ENUMCLAW TO THE MOON
The day after the band released their debut EP Jimbo Demo, we all met up in a mob of mostly Priuses outside of a Tacoma Walgreens where Aramis, the songwriter and lead vocals, was receiving his second Pfizer shot. Aramis is an old friend from my time in Seattle. He’s been persistent in his quest for fostering culture and gathering community, and he’s consistently proven to be good at it. Enumclaw is the band he started with friends a little over a year ago, their debut of five songs is incredibly true to the Pacific Northwest and the most exciting music I’ve heard in a long time. My first time listening to Fast N All it was cemented in my mind as an instant classic; I5 may stretch all the way down the west coast but it belongs to Tacoma when Aramis belts it. The sound is cool and assured and the lyrics express something vulnerable and honest. “When I write songs, I'm trying to tell a story, you know,” Aramis tells me, “and so just based on my location and my day-to-day life, I live in Tacoma. And so I'm telling stories about people and things that are happening in Tacoma, Washington.”
After receiving the dose, a bright red band-aid, and a couple of Dum-Dums from an especially friendly nurse with a Keroppi tattoo, we made introductions in the parking lot as the crew nursed their hangovers and reminisced about the night prior. A barbecue with a cake and hard seltzers quickly turned to too many beers in celebration of the EP release, one that’s already been heralded by publications like Sterogum, Fader, and the Seattle Times. “Last night everyone pulled up. Everybody’s just glad that somebody’s about to cross that line,” says Aramis. “A lot of people have been in our position before and it doesn't go any further than this.”
With us for the day is a group of ten including myself. The band has four official members: Aramis, Ladaniel (drums), Nathan (guitar), and 17 year old Eli (bass). Chris, whose honey voiced affirmations are sampled at the end of Fruit Flies serves as the band’s hypeman and “pretty face,” is here, and Benji, the self-ascribed creative director who Aramis calls the star of the band despite not being in it, rolls up last bundled in a scarf as large as he is, smoking a joint with his painted middle finger pointed toward us as he approaches in slow motion, both eyes shut, clearly still hurting from last night. TJ, in his camouflage crocs, does video editing for the band, and is also a brother to both Aramis and Eli. Ian is a holdover from the party last night; he tells me he takes photos and makes skate videos which Chris and Aramis quickly shout to clarify as “the best.” Finally there’s Graham from Fat Possum Records, who’s in town from Mississippi to scope out the band for his label, and Colin, our photographer.
The band met through a web of chance encounters and introductions involving ex girlfriends, concession stands, and a night with Toro Y Moi’s Boo Boo, seemingly most of them with Ladaniel as the central connector. They all live in Tacoma now- with Nathan originally being from an island further north and Ladaniel growing up between Tacoma and Louisiana, they both agree on what sets this place apart. “It’s just so diverse here,” Ladaniel tells me of the difference. “It’s definitely a plus for Washington. I don’t know what race my neighbors are gonna be here, as opposed to out there [in Louisiana] it’s much more segregated, so I definitely appreciate that.” They mention the views, the food, the trees and proximity to nature. Eli, who dons a stack of beaded bracelets, bleached grow out, and a face full of braces, says that there’s a perfect ratio of cool to not cool people here: “like you go somewhere and it’s like, oh shit, that guys whack!—I’m fire!”
Tacoma is a city an hour south of Seattle in good traffic. Flanked by I5 on one side and the Puget Sound on the other, downtown is incredibly picturesque on this May day with a scatter of sunbreaks breaking through the stereotypically overcast sky. Born at Tacoma General and raised in Lakewood, a town bordering the city's south end, Aramis rattles off the comforts of the city: “It's just enough, you know, it feels good. It looks good. There's real community here. There are real people here. Like people going through real life day-to-day, and I really admire that.”
While the exponential growth of tech companies in Seattle has priced the population out of the city limits in droves, Tacoma’s largest employer remains the Joint Base military installation that’s been operating here since the early 1900s. It’s a beautiful and lush city with historic buildings and incredible views, but due to a relic of stigma is only now seeing an influx like its neighbors to the north. “There’s no city ego,” Aramis says of Tacoma, “Where as sometimes I feel like people from Seattle, their biggest claim to fame is that they’re from Seattle.” By 2030 the Lightrail will extend to pick you up at the Tacoma Dome and drop you off at Westlake Station in times comparable to a train ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan; the city’s stock is good after being overlooked for too long, and the type of things these friends are making happen here make it all the more exciting to watch.
