Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
I’m standing in the gorgeous backyard of Casita, which used to be a very well-curated vintage seller right around the corner from my close friend’s house. Word on the street is it’s an Airbnb now.
We’re gathered here for Enumclaw’s very first show, or Show 0 in the official context of their career; a warm-up gig of sorts for their looming tour and ostensibly their entire career as a live band. An invite-only affair, I’ve already spoken to Tacoma luminaries like Khris P and Matt Baloogz. I met up-and-coming MC Bear Bro, repeatedly referring to him as “Fayetteville” as a tribute to the North Carolina city he grew up in.
My longtime buddy Andrew Hall (who you might know from Dude York, one of the few pop-punk bands I genuinely love) is also here, alongside his lovely partner (and now great pal of mine) Andi, who also happens to be Enumclaw’s publicist. (Hiring PR being a necessary measure for a band yet to play a single show but whose debut cassette Jimbo Demo outsold every other release on Tacoma’s Youth Riot Records … as a preorder.)
I’ve never been to a band’s first gig that was the source of such fanfare. And we’re coming up on twenty years since I began frequenting indie rock shows, marching up the I-5 corridor from Tacoma to Seattle three nights every week for seven or eight years. I’ve been to plenty of bands’ first performances. Most of them are good but fairly anticlimactic; regular. Just opening for a bigger band at some club, trying to get their foot in the door. It’s what bands do.
This Enumclaw show, however, has very much been touted as "An Event." It’s in the Tacoma air like sulfur from the few remaining paper mills left in the town. The band has still yet to play a note. But the anticipation is palpable.
After sloppy, spirited renditions of instant fan favorites like debut single “Fast N All” and its follow-up “Free Drop Billy” (the chorus of which was sung loudly by Khris P as he jumped up and down along with the music beside me), as well as future single “2002” and a full band version of “Apartment,” the band launched into a handful of heartfelt shoutouts and charmingly half-assed (and mercifully aborted) Oasis covers.
Nobody can claim to have seen the height of technical proficiency at Enumclaw’s Friends & Family show. But it can’t be denied that something special was at play when Aramis Johnson, Nathan Cornell, Eli Edwards, and Ladaniel Gipson manned their instruments and roared into their infectious songs that June evening. An indescribable charisma; an unpretentious, working-class cool; a feeling that there’s nothing in the world more fun than the pastime of being in a rock band.
A crucial observation pointed out to me by my girlfriend was the idea that there were all kinds of different people — not just in racial makeup, but the fact that there were rockers, hip-hop dudes, girls who probably listened to Taylor Swift on their way to Casita, all walks of life — all having a great time. No stereotypical Northwest indie shit like people with their arms folded, “seeing what all the hype was about.”
There wasn’t even a fleeting moment where Aramis wasn’t smiling. His joy was absolutely contagious.
I spoke to Aramis, Nathan, Eli, and Ladaniel on Zoom last week. I’m remiss to call it an “interview” for reasons I will get into later; it was more like a throwback to those Zoom happy hours we’d have with our friends in the months of COVID lockdown. It was after office hours. Nathan was enjoying a salad for dinner and I was sipping on a hard seltzer I found in the back of the refrigerator. It was as casual as you’d expect a conversation between friends to be.
About the Friends & Family show, Aramis said, “To me, it was exciting, because it was the first gathering of people I had been to since COVID lockdown. The hype was definitely in effect at that point. At one point, we were like, ‘Damn, are we ever gonna play outside of Ladaniel’s bedroom?’”
“I just remember meeting everybody,” Eli said. “That’s the thing that stuck with me, because everybody we met at that thing has kind of become a recurring character. Everybody that was there, I’ve seen like ten times over.”
Sometime in the fall of 2021, the weather was getting crisp. Our jackets were on. After a lunch visit to Tacoma with my girlfriend and the same friend who lived around the corner from the Enumclaw Friends & Family show, someone in a black car stopped in the middle of Proctor Street and waved at us.
“Oh shit, is that Aramis?”
