American Aquarium
Gig Seeker Pro

American Aquarium

Raleigh, North Carolina, United States | INDIE

Raleigh, North Carolina, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Country


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"American Aquarium records session for Daytrotter"

There is now one more Triangle band to add to the growing list of those who have recorded a session for the very popular site Daytrotter. Raleigh band American Aquarium's session has just been made available to download and stream here.

Three of the four songs of the session are from the band's latest album Small Town Hymns, "Rattlesnake," "Hurricane" and "Reidsville." They also played the song "Bigger In Texas" from their 2008 album Bones.

American Aquarium's next local show is at The Pour House in Raleigh on Saturday, December 4 with House of Fools. Advance tickets are available here for $8. Check out the rest of the band's tour scheduled below. - Triangle Music

"American Aquarium takes the stage at Proud Larry's"

Singer/songwriter BJ Barham was never one to mince words. In fact, he’s built an entire career around a propensity for abrasive sincerity.

“There’s a special kind of people that are made for this kind of work,” Barham said. “We hear people all the time: ‘We’d love to do what you guys do.’ Do it for a few years, and then see how much you want to do it. Unless you love playing music, unless you love traveling and affecting people every single night. That’s why we do it. Because it sure as hell ain’t for the money.”

As frontman for the Raleigh-based, “don’t call us alt-country” outfit American Aquarium, Barham has packed bars, selling his own merch out of coolers and calling out exes for six years now.

“Antique Hearts,” his band’s debut studio effort, thrust Barham and company into the limelight as new torch bearers of North Carolina’s rich Americana heritage.

Barham’s lyrical roots lie in the simplistic yet weighty verse of icons Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy, and most prominently, Bruce Springsteen. He mixes these more subtle influences with a honky-tonk flare born out of personal tribulations to produce a gripping, eclectic brand of songwriting.

Known for gems such as “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart (The Whore Song),” off of last year’s “Dances For the Lonely,” the singer/songwriter revels in his love/hate relationship with music and life in general.

“I’m a very ‘write what I know’ kind of guy,” Barham said. “And during those first couple of records I was going through some pretty nasty breakups, so I wrote songs about breakups.”

American Aquarium’s latest album, “Small Town Hymns,” showcases a maturing Barham as he takes on less autobiographical themes. Narrative, character-driven tracks like “Water in Well,” about a 1930’s Georgian farmer facing repossession, mark the singer/songwriter’s turn towards an almost Dylanesque style of lyricism.

“I would definitely say it’s maturation,” Barham said. “For the first time in a long time, I’m in a relationship where I’m content. It’s allowed my songwriting to move forward.”

“Small Town Hymns” was tracked in Oxford at Tweed Recording and produced by Andrew Radcliffe, who’s known for his work with artists like Colour Revolt and the Kudzu Kings.

“We moved to Oxford, about this time last year,” Barham said. “It was amazing. Oxford is a town that we really, really enjoy.”

In terms of sound, the album melds the distilled country present on their sophomore release, “The Bible Meets the Bottle,” with American Aquarium’s usual rural, E-Street boom.

Barham’s bourbon-seared drawl is noticeably improved as he negotiates its textured fluctuations perfectly, successfully maneuvering amid his band’s dynamic shifts.

The band is also experiencing changes in other areas unrelated to music – take for instance, personal health.

“This past year, everybody has picked up running, so everybody runs a couple of miles a day,” Barham said. “We realized we can’t just live off of McDonald’s and beer.”

No matter what new paths the band decides to explore, one thing will stay constant – their commitment to artistic freedom.

Barham’s feelings towards the record industry’s hold on creative liberty stem from one record in particular: Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” After creating what would become one of the greatest albums ever recorded, Wilco was dropped from Reprise after quarreling with the label who refused to release a record they believed wasn’t commercially viable.

“(Forget) critical acclaim,” Barham said. “A lot of these big labels don’t give a (damn) about critical acclaim. They want dollars and bands who sell out theaters. So that’s why we decided to release our records independently and tour. This is our second year with 300 plus shows. If a label won’t promote us then we’ll go to every town in America and play our music and tell people to listen. Learning early on that the record industry was the devil helped us figure out that we want to be a touring rock band” he said. “We don’t want to be millionaires, we just want to make a living playing music.”

In the spring, the guys plan to start work on what will be their sixth album in as many years, this time recording in Mussel Shoals with Barham’s friend, Jason Isbell.

