Interview

Enumclaw: learning to be the world’s best band via YouTube tutorials

"Somebody said they saw Oasis in real life, and they also saw us, and we were better"

“If you can’t believe in yourself, then who will?” asks Enumclaw’s guitarist Nathan Cornell, doubling down on his group’s ‘best band since Oasis’ self-proclamation with a wink to the camera. It’s pretty rare these days to meet such a personable band with this level of unabashed confidence, but the Washington State quartet have been turning heads with their Gallagher-baiting slogan (they’ve already got it printed on t-shirts) and, quite frankly, it’s refreshing.

“I just personally think it’s a worry when you see indie bands who are sick but then they say, ‘We don’t care, we are just making music for friends and don’t want to get any bigger,’” says Aramis Johnson, Enumclaw’s Liam. “Fuck that – this is rock’n’roll, where are the theatrics? I want to see someone pissing on a cop car.”

“We grew up listening to guitar music, but then seeing someone like Kanye say ‘I’m a rock star’, we saw him do that and thought ‘Fuck it, what’s the point of doing something if you’re not going to try?’” finishes Nathan.

After bonding through Monday night karaoke in local dive bar Bob’s Java Jive, the Tacoma band are relishing the idea of escaping their home.

“We live in the Pacific Northwest; it’s beautiful, but I would compare it to most working class cities: very blue collar, and people grow up here and they never leave,” says Aramis. “They work nine-to-five jobs in the schools and local hospitals, and stay for life. Which is totally cool, but we want to be different. Back in the summer of 2019, we started doing this thing where every Monday night we’d go and sing karaoke; Nathan would join along with Ladaniel [Gipson] who would go on to be our drummer and one day I went up to them and said, ‘Hey let’s start a band.’” 

So with no prior experience beyond karaoke, Enumclaw began to create the rich ode to ’90s slacker rock that we hear today. What were the key tracks that inspired them in those early days? 

“Oh man, it’s a tie for me, when I’m doing karaoke, between ‘Aneurysm’ by Nirvana and ‘Close To You’ by The Carpenters,” screams an excited Aramis, his friends already in hysterics. 

“Mine would be ‘American Boy’, by Estelle & Kanye,” follows Nathan.

Ladaniel, who’s been quiet up to this point, finally joins in: “I can’t get past ‘Confessions’ by Usher.” 

Eclectic choices then from a well-schooled band longing for the limelight faraway from rural Tacoma – although they still clearly love their old haunts. “I heard someone has brought Bob’s,” says Aramis. “It was kind of going downhill after the pandemic, but once they spruce it up we’ll go back there and shoot a music video. It’s such a legendary place; apparently Keanu Reeves wanted to own it sometime and move it to Hawaii, or some crazy shit like that. Check it out, it’s in the shape of a teapot!”

At that point Aramis’ younger brother and Enumclaw bassist Eli joins the conversation. “What’s good guys?” he drawls, not batting an eyelid when the brothers-in-a-band jokes start. 

“We definitely don’t get into it like the Gallagher brothers do. It’s more of a playfight, whereas I feel like the fighting in Oasis is more real,” he chuckles. 

Aramis is clearly hyped whenever Oasis get mentioned – which is a lot – telling a great story about a fan gifting him a Definitely Maybe vinyl at a recent show, and the jaw-dropping ‘Champagne Supernova’ cover the band have been fine-tuning at recent gigs.

“I am not going to lie, somebody said they saw Oasis in real life, and they also saw us and Enumclaw were better. Nathan and I went to see the Knebworth documentary and that shit was insane. I didn’t realise that many cool people were on the bill – they had The Prodigy with them too, who we love. For me personally the ’90s sound was the most accessible, in terms of making music. Before I started playing guitar I was making beats on the computer and the difference between a computer and the guitar was really big for me. I much preferred the accessibility of the guitar.”

Following an impressive lineage of ’90s noise rock bands like Dinosaur Jr and local Seattle heroes Nirvana, through ’00s standouts like No Age and Abe Vigoda, what’s startling about Enumclaw is the rawness they emanate and their fearless attitude to just having a go.

“I don’t really know how to play it but yeah I taught myself guitar,” Aramis admits, with Ladaniel following suit: “I pretty much learnt the drums right after Aramis started the band. I mean, we all watched a lot of YouTube.” 