He managed to find us on a side street, explaining he was trying to find parking for Metropolitan Market (which can be its own iteration of hell on a Saturday afternoon). He had recently returned from Enumclaw’s first national tour; a support slot for Nothing alongside the woefully underappreciated Frankie Rose.
It was the first of a great many times I would just randomly run into him someplace. He was beaming when I asked him how tour went.
“‘We’re ready for New York,’” Nathan joked about their mindset coming off of their fifth show and embarking on the Nothing tour. “We’re ready to drive until we can’t anymore,” added Eli, “Like, that was really our M.O. No game plan.”
“The first night we ended up sleeping in the van because we didn’t think far enough ahead to figure out where we were going to stop and stay [the night],” Aramis said. The band described their tour in the ways I’ve heard many friends in punk bands describe their experiences piling in shitty, beat-up vans and playing punk houses and VFW Halls from here to the Florida panhandle. Only Enumclaw were playing established rock clubs and having the good fortune to start out at a place it takes so many bands years to get to. But the sense of adventure they found on tour was similarly energizing to the stories of any band who has taken to the road.
A full 24-date schedule [Writer's Note: In last week’s Zoom hangout, Aramis corrected me and said the tour actually had 29 stops] damn near turned Enumclaw into a new band. By the time I saw them at this year’s Treefort, the group was tight and polished, playing with dynamics and tempo, and making their songs full and heavy and overflowing with sound.
After their set, I told them they were already ready for the big room.
“Going on tour is the best way to get better as a band,” Aramis said last week. “I feel like that’s unfortunate for bands who don’t get the same opportunities as us to go out on the road. But it’s like football, you’re in the van looking at film and it’s like, ‘We need to move this around in the set.’ You’re just getting better in real-time.”
Ladaniel added, “It’s really sink or swim, you really gotta figure it out on the floor. You only have one shot, for real.”
One thrilling takeaway from the evolution of Enumclaw as a live group is how Eli has officially become the band’s hypeman. If you’ve been to an Enumclaw performance in the past few months, you’ve seen Eli excitedly storm over to Nathan’s mic and corral the crowd into jumping around, moshing, and expending every bit of energy they have to the music the band casts into the air. He’s accidentally kicked his bass cable out of its plug-in, inadvertently knocked his shit out of tune, frequently jumped into the crowd, and has been an essential component of Enumclaw being one of the most thrilling live acts of the past couple years.
“It started as, like, we needed backing vocals or some shit,” Eli said, “I think I just started bullshitting one time at practice and me and Aramis had a tiny conversation, like, ‘Maybe do it kinda like a DJ.’ And then it just turned into something completely different.”
It’s an extension of the full experience of Enumclaw’s live show, which is markedly different from their recorded works by design. “You want to give people a show,” Aramis says. “It’s cool when someone plays their instrument with precision, but it’s fun to see somebody jump in the crowd. It’s fun to see shit go haywire. It just makes it more exciting; you want to be remembered. You look at the Green Days of the world or, like, we saw Yves Tumor at THING Festival and they put on a fucking show. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“That’s something we’re getting better at,” Nathan adds. “There were technical difficulties in our first shows that would have derailed the whole performance. But I think now we’ve figured out how to roll with it and just figure it out.”
Depending on who you ask, I’m either credited or blamed for bringing Enumclaw to the masses. “Fast N All” was premiered for this very column, succeeded rapidly by praise from Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Fader, and Gorilla vs. Bear. This is obviously a point of pride for me, because so many great bands I’ve written about for this space over the past nearly five years have come and gone without so much as a fraction of the attention.
I’m sure you knew this was coming, but in the interest of integrity, here it is. Just like I was asked if I was interested in premiering “Fast N All,” I was also asked to write the press bio for Enumclaw’s imminent debut LP Save the Baby. I consider these guys my friends, a friendship that has developed since the band’s formation.
If Seattle is, to paraphrase a friend, the biggest small town on the West Coast, Tacoma is even more claustrophobic. I’ve known Aramis by reputation for several years; since back when he was DJing for Bujemane and Ghoulaveli and throwing warehouse parties with Toe Jam. Pretty much everybody in Tacoma’s music scene knows each other, at the very least by name, because there’s not a lot of us operating on a high level who unabashedly acknowledge we come from that scene.
