With the recent release of their latest studio album, Burn.Flicker.Die. American Aquarium is proving that they have graduated to that class of professional musicians that have made an undeniable commitment to their music and their fans.
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. But what happens when it all stops feeling good?
Burn.Flicker.Die. 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. As a long-time Southern rock artisan, Isbell provided a weathered know-how in producing the record American Aquarium is proudest of. 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.
“I wish my addictions didn’t mean so much/but we all can’t be born with that kind of luck,” Barham sings on the title track, capturing the fast lifestyle with images of subtle barroom horrors: Finding a high in a dingy bathroom stall, a pretty barfly from somewhere down south you won’t see again, free shots you can’t say no to. “Casualties” is a soaring, chorus-less ode to death by rock that confronts age and the band’s great fear of having made the wrong choice. They’ve watched artists ride the hype train right off the track. But that can’t be American Aquarium – they’ve been laying low too long, finding their way to the most poignant album of their careers through hard touring and waking up to realize that it’s not Saturday night anymore.
Some of the record hurts to hear, like the quiet, fine-spun “Harmless Sparks.” It sounds like the flicker of a solitary cigarette burning to its filter in the blue-black glow of a bar. Keys plink like shot glasses in the background, and you’re the last to go home. American Aquarium has been there before. But the record also looks to the end of a hard road, where there might be validation for good music, and even love. In “Jacksonville,” Barham promises someone a call if he “makes it out alive.” Taking a cue from Ryan Adams, he draws romance out of shame in “Northern Lights.” And in “Saturday Nights” and “Saint Mary’s,” he makes a subtle mockery of the dives they know too well – slick with spilled whiskey and crawling with restless women who all look the same.
Lead singer B.J. Barham recently answered 10 questions for me.
Who are your songwriting influences?
Springsteen, Tom Petty, Dylan are the legends that I really look up to. They wrote songs that really stood the test of time. Some of the contemporary artist that really make me want to write better songs are Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, Jason Isbell and Brian Fallon.
When and where was your first public performance?
The first time the band ever played was in October of 2005 at The Brewery in Raleigh,NC. We were so green.
What was the first record or cd you purchased with your own money?
The first record that I ever purchased with my own money was Alabama's "Dixie Land Delight"
What was the first live concert you attended?
Being from a small town in NC i really didn't have the opportunity to see a lot of live music in high school, mainly because there were no venues to see live bands. The first show I ever got see was my first week of college. I won free tickets to see Third Eye Blind. hahaha.
Which venue would you most like to play that you haven't yet/ and which is your favorite venue to play?
A venue that I havent got to play that I would love to play would be the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. Just so much history in that room. My favorite venue comes down to a tie between the National Theatre in Richmond,VA and the 9:30 Club in DC. My favorite bars that Ive played, again a tie, are the Jinx in Savannah,GA and the White Water Tavern in Little Rock,AR
What is the best career advice you've been given, and by whom?
The best advice that I've ever heard is "write what you know". Honesty is the most important aspect of songwriting, in my opinion. Without it, the music lacks a real center.
Who are you listening to now?
Really love the Turnpike Troubadours. Being out here in Texas for the last few weeks, these guys are the real deal. great band, great songs, great dudes. Also listening to a lot of Hayes Carll, Ryan Adams, AA Bondy and the Drive By Truckers.
What is your best story about life on the road?
Man I have way to many of those to even start to try to think of the best one. I don't think i could tell any without incriminating someone else. I'll just say the road has been the best and worst decision I have ever made in my life.
What recordings are available to the public and where can they be purchased?
We have 5 studio records, an EP, and a live record all available on Itunes or in our store at www.americanaquarium.net
When and where are you playing next?
Home for the holidays. You can check our schedule at www.americanaquarium.net