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Before Enumclaw existed, bandleader Aramis Johnson threw a series of parties so legendary, their location changed every time. On one Friday per month, Toe Jam — gatherings where “people will be going so hard that they’ll jam their toe” — took hold over Tacoma, Washington, offering its community a haven of music and art. One was in a bar, another was in an old car shop; really, it was whatever Johnson and his friends could find on Craigslist.
“[Toe Jam No. 7] was in this indoor car lot, and we had set up a skate park,” he recalls fondly from his home in Tacoma on a Friday morning. “A ton of my friends were in town from out of town that week. Then we had JUICETHEGOD, R.I.P., perform, and my mom came. I feel like if they ever made a movie about Toe Jam, that’s the peak of it.”
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At the time, future members of the band wandered around those secret parties. But by that point, he already knew guitarist Nathan Cornell, and bassist Eli Edwards is the vocalist’s younger brother. Johnson then met drummer LaDaniel Gipson at the first Toe Jam, simply because, for years, his high school friend Benji kept raving about how they needed to meet.
“To the point where I was like, ‘Fuck this guy. Why do I need to know this dude?’ But he ended up being really cool, and we became friends from there,” he remembers, laughing. In fact, most of the band’s circle originates from their Toe Jam days, with Johnson calling it a “very big time for a lot of people around our age out here.”
Besides those off-the-wall parties, the Pacific Northwest city doesn’t possess a ton of musical lore (think the Sonics, Seaweed and the Ventures), but that’s soon likely to change. Because with their debut album, Save The Baby, Enumclaw are set on riding all the way to the top — and they refuse to slow down until everyone knows their name.
The record’s 11 songs push that desire into motion even further, anchored by a reverence for pop music (the band dig Maggie Rogers, Florence + The Machine and Kacey Musgraves, to name a few), hip-hop swagger and some fat distortion. At its core, Save The Baby is a vulnerable, undeniably fun record. It’s an album meant to jam out to with your friends, to get a little bit sloppy to, to listen to alone when you need a pick-me-up. But it’s not all set to a ’90s nostalgia trip. Johnson cuts through the fuzz with his nasal timbre, exploring the struggles of the working class, unfathomable loss and repeated proclamations of wanting to be brand new. The result? Lyrics that echo poems ripped right out of a well-worn journal.
[Photo by Colin Matsui]
The process for making Save The Baby wasn’t instantaneous. For a year, Enumclaw grinded on the album. After completing their debut EP, Jimbo Demo, which features a far scuzzier sound, the group “never stopped writing songs,” Johnson says. When they first started practicing “Park Lodge,” one of the album’s most stunning cuts, it slowly transformed from a strummed song to one that featured picked guitar riffs, Cornell says. Most of the time, when Johnson brings a song to the band, it’s already in working form. But “Park Lodge” is a track that the band kicked around for months, not knowing how they could make it fit with the rest of the record. They were inspired when Edwards started to noddle its bassline one day, which sent its current arrangement toward the finish line.
“It just kept evolving,” Cornell says. “It’s so different from when Aramis [first] played it.”
“If I played it on the acoustic guitar, it’s like two different songs,” Johnson adds.
Producer Gabe Wax (Soccer Mommy, the War on Drugs) then lent his magic to the song, editing the drums and throwing synths and 808s into the mix as well. The result is the album’s most polished track, and one that explores Johnson’s struggle with fame after growing up in a two-bedroom apartment and witnessing his childhood best friend develop schizophrenia. By its end, the song bursts into a colossal release of tension, as if his emotions have no choice but to boil over.
Working with Wax also spawned hilarious results. Cornell remembers that when the band recorded “2002,” Wax made him down a shot every time he did a guitar take. After sleeping it off in the studio (“Gabe took me into the B room and put a blanket on me,” he laughs) and driving home, Cornell didn’t make it back until around 1 p.m. the following day.
“I forgot about that,” Johnson says, erupting into laughter.
“It was terrible, but it was really so funny,” Cornell says.
But stories like that are more extreme points in the recording process. Every day, they’d meet up around 11 a.m. and go until midnight or 1 a.m. Johnson’s mom would bring dinner every night, and because they recorded in Tacoma, their friends would pull through and hang out. It was very much a friends-and-family affair.
“It was just like being with your homies every day,” Johnson says. That feeling is mirrored in the samples that brighten songs like “Paranoid” and “Jimmy Neutron,” casting a warm glow over the project. It’s the kind of intimacy that calls to mind the false start on Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” or the animated ending of Hieroglyphics’ “Miles To The Sun,” a reflection of four friends kicking it.
Through it all, Enumclaw have lofty ambitions, and they aren’t shy about putting them into the universe. If anything, it’s one of the most refreshing aspects about the band. Their drive to be the best and obliterate the competition contains the type of bravado of hip-hop acts or stadium-rock bands.
“I never really thought about being the biggest band to come out of Tacoma. I’m more concerned about being the biggest band in the world,” Johnson asserts.
You can witness Enumclaw put these words into action on their current run supporting illuminati hotties. The band promise an energetic, entertaining rock show that’s “a change of pace from a lot of what else is going on,” Johnson says. It will keep them on the road for about five weeks throughout the fall, and even with the short time, they know touring comes with its fair share of sacrifices.
“I definitely haven’t made space for people in the way that I feel like I should have or wanted to at the time because this has been such a big priority. In a lot of ways, you have to put certain parts of your life on pause to really do this,” Johnson reflects. “I think a huge sacrifice is time — time away from your friends or family, your partner. There’s so many sacrifices. It’s hard to really articulate all of them. Some of them can be so finite.”
But Enumclaw have proven that their sacrifices aren’t for nothing. Save The Baby is an exceptional, cathartic and, most importantly, towering statement of intent for a band that have so much more to give. It’s one that cements their status as four best friends who are bringing a whole new recognition to the Pacific Northwest and will, ultimately, endure.