You could reasonably argue that me writing this piece is a conflict of interest. But where is the conflict when my interest solely lies in the growth of Tacoma’s music community? You can name on one hand the nationally beloved bands that have come from the City of Destiny. You can name on two hands the groups and musicians who came from here or lived here, but never mention Tacoma as part of their formative development as musicians.
In our Zoom call, Ladaniel mentioned the proudest moment of making Save the Baby was realizing “the community it took to make it. It wasn’t just us four. It was a large amount of people, and all homies and all very close. It was like a family, really. And it wouldn’t have been possible without them. Everybody really did pull together to make this. It really does have the city on its back.”
Save the Baby was recorded in the town we call home (even as I take somewhat temporary refuge in Seattle), at ALMA, a multipurpose space I’ve been to over 50 times in the nearly five years it’s been around. In the many times I’ve mentioned Tacoma, I’ve referred to the town as a proud community. It has been decades since it has produced an act that has made it to the main stage. Enumclaw’s success equates to a big win for Tacoma, because it shows people who live there that they don’t have to move to Seattle or Portland or L.A. or Brooklyn to “make it.”
There is a personal conversation Aramis and I once had about helping Tacoma become a place where people move to in order to form bands … instead of being a place people move away from in order to form bands.
Rather infamously, Enumclaw have branded themselves “the best band since Oasis” since before they played their first show, which has sparked a geyser of “discourse” about what it means when a band shirks fake humility and fake indie cred, clearly stating from the outset their intentions of stadium-packing stardom.
On Zoom, after Aramis shared a story about feeling the band bombed during one of their bigger dates, I asked the band, “How do you respond to the pressure?”
Ladaniel replied, “I know sometimes, I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to it. I might get too caught up in survivor’s guilt and guys who would kill to have this position. Like, ‘Look how I fucked off yesterday at this show.’”
I personally find the career ambitions of Enumclaw to be refreshing, especially when there are bands wielding “authenticity” while sounding like the adult alternative fluff inescapable on the airwaves in 1999. Make no mistake about it, Save the Baby is a huge-sounding record. It’s stately and tastefully produced (which I have to mention, given my primary musical preferences, is not a dis!), but it’s also built for maximum impact. The forward push of the title track and “Paranoid,” the lighters-up moment of “Blue Iris,” the introspection of “10th and J 2” (named after an intersection in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood that has a particular nostalgia for Aramis) and the harrowing “Park Lodge,” the sugar rush of “Jimmy Neutron,” the acoustic version of “Apartment” which closes the album. The breakdown of “Cowboy Bepop,” arguably the highlight of their live set!
Save the Baby is not an album by a band merely trying to be the cool guys at Bob’s Java Jive; this band is trying to reach the kids in the small towns between tour stops, the ones who have to log onto YouTube to find the escapism of losing themselves in an Enumclaw set.
The fellas are transparent about wanting to be one of the biggest bands in the world; unabashed about the thrill they’d find in being famous. It’s a dose of much-needed honesty in a musical — not just musical but the full breadth of societal — climate where people place a premium on how they are perceived. Humility often provides a false (and rather flimsy) sense that someone is a good person, so as haters do hate, Enumclaw has faced their fair share of haters for being transparent about their rock star aspirations.
But whatever white indie kids project, be it their privilege or their hangups, a group mostly made up of young Black men scaling the mountain of the rock music industry could serve to spark a lot of other young Black dreams. That’s more or less the overarching theme of Save the Baby, and a motivating purpose for why Enumclaw are a band in the first place.
The burden of representation gets pretty heavy from my vantage point sometimes, but there is a real thrill in seeing bands like Enumclaw and realizing they’re the band for young Black kids across America that I wish I had when I was obsessed with alternative rock radio as a middle schooler. Or the idea that I wasted years of my life because I didn’t see the types of Black people doing the things I wanted to do until I was well in my twenties, and then deciding to be exactly what I wanted to be and hopefully be that person for young Black people to look up to and aspire to take similar paths.
