Enumclaw and MJ Lenderman Want a Little More Mystique in Music

The mutual fans talk social media, the Tacoma Curse, and more.

MJ Lenderman is an Asheville-based songwriter and guitarist; Aramis Johnson is the the lead member of the Tacoma-based rock band Enumclaw. The two are fans of each other’s, so to celebrate the release of Enumclaw’s debut record Save the Baby — out now on Luminelle Recordings — they hopped on the phone for a deep chat about it all.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

MJ Lenderman: That infomercial you guys made — was that based on the Airheads commercials?

Aramis Johnson: Yeah.

MJ: Dude, that was so funny.

Aramis: Aw, thanks. Well, thanks for asking. This girl Murrie [Rosenfeld] and the homie Sam [Doubek] came to Tacoma and helped us put it together. We were trying to do something like, yeah, the old Airheads commercials, and The Amanda Show and stuff like that.

MJ: Yeah. It’s funny to see stuff from people our age, like coming from our childhood. Like, you’ve got the Jimmy Neutron reference.

Aramis: Yeah, I fucked with Jimmy Neutron so much as a kid. I wanted to have his lab in our backyard, in the shed, so bad.

MJ: Have you seen it recently?

Aramis: I haven’t watched it in hella long.

MJ: The animation is, like, creepy. It’s so weird.

Aramis: Something I used to think about a lot about Jimmy Neutron is — I don’t know if you remember this, but I think in the first episode, there was this character and he was this evil villain, but he couldn’t finish anything. And, I don’t know, I felt like that for a long time as I was growing up, like, Oh, I want to do this, but I can’t finish it.

MJ: Yeah, I watched a lot of Nickelodeon. For some reason I wasn’t allowed to watch Cartoon Network.

Aramis: I was never a Cartoon Network kid. And I wonder if that’s why I’m not edgy, like as an adult. 

MJ: I know. Looking back on those shows, they’re so much more artful.

Aramis: Yeah, they were a lot more creative for sure. A lot of the guys in the band want to do stuff with Adult Swim and shit like that.

MJ: Yeah. Big SpongeBob [fan, too]…

Aramis: Dude, I knew a lot of people who weren’t allowed to watch SpongeBob as a kid, and that always confused me. 

MJ: Yeah, I don’t think I was allowed to watch it — I grew up in a Catholic household. [Laughs.] But me and my sister watched it anyway. I think parents were worried because because all those characters are so stupid.

Aramis: Yeah, I remember when I was a kid, it was very much like, “Don’t watch too much TV, it’s going to make you stupid.” And now it’s like, “Don’t be on your phone too much, it’s going to make you stupid.” I do think being on my phone has made me stupider.

MJ: I think so too. 

Aramis: I feel like it’s made it so much harder for me to retain information. It’s like in one ear and out the other. I really want to try to get rid of mine, go back to a flip phone or something.

MJ: Yeah. I tried to delete the socials off my phone, but it gets tough when you’re on the road and you need to be promoting what you’re doing, or talking to somebody that you’re going to sleep at their house.

Aramis: It has become such a necessity in a really annoying way. I had this tweet a while ago — I was like, “Damn, Kurt Cobain never had to say ‘link in my bio.’” But it’s true. It’s so annoying that if you want to make art, you have to fucking overexpose yourself on the internet and be like, “Check out this thing I made,” like 50 times a day. I don’t know how it is with you, but I definitely get hit up from management or the label to be like, “Make this post today,” or “can you do this?” There was big — not a huge argument, but they definitely wanted us to get on TikTok and stuff, and it’s like, “Dude, I’m not trying to sit and talk into my phone to convince people to listen to my music.”

MJ: I’m starting to talk with some labels and going into it, I wanted to be up front like, “I don’t want to be online that much if I don’t have to.” It’s weird that I have to say that, but people are just expected.

Aramis: Do you ever feel like you’re missing out by not being, like, popular on the internet? I’ll see artists who are super active on TikTok, or they have a TikTok hit and start really popping…

MJ: I don’t know, it’s complicated. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Personally, I feel like it’s not me to do those kind of things, and I don’t think I’d be happy with myself if I did stuff like that. But no judgment to anybody who does. But it’s also like, Twitter and TikTok are really saturated, so it’s almost at this point where if you don’t do it, people will notice.

Aramis: Yeah. I definitely think there’s a lack of mystique in music nowadays. And when you think about some of the biggest artists right now, they’re not on the internet and you don’t really know a lot about them.

MJ: Yeah I agree. I’ve always been into that from artists that I like. And even for myself, I try to keep it that way — I feel like the less people know about me, the more they’re able to project what they want me to be.

Aramis: Yeah, I think it allows like healthier boundaries for you, where you have a little bit of autonomy away from them, but people also can form their own opinions on things. For example, we played this festival a couple of weeks ago and Yves Tumor played after us, and it was honestly one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. We were in this town two hours away from the city out here in Washington, and you could have told me I was anywhere in the world. I’ve never been transported like that, it was fucking incredible. And the next time we had practice, we were all like, “What the fuck was that?” And then I started to look into Yves Tumor and you can’t even find out how old they are. There’s threads that are like, “He might have been born in 1989, or he might have been born in 1972…” It’s just all lore.

MJ: Yeah, that’s impressive. The opposite of this: I wanted to bring up Oasis. Because I can’t read a thing about you guys without Oasis coming up, and I’ve seen your shirts and stuff. That’s a very public band, and I’ve had a lot of friends really getting into them lately. I’d only known about them because of their bickering and the brothers talking shit about each other. So, what’s your deal with them?

Aramis: I got into them after I had seen their documentary. They have one of my favorite rock documentaries. They essentially blew up as a band because they shared a practice space with this other band, and to do them a favor, the other band was like, “We’ll let you play half of our set at this show out of town,” and then they ended up getting seen and then they got signed. 

But the songs are just good. Like, I’m really into songs, first and foremost. I was listening to something the other day and they were talking about Oasis — they were like, “The songs don’t make any sense, but something about them is so visceral,” you know? I think it really taps into the core of what it feels like to be a person. And so when I started writing songs, I was really into how like simple but direct and vague the songs were.

MJ: I love the idea of simplicity in music.

Aramis: Yeah, I never want to overcomplicate things.

MJ: I read also that you guys are kind of new to your instruments?

Aramis: Yeah. I started playing guitar at the end of 2019, and Ladaniel [Gipson] started playing drums around the same time, and then Eli [Edwards] started playing bass in maybe January or February of 2021. But Nathan [Cornell]’s been playing guitar for a very long time.

MJ: Yeah, so the thing about the songs being simple is it doesn’t really matter how good you guys are at your instruments.

Aramis: Right.

MJ: It’s like, you know your limits, and then you can do whatever you want inside of those.

Aramis: Right. I used to make beats, like on a computer, and I never felt like I was getting to where I was going with that because there was too many options. And because I don’t know how to play the guitar extremely well, it has this set of limitations, and I can only work within this box. It just makes it a lot more streamlined of a process.

Also, I really wanted to geek out for a second about “Tastes Just Like It Costs.” In terms of the Oasis thing, I think that song for me feels the same way, where I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I really feel it. I remember hearing that song for the first time in my car and just being like, Fuck, it really does taste just like it costs. I think that’s what I really enjoyed about your record — it has enough room for people to see themselves, which I think is a rare talent nowadays in music.

MJ: Thank you. Yeah, that song is funny. I wrote it in, like, 15 minutes and was just laughing really hard at it, and then it ended up making it to the record. But I was surprised — out of all of the songs that I worked really hard on, and I consider to be better songs, that was the one that got Best New Track on Pitchfork, and then it ended up in some New York Times cooking article.

Aramis: Really?

MJ: Yeah, my mom’s friends were freaking out. 

Aramis: But yeah, I think certain songs like that transcend to… I don’t know, it just very much feels like what it feels like to be a person. And those are always my favorite kinds of songs.

MJ: Yeah. So, back to Oasis: You guys seem to be unashamed of saying that you want world domination as well.

Aramis: Yeah. I don’t know why I’ve felt like this my whole life — I think as I get older, it becomes more embarrassing — but the first thing I ever wanted to do with my life was to be the first Black president. And then Obama came out and I was like, Damn, nobody wants to be the second Black president. And so I was like, What else can I do to be uber important? I was like, Maybe I’ll act. And then I was like, Fuck it, I’m gonna make music

To me, a lot of the artists I grew up idolizing were extremely famous because they were extremely good at what they do. I think intoday’s landscape, saying you want to be the biggest band in the world doesn’t always equate to wanting to be the best band in the world. I just want to make really good songs that get to reach a ton of people. I think also, coming from a rap background, it’s so braggadocious and so ego driven that coming into the indie rock world, everybody’s kind of like, “Oh, I wrote songs. Maybe you’ll like them or maybe you won’t…” So yeah, I think I’m the shit and I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

MJ: It’s almost like indie music, it’s to the point where people feel like they have [be timid], even though on the inside, I’m sure they’re like, I want you to hear this.

Aramis: Yeah, exactly. And so it’s like, I just really want to do this, I really want to be good. And I’m definitely not money-motivated, but I’d like to be in a spot where I can be in the band full time. I got to gotta work tonight and that fucking sucks. I hate going to work. I want to be in a spot where everybody in the band can just focus on being in the band.

MJ: For sure. I think people don’t realize that, just because people know about your band doesn’t mean you guys are rich.

So, let me ask you: What’s the Tacoma Curse?

Aramis: Oh, yeah. I think I’m exempt from it because I’m from Lakewood, which is a Tacoma suburb. But it’s just like, people [from Tacoma] will have these moments of spotlight, whether it’s musically or artistically or athletically, and they just get so trapped in the mindset of — like, Tacoma is not a small town, but it is a small town when it comes to the mentality. And so people get very caught up in, like, as-far-as-the-eye-can-see. So people get really bogged down by the local politics of everything, and they start worrying about being the coolest dude in Tacoma instead of trying to break out of Tacoma. And then once you become the coolest guy in Tacoma, people get lazy and they stop doing stuff. It’s just people not having the foresight to make good decisions and utilize their talent to make a better life for themselves. 

MJ: Yeah.

Aramis: I think my computer is about to die, and they’re going to kick us off here, but thanks for doing this! I think we’ll be in town when you come through on tour, so we should hang out.

MJ: Yeah! It’s good to see you, hope to see you in Seattle!

(Photo Credit: left, Colin Matsui; right, Charlie Boss)

Enumclaw is a rock band from Tacoma, Washington. Their debut record, Save the Baby, is out now on Luminelle Recordings. 

(Photo Credit: Colin Matsui)