also helmed one of Johnson's all-time favs, Soccer Mommy's essentially perfect debut record Clean), the album captures the spirit that initially drew so many folks to the band. The songs on Save the Baby are casually cool in a way that makes the band feel like hanging with your pals, only they decide to put on an impromptu house show.

Heck, the ultra-tender album-closing "Apartment" is literally the demo version of the song Johnson recorded on his phone's voice memo app. After many attempts to make it a full band version the guys just decided that bare-bones version was best (even if it doesn't have the finalized lyrics Johnson settled on). Enumclaw is here for that level of go-with-the-flow. It fosters a feeling of approachability whether folks are listening from afar or at their actual concerts.

"On this last tour, it was really cool to see Black kids start to come out to shows," Johnson remarks. "And we're at a stage in the band, where if somebody comes to the show, it's extremely easy for them to meet us. Half the times we don't even have a green room, you know?"

More than anything else, the key to Enumclaw's appeal seems to be the band's utter lack of artifice. While it might be in the same sonic realm as some classic '90s indie touchstones, there's a decidedly different heart at the core. While bands like Pavement peddled in too-cool-too-care slacker detachment, Enumclaw is almost achingly earnest without dipping into anything resembling the florid melodrama of emo music. The lyrics Johnson writes and the rap-inspired sing-talk cadence with which he delivers them are completely unvarnished. In this era of curated social media personas, what you see is what you get with Enumclaw. And that feels fresh and real to listeners.

"I think this album has just made a lot of people feel seen," says Johnson. "A lot of people — especially in rock music — try to hide behind the lyrics with vagueness or, like, different kinds of wordplay. But I think my lyrical writing sounds very up-front. It's kind of pretty obvious what I'm talking about in my songs. So yeah, I think it's just made a lot of people feel seen. I feel very lucky to feel like I've touched on a universal feeling." ♦

Enumclaw, Milly • Fri, Dec. 9 at 8 pm • $15-$18 • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. •

Pamela Benton @ Steam Plant Restaurant & Brew Pub

Thu., Feb. 2, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...