Black rock writers and Black rock musicians are not so hard to come by anymore. And that’s beautiful. Enumclaw is part of a growing generation of successful, Black indie rock artists. And let’s not shit ourselves; over the past two years, Black artists have been largely responsible for making indie rock cool again.
“That’s where the pride is for me,” Eli told me near the end of our call. “Not necessarily the Tacoma thing, but the fact that we’re Black dudes in a band. And showing Black kids they can do it too.”
When Slim Moon returned to resume his position as the head of Kill Rock Stars, I asked him about his vision for the label as it headed toward its 30th year of business. His answer was a question: “Should we bring 5RC back?”
For the uninitiated, 5 Rue Christine was the heady, experimental imprint of the epochal, then-Olympia-based indie rock label, formed 25 years ago. It was named after a home Gertrude Stein shared with Alice B. Toklas because the moniker “Gertrude Records” was taken. If you have any manner of familiarity with acts such as Hella, Xiu Xiu, Marnie Stern, and Deerhoof, 5RC released critically acclaimed albums from all three. After 15 years of dormancy, the label has announced its return with Liquiddd Changesss, a collaboration between Metalux co-founder MV Carbon and visual artist and avant-garde musician Charlemagne Palestine.
Listen to the captivatingly droning lead single “Glass from Sand” below, and explore more 5RC releases via our friends at Bandcamp.
You ever meet someone cool and somewhere in the conversation they tell you they rap? Do you have to expend a ton of mental energy to not screw your face up or palm your face because it seems like everybody is a fucking rapper nowadays? As you might imagine, I come across a lot of people who tell me they rap. It has turned me into a cynical fuck, because no matter how cool somebody is, telling a music journalist with specialized interest in hip-hop that you rap is one of those dime-a-dozen situations because so many people think rapping is easy and their music is horrific because of it.
I met the man known as Something Something Brax at a DEFY Wrestling show way back in 2017. We had a great time hanging out because he’s an incredibly lovely guy. I don’t think he told me upon his first meeting that he rapped, but I found out at some point in our acquaintanceship and although I thought to myself, well maybe his music is good, I still sorta-kinda avoided it because it’s so awkward to meet a musician you enjoy hanging out with only to find out you hate their music.
I am pleased to report Sunshine & Lollipops, the full-length Brax released in August, is absolutely excellent. The Oregon MC — located approximately 44,000 blocks south of Burnside — is clearly from the school of brainy L.A. iconoclasts Project Blowed. His style bursts with inventive flows and rhyme patterns and supreme intellect and encyclopedic references (including a few to pro wrestling, the quickest way to my heart), but still manages to unveil a clever, wry, and sometimes starkly emotional writer.
There’s way too much gold here to write at length in what is supposed to be a “short take,” but Sunshine & Lollipops is a compelling portrait of an artist trying his damndest to shrug off depression long enough to enjoy his immense talent. Like many people of his ilk (present company included probably?), Brax is too smart to not be depressed. He takes anti-allergy pills, cleans the house during manic episodes, is not afraid to FIGHTYOU, tries to “squeeze a minute past [his] shelf life,” and seeing all the flaws his front-facing camera exposes.
“They want to go back to normal, but normal’s not worth all the trouble,” Brax intones on “Don’t Dress for the Job You Don’t Want,” a downcast-but-still-funny portrait of the ennui of pandemic isolation. A profound statement of the nature of life by an MC you better believe I’ll be keeping up with from here on out.
“With truly mixed emotions we have decided it is time to dissolve the band. We have backed out of our upcoming opening slots with Mdou Moctar and Bikini Kill; sincere apologies to those artists, the promoters, and anyone looking forward to seeing us. We took a bit of a hiatus during the first two years of the pandemic and now, as the status quo of band-life is slowly starting to return, we find ourselves simply in a different place. ‘You can’t go home again’ as the saying goes, and sadly it’s true.”