Aramis is shaking his head, like he can’t believe he’s letting us in on the secret. “I remember a guy at high school who stole his parent’s car, and it was a stick shift, so he learnt how to drive it on YouTube to get away. It just proves anyone can do anything nowadays.” Not just anyone can write a good pop song though, I suggest.

“True, you don’t make something like Nevermind or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or any of those classic albums by accident, that’s on purpose. I feel like right now songs are being forgotten in music; people aren’t making songs they are just making things that sound nice – what the fuck is this about? Enumclaw have something to say and I think nobody has had anything interesting to say in a while. If you look back at Nirvana, who happen to be my favourite band, there is this portrayal of Kurt Cobain being a self-loathing loser who didn’t believe in himself, but he was just as self-confident as the Gallagher brothers, just in a very Pacific Northwest passive-aggressive way. Like a lot of my favourite artists he was a fan of rock’n’roll theatre, especially in terms of songwriting and accessibility. I have tried to play Nirvana songs myself and the way he plays guitar parts is really relatable – he lets you figure out what you need to do to play and write a cool song. He used the guitar more as a songwriting tool than an instrument [in itself], which is what I try to do now.”

Aramis’ unruffled vocal style echoes the laconic Cobain and other icons of that era. However, in direct conflict with this laidback nature lies his desire to succeed. Ambition is evident in everything Enumclaw do – it’s even imprinted in the band’s name. 

“So there are only two things I have ever loved a gross amount,” says Aramis. “The first was wrestling, and I was pretty decent. Then I got to high school and everyone got better than me and I didn’t put in the work. Enumclaw High School were the best college at wrestling – they were so filthy. With my other love, music, comes this motivation that I don’t ever want to feel the same way about the band as I did my wrestling career. Enumclaw were the best wrestlers, and we are the best band in the world, so we are Enumclaw. The rest is history.” 

The impressive level of passion from Aramis manifested itself in his work as an ear-to-the-ground rap promoter before he found rock music. “I used to throw this party called Toe Jam. It was an underground warehouse thing, and we did it once a month at a different secret location – you never knew where the party was going to be until two hours before. It was centred around 2015/2016 Soundcloud rap, so Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert and everything else associated with that. That was pretty cool, and I actually met Ladaniel for the first time in real life at the first Toe Jam.” 

Ladaniel glows at the memory. “It was definitely one of the best things I had been to in a long time, it really shook up the city. At first people were doing just random house parties and getting caught by the police here and there but then along came this big event every month and it took down everything, it shut down the rest. That was where everyone had to be to show off your art and to collaborate with people and I thought that was really cool. I met Aramis at the first one, it was crazy after that.”

Now though, it’s the rock songs of Enumclaw that people are talking about. Most notable is recent single ‘2002’, a typically lo-fi piece of grunge-pop that plays on ideas of egotism and puts Aramis and his personality centre stage.

“I got called a narcissist, and it honestly was a really big deal for me personally,” explains Aramis. He goes on to bare all. “I had been seeing this girl for like eight months and we finished things; it ended amicably, and then one day her friend had an unprovoked attack on me via Instagram stories, calling me a narcissist and a misogynist, a whole bunch of really hurtful things. I have been in therapy for a long time, and I actively try to be emotionally intelligent and be a good communicator in situations like that. I have done a lot of work to get to that point, so when this person said that, it really hurt. I was upset about the break up as well and that probably didn’t help. 

“That song has been a real full circle moment. It’s crazy that a thing so hurtful, and frankly traumatising, has also provided so much good stuff for me. Once the song has come out the reaction has been everything we could have asked for. I mean it doesn’t have a million plays but you know, rough with the smooth.”

This sarcastic take on narcissism isn’t the only time Aramis confronts his ego lyrically. He remains determined not to be the ‘loser’ in a minimum paid job, endless slogging away for a big break, and writes about this accordingly.

“It’s everyday shit we all go through and dream about – but then there are moments where I listen back to some of our songs and think I don’t know what the fuck I am talking about,” he says, cracking up – he’s never able to stay serious for too long. “We have been blown away with the reaction to ‘2002’; I was talking to Eli the other day and he was saying we don’t have no haters yet.” 

Eli picks up from Aramis. “That’s how you know you’re really doing shit, when the haters arrive. When someone starts to criticise, that’s when we know we really rock.” They all seem to agree. Yet it’s hard to imagine any audience hating on a band who are so damn likeable.

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