I first met Aramis through Chris, who I became good friends with during my time in school, and, having also come from Lakewood, the first person I met who spoke of Tacoma with real pride. We lived together our second senior year and our house hosted the first college edition of Toe Jam, an RSVP for location rager that Aramis was inspired to throw after an especially fun night DJing for his friend Gabe at a house show in town. After an incredible success with the first one, and with each iteration that followed suit, Toe Jam grew its loyal base of followers until Aramis eventually walked away due to creative differences with a partner who joined the project late: “no diss to him or anything, but we were acquaintances who got, like, famous together over the same thing without even getting to know each other first. I just knew I could do bigger.” After Toe Jam came Suite A, an underground label where Aramis and friends helped manage and produce content for local musicians. Suite A involved a lot of the cast that’s gathered today, and eventually faded from the purview as the group’s focus shifted more and more toward Enumclaw.
Despite having contributed to the culture of art and music in Tacoma for years, so many of the write ups have been shaping their narrative around the members’ relative inexperience; “Aramis just learned guitar and Ladaniel just got on drums, so they love in all the articles to be like ‘tH3se gUys hAv3 0nLy bE3N pLAyiNg tH3iR iNsTruM3nts 4 a Y3aR & a hALf” Ladaniel's been playing shit forever just not drums. And I've been playing guitar since I was like, I don't know, like 13 or something,” Nathan said. “They always like to make it a pull quote! It just makes me laugh.”
Even if you’ve never heard of Tacoma, you’ve probably seen it before. “I don’t know if you’re hip,” Aramis told us when we hopped on a zoom to determine the locations we’d be shooting for this story, “but if you’ve seen 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s this spot the Stadium Bowl.” So many of the backdrops from the iconic rom-com that gave Seattle such shine are actually located in Tacoma, like the downtown music store, the Stratford sisters’ house, and the castle looking highschool where Joey “Eat Me” Donner ruled the halls until the Prom of ‘99. My sister ran that movie in the background of my childhood on repeat, so discovering the school was hosting a soccer tournament on the day of our shoot made the scene all the more nostalgic as the band set up along the steps where Heath famously wooed Julia with a rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You. On that zoom call, Aramis also mentioned his plan of selling out the Stadium Bowl two nights in a row. On the day of the shoot I asked him why, and in what I know to be true Aramis fashion, his ambition had already more than doubled:
“During COVID I lost my job, and so I had all this free time. And so to get out of the house, I'd walk around the neighborhood and I live pretty close to the Stadium. So I'd walk past it almost every day. And I started to stop and think, and it's like, nobody's like, I've never seen this place filled up! I Google searched and I couldn't find any pictures of it filled up. And then I just stopped. Like, it would be so crazy if we could fill the fucking Stadium bowl. At first, the goal was just to sell out the Stadium Bowl, you know, like a summer, August, bring out some special guests, but I really think this is a thing that's going to be so big that we could sell it out five nights in a row.” Aramis estimates the bowl can host 13,000 in the stands and another 5,000 in the field. His charisma is so persuasive that, while he’s telling me this, my thoughts don’t stop to question whether or not this show will happen at all, but rather when I’ll be able to secure my tickets. There's a feeling of potential in the air as if a giant pendulum is held over us, ready to swing at any moment and bring these manifestations to fruition along with it.
“I woke up to hate this morning!” Aramis exclaims as the group gathers to head out of the Stadium. He goes on to explain the situation in all its pettiness: at the party he had told Ian he was destined to be the next Spike Jonze, which Ian tweeted with the quote attributed. That tweet was then screenshotted by a friend named Nick and sent back to Aramis. “The homie sends the tweet and says ‘and I’m Scorcese and you just fucked up’ and he blocks me on everything!” The rest of the crew is giving Aramis reassurance, but he continues, “He just thinks I’m a bad friend, like I don’t put him on enough. But it’s like I only have 1,200 dollars in my bank account! I don’t know though, I could always be a better friend.” That statement could be true for anyone, but with Aramis it’s hard to believe. Throughout our interview he’d interject with shout outs of friends he wanted to recognize repeatedly; names like Drew, Gabe, Austin aka Bujemane, Demani, the team at the local streetwear label ETC whose magenta crewneck Aramis was sporting on the day (“you can be cool in Tacoma and if ETC doesn’t fuck with you it’s meaningless”), Liliana, Hannah, and the “‘white trash homies Mikey and Dave Brazil” who introduced him to the sound from which the band draws its inspiration.
“My parents were Black, we grew up, we listened to like Hip-Hop and R&B. My mom even had a Country phase at one point. But I started hanging out with the Brazils, and their parents looking back were in their twenties. And this is like the early 2000s. So it's like Limp Bizkit is still big, Korn, all of that stuff. And then Rock Band came out,” Aramis tells me, “And I would go over to their house every weekend and we would play Rock Band. And ever since then, I wanted to be in a band—fast forward, like 15 years I met Ladaniel, and he was kind of already doing the music thing and it was like something I wanted to do, but I didn't know how to go about it. He kind of gave me the courage to do it. And then I kind of wiggled my way into what they were already doing, honestly, because Nathan and Ladaniel were already kind of a band and I was like, we should start over. But let me be in it.”
