Enumclaw’s drummer is missing. It’s 4:00p.m.; I’ve been with him and two other members of the band for roughly six minutes, walking towards the Supreme store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to meet up with one of their friends. But now guitarist Nathan Cornell points out that Ladaniel Gipson isn’t with us anymore. (He’s not dead, but the band’s annoyed looks could kill.) They text the most recent number they have for him. Brace-faced bassist Eli Edwards gets a response back, saying he has the wrong number. Weird prank. Edwards facetimes Gipson, only to be greeted by a Wilford Brimley-ass grandfather type who says he doesn’t know who they are, and “to leave him alone” before immediately hanging up. They laugh. “LD goes missing all the time,” says lead singer, guitarist, and cheeky loudmouth Aramis Johnson, his Ned Flanders mustache rising above a wide smile.
It’s my first hint that I’m going to be playing catch up with Enumclaw, the rising stars of Pacific Northwest indie rock, for the rest of the day.
So much guitar music has become self-aware to a fault, leaning into technical bombast in order to seem interesting. (You know, like Black Midi and their fellow U.K. cohorts, who I actually like—but I could also do without trying to cram another absurd jazz motif into a seven minute song). Enumclaw has crashed landed as an alternative; a reminder of the inherent power of proper hooks and not overthinking things. The collision happened quickly. Enumclaw formed three years ago in Tacoma, Washington; their 2021 demo, Jimbo, inspired immediate attention. A cocktail of fuzz pedals, Johnson’s absurdly nasal vocals, and an uncanny ability to layer multiple earworm melodies in each song, Jimbo is made even more impressive when you realize half the band had never played their instruments before this project (Johnson and Gipson were newbies to guitar and drums, respectively). A pained yelp of “It’s always too much / Or it’s never enough” forms the chorus of “Fast N All”; clear anguish in Johnson’s singing, so catchy you can’t help but shout along to it. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Sixteen months later, they released their debut LP, Save the Baby. It’s a level up in nearly every capacity, from the moodier production and subtle jangle pop riffs on “Paranoid”, to the multiple guitar freakout solos on “Cowboy Bepop.” Johnson’s songwriting skills have grown so much that it could be argued that the album’s best track is the one least indicative of their sound: “Somewhere”, an acoustic track in which he ruminates on chasing dreams and missing his deceased father.
These are the types of releases the Pacific Northwest used to churn out back in the day, a love letter to the distortion filled indie rock of the '90s. Ironically, that wasn’t what Enumclaw set out to do, despite their band name also being the name of another small town in Washington state and not just a mouthful. They're more interested in becoming the biggest band on the planet.
“I had never heard Pavement or Built to Spill before we put out the Jimbo demo,” Johnson reveals, taking a sip of his matcha latte. We’ve abandoned the Supreme store for Marth’s Country Bakery, a cafe ornamented with lengthy display cases full of every imaginable baked good, from crumble and cake pops to pudding and strudel. As we wait for cheesecake to show up, I ask about the band’s complicated relationship with the indie rock old guard.
“Sometimes people will say we sound like Dinosaur Jr. and I guess I can accept that one, but I don’t really like it when people compare us to other things,” he says.
Johnson admits Nirvana is his “favorite band ever” and mentions Silverchair (the Australian answer to "What if Pearl Jam were a little more generic?") as his biggest influence with their demo. It takes me a full second to realize he’s not joking. But these guys are full of surprises. Enumclaw’s official motto is “The best band since Oasis,” despite both sounding and existing miles away from the Gallagher brothers’ arena-sized Britpop. It’s a polarizing declaration, but the band truly believes Oasis make perfect sense as their idols/inspirations/potential future peers.
“In a world where everyone is passive, especially where we live, it’s really inspiring to see a personality that’s bigger than life,” Johnson tells CREEM. “And to see some, like, ‘We’re the shit. We told you we were going to be the shit. And we really did this shit,’ [attitude.] What doesn’t get you more amped up than that?!”
Do they really think they’re going to be able to be one of the biggest bands in the world? They hit me with an immediate, unanimous “YES.” It is momentarily convincing. “You can’t be the best if you don’t think you are, if you don’t think you will be,” Cornell says. “You have to do it on purpose. A band like Oasis or Nirvana or whoever, you don’t get as big as that by accident. You just can’t.”
"A band like Oasis or Nirvana or whoever, you don’t get as big as that by accident. You just can’t."
But those bands existed in a time where rock music was the dominant cultural force (that title has been held by hip-hop for half a decade now, and as America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, we’re not afraid of saying it). So why this band, and why now? Johnson was involved in the rap scene in Washington originally. Surely sticking with that would’ve made more sense?
“I don’t know, I’m a crazy person?” he says laughing. “I’ve always wanted to do shit to the highest degree. I love rap music, and I spent eight years of my life trying to make it in rap, and rap is so oversaturated. Also, the infrastructure of rap has forced it to become one dimensional. Suddenly there’s only one type of popular rapper.”
