A "Profile" of Enumclaw

A "Profile" of Enumclaw
Left to right: Eli Edwards, Nathan Cornell, Ladaniel Gipson, and Aramis Johnson of Enumclaw

I spent a day with the Tacoma, Washington indie rock band. I wrote about it.

Getting emotionally invested in an artist is a tricky proposition when you're a music critic. Of course every writer wants to wax poetic about the art that affects them most, but if you fly too close to the sun and lose the critical distance that's crucial for even the most subjective writing, you're gonna sound like one of two things: a pick-me ass bitch or a stan.

A few weeks ago, I DM'd Enumclaw asking if I could interview them for this newsletter when they were in New York for a show on April 27th. Exactly three years before that date, Stereogum published my "Band To Watch" interview with the Tacoma, Washington indie rock band. They were days away from releasing their debut EP, and three out of the four members had started playing their instruments less than two years prior. Enumclaw's Instagram account responded to my DM, "Anything for you," before adding, "As long as the questions are good! Lol."

The band I saw last weekend retained everything that initially drew me to them: ramshackle energy, a knack for hooks, frontman Aramis Johnson's charisma. But I couldn't believe how much they'd grown. These were seasoned vets who'd spent the bulk of the last two-and-a-half years touring, who'd added new tricks to each of their respective bags.

Johnson invited me to hang with the band for the day. They drove in from Boston, where they'd played the previous night, and I met them in the afternoon in Jamaica, Queens at the house where they planned to crash after the show. From there, I rode in their van to the new-ish Knitting Factory location in Manhattan's Alphabet City, hung around for soundcheck, grabbed dinner with them, then caught the concert.

Enumclaw at soundcheck

In between openers, I was milling around the bar area chatting with Johnson. He asked me when I wanted to conduct the interview, and I had already been kicking myself for not just knocking it out earlier in the 45-minute ride to the venue. I figured we'd have time before the show, but as Johnson expressed, on tour there's never as much downtime as you expect (in our DMs we had initially planned to meet at a bookstore that he wanted to check out, but surprise: time didn't permit for a visit).

In that moment, I decided that I'd go without a formal, recorded question-and-answer session. Johnson was receptive, saying that the reason he invited me along for the full day was to avoid the type of standard interview that he's done many times since our 2021 Zoom call. Hours later, as I said my goodbyes, we solidified that agreement. I said something to the effect of: "I'm just gonna keep it weird—very few direct quotes." That, I feel, is the beauty of writing my own newsletter unbeholden to a publication or an editor.


In our first interview and the two prior times I'd caught Enumclaw live, they exuded an infectious "making music with my friends" vibe. There's something to be said for the spark that they've found in each other.

On our way back from dinner to the venue, I was chatting with bassist Eli Edwards, Johnson's younger brother who joined Enumclaw after the debut EP was recorded, when he was still a teenager. I was talking about the metal band I played drums in when I lived in Portland, and he said, "I've always wanted to be in a metal band, but I never knew you could just like, form a metal band." Most other musicians I've known personally or professionally split time between multiple bands; while that obviously boosts experience, I've found that it also has a jading effect.

Guitarist Nathan Cornell is Enumclaw's old pro, the only one who's logged more than a handful of years playing his instrument, and it shows now more than ever. Onstage, he craftily alternates between active, pedal-heavy lead riffs and subdued moments of rhythm playing, frequently going long stretches playing little more than tasteful feedback.

Cornell is easy to clock as a scholar of the last 30-plus years of alt/indie rock. As a player, he seems to have a clear vision of what he's trying to emulate, but also the awareness to never stray too close to the source material. In conversation, he's an encyclopedia of knowledge. He spent a good 15 minutes selling me and a couple others on the argument that Glasgow was the Seattle of the UK in the '90s (in that it produced a ton of gloomy, heavy music that nevertheless bore clear pop instincts).