After a break for lunch at a taco truck called Rico’s and a visit downtown to witness a physical copy of the EP at ETC, we head to Bob’s Java Jive: a teapot shaped café turned karaoke bar listed on the national registry of historic places. All around the place are handwritten signs that warn ‘No Trespassing’; as Colin loads his cameras, a woman emerges from a small building connected to the teapot and asks us what we’re doing. Seeing who’s in the crew, she’s quick to drop her guard and tells us we can keep on. She recognizes the band because before the pandemic they were regulars. Driving around town one Monday months ago, Chris, Aramis, and his ex Liliana happened to check it in. Convincing themselves to get on stage took an effort that first night, but the evening was so iconic that Karaoke Mondays became a tradition. I can now contextualize the performances I remember seeing weekly on IG stories pre-pandemic, always posted alongside an invitation to come down and join in.
As we’re sitting on the curb outside, everyone is sharing stories from those nights, about Nathan and Ladaniel absolutely hitting that falsetto on Prince’s I Would Die 4 U, and Chris serving a first-class rendition of Lake On Fire by Nirvana. Everyone weighs in when a patron named Cheryl is mentioned, a former go-go dancer who’d bragged about scoring with Johnny Cash. Before Enumclaw, Bob’s of course had its regulars, but the band brought new life here, fostering community around music just like they’ve been doing everywhere else. Benji’s shuffle lands on Delegation’s ‘Oh Honey’ and as the speaker follows suit everyone is on their feet, dancing to the song, as they’ve designated it. “When I get lost, feel I've been crossed / She will be my salvation / When I feel low, I've nowhere to go / She'll be my inspiration.” These lyrics, which speak to this friendship and this moment so perfectly, fades like a soundtrack behind the laughter and chatter in this perfect little scene. “I want to be able to take Lady Gaga on a date when these come out!” Aramis calls out to Colin as he snaps the group hoisting Benji into the air like a trophy.
Before setting off to our final shooting location, we caravan to Lakewood to set a scene atop Chris’ famous BMW, a gift from his late aunt that’s been cameoed in a number of friends’ productions. The namesake water tower in the distance was sonically immortalized by the local rapper Fice who released his hometown hit 253 over a decade ago. The song’s hyper-localized lyrics cemented its legacy as cannon immediately; when Chris plays it off his phone’s speakers everyone instinctually croons along when the bars approach: “up in the state of rain sometimes the showers / you know you’re up in Lakewood if you can spot the water tower.”
A couple days before this, the band reposted a fan’s cover of their single Fast N All on instagram stories. The accompanying caption said it was the coolest thing that’s happened yet. “It’s just crazy because I know how I felt and where I was when I wrote that song,” Aramis says, “I know how a song makes me feel when I want to go and learn it. And so it's like, to think that a song that I wrote on my couch that's half torn apart—somebody in a completely different place in the world felt a type of way enough about it to want to like play it back for themselves, you know? It’s wild.”
Since I first met him, Aramis has told me assuredly that he’s leaving for LA or New York time and time again, but something has always kept him; the city clearly isn’t done with him yet, and that’s something he finally feels comfortable with. With the industry as it was, breaking out while living in a place like Tacoma had hurdles unforeseen in larger places, but emerging digitally while under lockdown seems to have democratized the process a bit. The roadmap to becoming a star has become less clear in this incredibly saturated era of music; while the tools afforded us by social media may make it easier to get work out into the world, using them also requires a certain panache to cut through the digital noise. Enumclaw’s online presence is both informal and intentional. Posts with typos remain unedited and their music videos, while cutty, are narrative driven and engaging, and their page is littered with niche content like Aramis’ recent Anthony Fantano cosplay. They show themselves as excited as they ought to be, and that enthusiasm is contagious. Spending the day with the band makes me feel like part of it; the energy they bring is so welcoming and genuine and to see that translate across a glass screen so honestly feels rare. The band has a new album in the works, 12 songs as of now, and Aramis tells me that while the EP is special, that these upcoming tracks are truly beautiful.
We end the day among the ruins of old gravel mines as the sun sets, creating the perfect cast of light for Colin to take his final shots. He sets up Aramis, Ladaniel, Nathan, and Eli atop a mossy hill wearing Hazmat suits, and as they pose the cars passing by lay on their horns and passersby sneakily whip out their phones to catch a quick snap. It’d be easy to attribute this attention to their costuming, but I could be convinced it’s the band’s radiating undeniable if not fully uncovered celebrity that’s attracting the fanfare. “I think in 2021, I want to prove that we're the best band in the world,” Aramis tells me, “I want to do it all and have as much fun as possible and do it with these guys. I tell these guys all the time I wouldn’t want to be in a band with anyone else, and I mean that.”