Enumclaw: Tacoma’s Indie Vanguard

Frontman Aramis Johnson and guitarist Nathan Cornell on making indie songs fit for a stadium
Enumclaw
(Credit: Colin Matsui)

Enumclaw call themselves the best band since Oasis. That’s what they have listed in their social media bios, but they don’t sound much like them. There is scarcely anything about Enumclaw’s sound that resembles Britpop because they are neither British nor pop. Still, their list of influences is notably eclectic, which includes Drake, New Edition, Nirvana, and, of course, Oasis. Regardless, the closest they come to the Gallagher brothers is through their ‘90s alt-rock stylings and the fact that they have two brothers, frontman Aramis Johnson and bassist Eli Edwards, in the band.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a direct comparison,” Johnson tells SPIN. “It’s more so, I want to be in the next stadium band, and they’re the last stadium band unless you count Coldplay, but I don’t think you should count Coldplay.”

Johnson clarifies that he’s not trying to insult Coldplay. Rather, he thinks there’s a crucial difference between a rock band, like Oasis, and a pop band, like Coldplay. Enumclaw is inspired by pop music, but their sound falls into the former camp. More specifically, they fall under the umbrella of Pacific Northwest indie rock.

Over Zoom, Johnson and guitarist Nathan Cornell chat from their respective homes. Johnson is the first to join, from his computer, in his well-lit living room. He has a mustache so bushy that it borders on Sam Elliott territory, but he completely lacks Elliott’s booming baritone. Rather, he speaks in the most “chill” manner possible, forgoing any sense of brusque formality. A few minutes later, Cornell joins from his phone, scarcely anything visible save for his profile and scant, scruffy blond facial hair.

Enumclaw
(Credit: Colin Matsui)

As a quartet based in Tacoma, Enumclaw takes after bands like Built to Spill and Sleater-Kinney which also hail from the misty region. There’s a vast indie-rock lineage from the Pacific Northwest, and they proudly bear that torch. They may be named after Tacoma’s purported rival town, but they are more than happy to represent their local scene. They’re on the cusp of releasing their sterling debut LP, Save the Baby, and hitting the road with tender-punk pioneers Illuminati Hotties.

When asked how they represent their city, though, they have a hard time putting it into words. “We’re just some guys from Tacoma,” Johnson says. “I guess it’s hard to explain if you’re not familiar with Tacoma itself.”

Cornell says it’s tough to put their hometown pride into words. “We like it here and just wanna do the coolest stuff we can. I hope it lifts all our talented friends up and makes people see what’s going on here.” The ineffability of PNW indie is understandable. How a geographical region affects their artistry can be difficult to quantify, after all. But Johnson thinks what unites bands from this part of the country is either the “seasonal depression” or “something in the water,” literally.

“There’s this innate yearning in music from people from Washington that I think is an effect of being from this place and the hardships you have to go through to live in a place as beautiful as this,” he says. Cornell expounds on that notion: “There’s something intangible that somehow makes Soundgarden and Death Cab for Cutie sort of feel related. It’s like you can smell the rain on it or something.”

Enumclaw
(Credit: Colin Matsui)

Johnson also points to the trite narrative of people his age despising their hometown and how his adoration of Tacoma contrasts that. A lot of popular culture insists that escaping your hometown and moving to a large city like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago is the natural, desired trajectory for someone his age. Although Johnson wishes Tacoma was a bit bigger population-wise, he still loves it.

“I feel like, for a long time, I was really embarrassed that I didn’t hate my hometown,” he says. “That’s such a part of that narrative of a young person, like, ‘I just can’t wait to get the fuck out of my hometown!’ I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to leave at this point, but I love this place. I think it’s a great place to grow up.”

Even though their ‘90s-indebted guitar tones unequivocally place them with their indie rock peers, they still want to make pop songs. As infectious singles like the electrifying “2002” and the hook-laden “Jimmy Neutron” exemplify, Enumclaw knows how to write a chorus that stands out as boldly as a Gallagher brother’s personality. “Champagne Supernova” is catchy as hell, and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” may be a surefire stadium-rouser if Oasis ever reunites, but Save the Baby’s wealth of indelible songs is solid proof that, actually, Enumclaw is the best band since Enumclaw.

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