Nathan Cornell onstage

I've always been curious to learn what bands listen to in the hours they spend in a car together. At least during my brief stint in Enumclaw's sprinter van, they honored the age-old unwritten agreement that whoever's riding shotgun is the DJ. With Cornell behind the wheel, Johnson seated beside me in the backseat, and drummer Ladaniel Gipson attempting to get a nap behind us, Edwards manned the aux cord. He went from from modern rap cuts by Kodak Black and Tony Shhnow to '90s Queens group Lost Boyz, who the band recently discovered via a hotel TV's YouTube algorithm. We got Soul For Real's sugary 1994 banger "Candy Rain," then The Game and Kanye West's taxonomy of video vixens, "Wouldn't Get Far," which prompted Johnson to educate me about Karrine Stephens, AKA Superhead, who published the tell-all memoir Confessions of a Video Vixen in 2005.

The rap and R&B-dominated playlist makes sense, despite Enumclaw's music bearing almost no stylistic traces of anything outside of the sphere of alternative rock. Before starting the band, Johnson gained notoriety in the Tacoma area for putting on a series of hip-hop-heavy "Toe Jam" parties, and he also had a whole previous life as a beatmaker. Someone could write an entire interesting deep-dive into the band's relationship with race and genre; I don't think I'm the right guy to do it.

An even more obvious contrast that exists within Enumclaw is between the band's onstage exuberance and Johnson's probing lyrical depth, which waded into the weeds of loss and searching for purpose on 2022's Save The Baby. He's one of the most magnetic personalities you'll ever meet—even squeezed in at one end of a nine-person table at dinner, he still functioned as the conversational fulcrum—but it's hard to hear a lyric like "I want to fall in love / But I don't think I can have it" and not wonder what's going on beneath the happy-go-lucky exterior. What squares it is an all-encompassing desire to go for it, whether that be self-improvement (as expressed on "Blue Iris") or rock stardom ("Park Lodge").

Aramis Johnson onstage

Enumclaw blew through a 50-minute set, which is probably double the length of the first show of theirs that I caught in Fall 2021. I wasn't keeping stringent notes, so I could be wrong, but I don't think they played anything from the debut EP. Instead? Quite a few new songs.

I was more focused on how each member's personality manifests onstage. Quiet in conversation, Gipson comes alive behind the kit, his ambidextrous playing a clear mark of a determined self-teacher. He's the grounding presence. On stage left, Cornell drips confidence (the fuzzy, cow-print bucket hat certainly doesn't hurt). Opposite him, Johnson is the most workmanlike of the bunch, rarely straying from his spot in front of the mic. Then there's Edwards. This fucking guy. In 2021 he was an awkward teenager who didn't know what to do with the rest of his body while playing bass. Then here comes this boisterous hotshot in an ankle-length skirt and somewhere between four and eight piercings between his ears and nose, pumping up the crowd, jumping around, starting the party. Everyone's come into their own.

Earlier in the night, Johnson introduced me to Andrew Matson, a fellow writer from Washington who I've followed on Twitter for years but never met in person. Something Matson said struck me: “You know what I like about this band? A lot of bands try to act like what they do is so hard and Enumclaw don’t. That takes a lot of skill too, but they're just doing what they love.”

There have been multiple times in my life when I've announced that I'm retiring from writing about Young Thug. Between the years 2013 and 2019, I was such a stan that I felt like I couldn't objectively analyze his music, but I also wanted to shout from the rooftops about the genius of his music. Suffice to say I never officially retired, but just became a bit more selective in choosing what to write about him.

Sometimes hyper-familiarity with a subject has felt beneficial to my writing. My second time interviewing Destroyer's Dan Bejar was much better than the first—I had a much better sense of his wry personality and knew what he'd enjoy talking about. Other times, being too close for comfort has left me crawling out of my skin. I love Phil Elverum's music so much, and he's a very kind person, but I don't ever want to interview him again.

