Before Enumclaw existed, conductor Aramis Johnson hosted a series of parties so legendary that their location changed each time. One Friday a month, Toe Jams — gatherings where “people will push themselves so hard they’ll get their toes stuck” — have taken over Tacoma, Wash., providing its community with a haven of music and art. One was in a bar, another in an old car shop; really, that was all Johnson and his friends could find on Craigslist.
“[Toe Jam No. 7] was in this indoor parking lot and we had a skate park set up,” he fondly recalls from his home in Tacoma one Friday morning. “A ton of my friends were in town from out of town that week. Then we had JUICETHEGOD, RIP, performed and my mom came. I feel like if they’ve ever done a Toe Jam movie, that’s the pinnacle.
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At the time, the future members of the group wandered in these secret parties. But by then he already knew guitarist Nathan Cornell, and bassist Eli Edwards is the singer’s younger brother. Johnson then met drummer LaDaniel Gipson at the first Toe Jam, simply because for years his high school friend Benji kept talking about how they needed to meet.
“To the point where I was like, ‘Fuck this guy. Why do I need to know this guy? But he ended up being really cool and we became friends from there,'” he recalled with a laugh. In fact, most of the band’s circle grew out of the Toe Jam days, with Johnson calling it “a really big time for a lot of people our age here”.
In addition to these quirky evenings, the Pacific Northwest the city doesn’t have a ton of musical traditions (think the sonicsAlgae and businesses), but that should change soon. Because with their first album, save the babyEnumclaw are determined to climb to the top – and they refuse to slow down until everyone knows their name.
The 11 songs on the disc take this desire even further, rooted in a reverence for pop music (the band digs Maggie Rogers, Florence + The Machine and Kacey Musgraves, to name a few), hip-hop swagger and some heavy distortion. In his heart, save the baby is a vulnerable disc, undeniably fun. It’s an album to listen to with your friends, to listen to a little sloppy, to listen to alone when you need a pick-me-up. But all is not ready for a nostalgic trip to the 90s. Johnson cuts through the fuzz with his nasal timbre, exploring the struggles of the working class, unfathomable loss and say again proclamations to want to be brand new. The result? Words that echo poems torn from a well-worn newspaper.
[Photo by Colin Matsui]
The manufacturing process save the baby was not instantaneous. For a year, Enumclaw grinded on the album. After finishing their first EP, Jimbo Demo, which features a much more scuzzy sound, the band “never stopped writing songs,” Johnson says. When they started practicing “Park Lodge,” one of the album’s most stunning cuts, it slowly transformed from a scratchy song to one that featured picky guitar riffs, Cornell says. Most of the time, when Johnson brings a song to the band, she’s already in shape. But “Park Lodge” is a track the band played for months, unsure how they could fit the rest of the record. They were inspired when Edwards one day began to nod his bass line, which sent his current arrangement toward the finish line.
“It just kept evolving,” Cornell says. “His then different from when Aramis [first] the cheek.
“If I played it on acoustic guitar, it’s like two different songs,” Johnson adds.
Producer Gabe Wax (soccer mom, the War on Drugs) then lent his magic to the song, editing the drums and also adding synths and 808s to the mix. The result is the most polished track on the album, and one that explores Johnson’s struggle with stardom after growing up in a two-bedroom apartment and watching his childhood best friend develop schizophrenia. At the end, the song erupts in a colossal release of tension, as if her emotions had no choice but to overflow.
Working with Wax also yielded some hilarious results. Cornell recalls that when the band recorded “2002”, Wax made him lose a hit every time he did a guitar take. After sleeping in the studio (“Gabe took me to room B and put a blanket on me,” he laughs) and driving home, Cornell didn’t return until 1 p.m. the next day.
“I forgot about that,” Johnson said with a laugh.
“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 met around 11 a.m. and stayed until midnight or 1 a.m. Johnson’s mother brought dinner every night, and because they were recording in Tacoma, their friends were getting by and hanging out. It was truly a matter of friends and family.
“It was like being with your buddies every day,” Johnson says. That sentiment is reflected in the samples that light up songs like “Paranoid” and “Jimmy Neutron,” casting a warm glow over the project. It’s the kind of intimacy reminiscent of the false start of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” or the lively ending of Hieroglyphics’ “Miles To The Sun,” a reflection of four friends punching it.
Through it all, Enumclaw has big ambitions and doesn’t shy away from put them in the universe. If anything, this is one of the most refreshing aspects of the band. Their drive to be the best and obliterate the competition contains the kind of bravado of hip-hop bands 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 see Enumclaw put these words into action in their current run by backing illuminati hotties. The band promises an energetic and entertaining rock show that “changes the pace from a lot of what else is going on,” Johnson says. This 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 sacrifice.
“I certainly didn’t make room for people like I think I should or wanted at the time because it was such a big priority. In many ways you have to put certain parts of your life on hiatus to really do that,” says Johnson. “I think a huge sacrifice is time — time away from your friends or your family, your partner. There’s so much sacrifice. It’s hard to really articulate them all. Some of them can be so finite.
But Enumclaw has proven that their sacrifices are not in vain. save the baby is an exceptional, cathartic and, above all, imposing statement of intent for a band that has so much more to give. It’s one that cements their status as four best friends who bring brand new recognition to the Pacific Northwest and who, ultimately, will endure.
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