He treats the genre with a reverence that seems lost on so many new bands: not consumed by nostalgia, but clearly, he believes in rock music’s longevity. “I think rock music is timeless. Ice Cube, legendary rapper. At one point, he played the Tacoma Dome on the Up in Smoke tour [in 2000]. Ice Cube came back to town in 2019 and played The Showbox,” Johnson continues. “There’s nothing wrong with that per say, but it’s like, Iron Maiden came around the same time, and played the Tacoma Dome, and that’s why I want to be a rock band. I think rock music lasts longer, in that sense.”
For now, Enumclaw will settle on playing New York’s famed Music Hall of Williamsburg later this evening, as direct support for indie punk-poppers Illuminati Hotties. After shoving their desserts into to-go boxes at Martha’s, we scuttle back for a 5:30 p.m. soundcheck, barely making it in time. Gipson appears at the venue, quietly mumbling that he “got a new number.” Nearly six feet tall with long dreads, Gipson is the quiet one of the group, soft-spoken and content to hang back while his cohorts go wild in front of him. No wonder he became a drummer.
On stage, the band tries out cuts from Save the Baby. Even during the soundcheck, it is clear that these new songs are brighter and sharper. They're less K Records and more Geffen Records (to continue the Nirvana narrative). When they finish, and we return to the green room, I can’t help but think about how much this band has progressed in a ridiculously short time. At their New York City show just one year ago, they walked on stage at Baby’s All Right (a rite of passage, 280-person capacity indie venue for local and national touring bands alike—and less than half the size of Music Hall) to Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”, played to maybe 40 people (that’s being generous), haphazardly covered the King of the Hill theme song, and seemed generally more interested in goofing off than sounding good. That night, Johnson, in the spur of the moment, tried to debut a new song he could barely make it through.
That’s not the same band that hit the MHOW stage some hours later. Before the end of their first song, the unreleased “Spot”—darker and more tense than anything else in the band’s catalog—Johnson lets out a shocking long, truly Olympian 15-second howl. Across their 40-minute set, Cornell is able to execute every riff and solo meticulously, despite being constantly crashed into (and having his microphone stolen) by Edwards. An earnest “Oh! They’re good.” declaration from a random member of the crowd echoes throughout the venue during a millisecond of silence. It felt both earned, and a bit like underselling the intensity of what’s just happened.
Not that they’ve completely disposed of their sense of fun. Johnson leads Enumclaw in a shout-along of “Doom!”, in honor of "doom season." (He never explains what that means.) Edwards successfully convinces a huge chunk of the crowd to pogo as violently as him. Their performance ends in a maelstrom of noise: Edwards heaves both his bass and Cornell’s guitar over his shoulders, haphazardly banging them into each other before relinquishing them, both instruments clattering to the ground. It is clear they’ve managed to convert more people to their world-conquering vision.
After the show, Enumclaw is in high spirits. Friends from Tacoma who now live in New York congratulate them on their performance. The night ends with reps from the band’s record label, Luminelle, dragging us to Bia, a Vietnamese bar right under the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s a garish spot, a mess of wood, brick, and metal—why is one set of lights inside a birdcage? It’s impossible to know. It is also surprisingly dead inside for a Saturday night. Every table is vacant, and save for a handful of patrons at the bar, chatting with bored bartenders, it’s fairly quiet. We end up on the rooftop patio, tequila sodas and beers in hand. Here, I’m finally able to talk to Gipson as he sips on water. He reveals that he intentionally split off from the group earlier so he could check out a nearby bookstore, and I wonder if he’s as gung-ho as the rest of his bandmates about a life of constant touring and performing. In his own muted way, it sounds like he is.
“I enjoy the path I’ve chosen, I’m sticking to it,” he says, almost sullen, but certainly sincere. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, because there are a lot of people who, in my opinion, would kill to have this position and I realize that every day. I think that’s what keeps me somewhat reserved and humble throughout the day. I often feel guilty for the people back home, who I know have been working just as hard as me, if not harder, who aren’t here to see this and enjoy it with me.”
That’s a sentiment shared by all four members. Edwards, the youngest member of Enumclaw (he’s still a teen; don’t tell any of the venues), chose playing in the band over college. “I never wanted to go college and get a five [sic] year degree, I wanted to meet cool people and try my hardest to do what I’m doing now,” he says with the confidence only nineteen-year-olds have.
You can’t argue that it is misplaced. In a little more than a year, Enumclaw has completed two nationwide tours, with beloved shoegaze band Nothing and now Illuminati Hotties. They are preparing to play Europe in 2023. Save the Baby will easily go down as one of the best rock releases of 2022; what’s to come next will only grow upon the foundation they’ve built.
It’s now 1:15 a.m. (whoops) and I have to ask one last time: Do they really believe they’re going to be the biggest band since Oasis?
Johnson changes his answer just a little bit. “We’re going to be bigger than Oasis,” he says.