It's difficult for me to gauge where this line is with Enumclaw. They feel impossible to root against. I can't say they are my absolute favorite band in the world, but they provide a fulfilling energy that I rarely find in indie rock, or maybe music in general. Maybe it's because I feel invested in them; maybe I'd still feel the same about them if I lived in Indonesia and didn't speak English but found them randomly on YouTube. Music is personal and universal, and maybe those two things are mutually exclusive, but then again, maybe they're not.

All photos by me.

Also, I've refrained from harping on this since starting Inbox Infinity six-plus months ago, but please consider going to the upper right corner of this page and subscribing to a paid tier. As much as this newsletter has been a freeing, reinvigorating piece of my life, the hard work I put into it is not as lucrative as the already-piddling freelance gigs I've largely sidelined since last Fall. You won't get any bonus content (for now), but you'll have my undying gratitude.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #27

all under heaven - "Receiving Certain Answers"

Location: Freehold, NJ // Genre: sighing shoegaze // RIYL: DIIV, Cloakroom // From: "What Lies Ahead Of Me," out 6/7

Cash Cobain, Ice Spice & Bay Swag - "Fisherrr (Remix)"

Location: NYC // Genre: melodic NY drill meets IDM // RIYL: Cash Cobain's great single from earlier this year, "Dunk Contest"

GUPPY - "American Cowboy"

Location: LA // Genre: slacker alt-country // RIYL: Wednesday, Alex G when he gets a lil' country with it // From: "Something Is Happening," out 5/17

M Wagner - "Never Gone"

Location: Brooklyn // Genre: IDM // RIYL: The Field, Four Tet // From: "We Could Stay," out 5/17

Pure Hex - "Not Animal"

Location: San Francisco // Genre: wide-open shoegaze // RIYL: Cloakroom (again, lol), things at the intersection of slowcore and shoegaze // From: "Spilling" EP, out 5/17

Shn Shn - "Glimmer"

Location: Toronto // Genre: alt-R&B // RIYL: FKA Twigs, Bjork, Spellling

Track of the Week

Charly Bliss - "Nineteen"

Location: NYC // Genre: the poppiest of indie-pop // RIYL: Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift when she used to write great hooks // From: "FOREVER," out 8/16

When I saw the title of the new Charly Bliss single, I already suspected I was about to be wrecked. The plaintive piano chords all but confirmed it, and the opening line cemented it: "It's 10 years since we met / Just 19 when you saw me." Midway through the first verse, I was already welling up.

My fiancée and I met when we were both 19. The Tegan and Sara song with the same title has always held a ton of sentimental value for us. Like that song from 2007's absolute classic The Con, Charly Bliss' "Nineteen" focuses on a relationship much more tumultuous than my own (grateful for that!), but this one unfolds over a much longer time period, describing what sounds like a decade-long on-again-off-again romance.

I was a little nervous about Charly Bliss' future after last June's "You Don't Even Know Me Anymore," which now appears to be a non-album single. It's just as poppy but more upbeat than "Nineteen," continuing the trajectory between 2017's Blue Album-meets-That Dog. Guppy and 2019's synth-ier Young Enough. I loved the majority of the latter album, especially the title track, which seems to have paved the way for "Nineteen," but it felt like they'd lost the peppy, singular vibe of their debut.

Despite a clunky lyric or two (why say that you stayed up "three hours past 12" when "three a.m" would suffice?), "Nineteen" largely nails the hyper-personal, hyper-catchy style of pop ballad that's rarer and rarer these days. Whenever a bonafide star like Olivia Rodrigo or Taylor Swift slows it down and gets piano-heavy, I lose interest.

Along with Waxahatchee and MJ Lenderman's "Right Back to It" and Mei Semones' "Inaka," this is destined to be one of the songs I shed the most tears to this year. But even without the emotional baggage I'm bringing to it, I think "Nineteen" is a banger. That saxophone solo!! Frontwoman Eva Hendricks is absolutely on one throughout the song, particularly during the pre-chorus.

"Forever comes fast and heavy." Damn right it does.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

Subscribe to Inbox ∞ Infinity

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson