American Aquarium’s six years as a band have been a fast-moving blur of rubber on road, touring coast to coast through the states and Europe. Most nights of the year are spent far from their Raleigh homes, squinting out from bright stages at a growing legion of passionate fans who’ve followed them through the release of six albums that reflect a whirlwind of too many whiskey soaked nights, nameless women in smoky bars and fast living while your youth is in full bloom.
Burn.Flicker.Die., the band’s most recent release, is what has emerged from that scenario for this group of hard working players. After two years of writing, they journeyed to the legendary recording hub which gave birth to some of the greatest blues, country and rock records of all time: Muscle Shoals/Sheffield, AL. Recorded in eight days under the precise hand of friend/tour buddy Jason Isbell, the record is an aptly named milestone for the band, and their most painstaking effort to date. Described as a “consequence record” by vocalist BJ Barham, the band spent that week pushing out everything that’s been haunting them: working for six years, watching buzz bands peak and die, and pining for their own payoff.
We caught up with BJ Barham of the band to ask him some questions about American Aquarium’s fans, their pre-show rituals and their song writing sessions. Check it out!
What is the strangest thing a fan has done for you?
We have had a lot of fans that have gotten tattoos of song lyrics and that is always a shocker. Not strange in a bad way, just surprising I guess. One of our fans even got my face tattooed on his “arm of fame”, along with Hank Sr. and Tom Waits. I always take it as a huge compliment.
What is the funniest moment you have had as a band so far?
Probably can’t talk about a lot of these in public. Haha. We have taken a sworn oath to each other to keep a lot of the stories under wraps. We’ve had some hilariously scandalous moments over the seven year stretch of this band. We used to have a keyboard player in the band that would always find his way into some sticky situations to say the least. Ask me about it in person at a show and I’ll try to think of a PG-13 one worth telling.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Me personally, I like to be alone before the show. Just me and a pre-show cocktail, preferably Jameson. It gives me a chance to get focused and reflect on the day. Haha. As far as the band goes, we don’t really have a pre-show ritual. We usually just look at each other and say “Don’t fuck this up for us” and laugh.
If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
Honest. If I could use two words. Brutally Honest.
How do you connect with a crowd?
I think it goes back to the honesty. I think we write songs that everyone can relate to. Love, love lost, drinking, late nights. Those are all universal subjects. I think that’s why folks really dig what we do. We are just 5 normal guys writing about normal things.
How did you come up with your band name?
There is a Wilco song called “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” off of their record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The first line of that song is “I am an American Aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue.” A dear high school friend of mine heard that line and told me it would be a good name for our shitty band. Haha, turns out he was right.
What is the best way to write music?
For me it’s all about timing. I can go months without writing a song and then in one night I can write three of them. It’s all about trying to bottle lighting. When it hits, and you are ready, it’s an amazing feeling but a lot of the time it hits and you are sleeping, or riding in a car. Being able to capture it is the hardest part. But it’s also the fun part. My ideal way to write is alone, with a drink and a guitar. I like the solitude of the craft.
Catch American Aquarium opening for The Whiskey Gentry on Saturday, August 17th at Center Stage!