These are the words from Lithics’ Instagram account, posted about six weeks ago. Bands break up all the time, but I’ve gotta admit, y’all: this one stings. If you’ve been following along since I took over Throwaway Style back in 2018, you have a very clear idea of the esteem in which I hold the Portland art-punks. Mating Surfaces was an instant classic. Tower of Age was the album I thought would really break the band through as the sort of burgeoning cult icons indie rock sorely needs. When I saw them live for the first time (opening for Wimps in 2018), it was arguably the best live set I’ve seen in a decade.
Now they have moved on to the great unknown, living their lives and leaving us with three incredible, astoundingly singular LPs that I find myself immensely grateful for.
I’m sure you’ve been asking the same question a lot of us in the Seattle scene have been asking ourselves. Since topping the Seattle Times Critics Poll in 2019, rebranding themselves as Ex-Florist, and becoming the Log Lady of Seattle-centric cult favorite web series BAZZOOKA, where the hell has the music been? The wait is over. “ARTIFICIAL LIGHT” is the Tacoma-based artist’s first single in over two years, and it’s a pretty dramatic shift from what you might expect from Ex-Florist — unless you rightfully know to expect the unexpected. Produced by estoc, “ARTIFICIAL LIGHT” is a two-minute slab of spectral, industrial-metal-R&B; something I can safely say is a style I had no idea would be so satisfying!
Okay, let’s get down to business here. You probably already know our friends at Freakout Fest are celebrating 10 years of being the best multi-day music extravaganza in the festival dead-zone of mid-fall, taking place November 10th-13th. You’re hopefully quite well-aware that this year’s lineup is packed, with artists such as Os Mutantes, No Age, Colleen Green, dozens of local favorites like Black Ends, Rachaels Children, Shaina Shepherd, Biblioteka, Rainbow Coalition Death Cult, Blood Lemon, Steal Shit Do Drugs, and damn near 100 other bands. Well, now the schedule has dropped and it’s time for our annual planning session.
Thankfully, local favorite rock ‘n rollers 38 Coffin are performing unchallenged to kick off the long weekend, but later on Thursday night, you’ll have to choose between No Age, BLK JKS, and Freakout Fest house band Acid Tongue (whose performance last year was the stuff of local legend). But don’t worry too much on that end about Acid Tongue, because if you miss them on Friday, they play again at 8:30 on Sunday. On Friday, Colleen Green and Rachaels Children play at the same time and earlier in the night, Black Ends and Biblioteka overlap nearly as neatly. On Saturday, Itchy Kitty and Egg Drop Soup both play at 11.
But essentially, we’re talking about having too much music to see and festival FOMO. Which is an absurdly good problem to have. A special programming note for anyone who has read this far: I’ll be speaking to the Freakout Festival crew for next month’s Throwaway Style about building the event up to what it is today. And I’ll most certainly be roaming the streets of Ballard when Freakout hits the streets, so don’t hesitate to say hello! (Unless you’re a jackass, and in that case you can keep your greeting to yourself.)
Have you ever wondered about the process of Phil Elverum, how he manages to transform grief into powerful songwriting or getting the idea to write a 45-minute song? Are you interested in learning from one of the Pacific Northwest’s most singular songwriters to bolster your own craft? Well, you are in luck, dear reader who is more than likely also a local musician! Elverum has unveiled his plans for “Music With Voice,” a four-week course where there will be a weekly lecture, Q&A, and homework. Among the topics will be ideas on “changing your life so the songs will come” and whether or not you should sing in a British accent. There will be an early (11am-12pm Pacific Time) and a late (6pm-7pm Pacific Time) workshop to accommodate whatever time zone you may live in (essential for all the non-local musicians who may be reading this column!), and the course will take place every Sunday starting October 30th and ending November 20th.
It will cost $120 to participate in the workshop (but also includes a 20% discount for signing up with a friend); click here to register and for more details.
In KEXP's new weekly series Living Singles, the KEXP staff contributors highlight three brand new singles that are resonating with them right now. Listen to Dusty Henry talk about his picks alongside Sound & Vision's Rachel Stevens.
This past Sunday evening, the legendary Tacoma band The Sonics played their first hometown show in six years. Martin Douglas explores their influence from the perspective of his twenty years as a Tacoma resident.