American Aquarium will be taking the stage at Proud Larry’s tonight. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8. - Daily Mississippian

"American Aquarium"

It's within the realm of possibility that American Aquarium wasn't thinking about the opening lines of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot when it took a name. It's also possible that the band came by its working-stiff guitar epics and country-soul twang by means other than the study of Bruce Springsteen and Drive-By Truckers records. On paper, the sum total of this Raleigh, North Carolina, band's influences shouldn't amount to more than a steady gig dishing the Southern-barroom rock on cheap-date night. But on record American Aquarium's way with a song — deceptively literate and cool films of romance on all the wrong sides of town — and sheets of piano and lap steel make it recommended listening for anyone who misses the alt-country heyday of the Backsliders and Whiskeytown. - Riverfront Times

"Country, but ‘a little bit wilder’"

American Aquarium vocalist/guitarist B.J. Barham moved to Raleigh, N.C., to go to college. “I’d been playing guitar since high school,” Barham drawled in a genuinely thick Southern accent during a recent phone interview. “I picked it up for fun and taught myself.”
While in school, Barham started a band. “I figured why not,” he said. “Then, it gradually went from being something I did for fun to something that I wanted to do for a career. It definitely moved to the forefront and became less of a hobby and more of a living.”

American Aquarium is set to play the Hummingbird Stage and Taproom on Wednesday night.

With other members Zack Brown (piano), Bill Corbin (bass), Kevin McClain (drums), Ryan Johnson (lead guitar) and Whit Wright (pedal steel guitar), Barham set about creating what he calls “just a country band from Raleigh, North Carolina.” As anyone who has heard American Aquarium play will attest, however, the band is far from being “just” anything.
“We’re kind of a weird mix,” Barham admitted. “I think we’re mostly country because of the way our music taps into the ideal of telling stories. Modern country has some really odd connotations, but we’re a little bit wilder than what people will think of when they hear that we’re a country band. We’re a bit rowdy and our music is real. I guess we’re a mix between country, Southern rock, punk and soul.”
The mix has worked for American Aquarium, which is touring in support of its fifth album, “Small Town Hymns.”
“It’s about the struggles of growing up in a small town where everything is run by girls and cars, and the ultimate goal is to get out,” Barham said. “The record has had great reception, and we’re really excited to see our fans so excited about it.”
Barham, who writes the band’s saongs, taught himself to wright music.
“I started writing because I wanted to,” Barham said. “I listened to what people on the radio were saying and now, people listen to what we say. It’s a way to get all the thoughts and ideas out on paper and then out in song. It’s about telling stories, normal everyday stories. It’s one of the things that does make us a country band. The other is that we play with a pedal steel guitar.”
At home, American Aquarium also adds an organ to the mix.
“It’s a bit of Americana,” Barham said. “We play hard, and I write what I know.”
American Aquarium prides itself on putting on a high-energy show. “We go to party. Tell people to wear their dancing boots,” Barham said. “When we play, people get rowdy, and we love Macon and we love the Hummingbird. It’s one of my top five bars in the country.” - Macon Telegraph

"American Aquarium headline Nashville festival, record in famed Ala. studio"

Though they were born in Reidsville. and live in Raleigh, American Aquarium have grown up on the road. With nearly 700 shows under their collective belt by the end of this year, it’s clear the country-rock septet bleeds the blue-collar ethic of antecedents the Drive-By Truckers and Uncle Tupelo, but it takes a careful listen to their catalog to truly understand the extent to which the band has matured. Frontman BJ Barham not only made his living writing songs about booze and women, it was his living through three albums and an EP. With their most successful record to date, May’s Small Town Hymns, in the rearview mirror, Barham and the band brace for the next record that could potentially redefine them, as well as one of their most important weekends as performers to date.
Y!W: You were accepted to perform at the Americana Music Association’s music festival recently. Put that into context.
Barham: We’re one of 50 bands that got accepted and we’re real honored. There were a couple thousand bands that went through the application process and we got the headlining set at the Basement that Saturday night, 45 minutes at midnight and we really couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
Y!W: It’s clearly not just another show for you, so what kind of expectations do you have going in?
Barham: You know, everybody wants to say, “Aw, this is gonna be our big break, we’re gonna get famous.” But that never happens. The goal is to meet people who can help you out along the way. It’s all about networking. The ultimate goal is possibly meet a lawyer, maybe a publisher. Meet somebody who can help us take what we’re doing to the next level.
Y!W: That’s not your only big show that weekend, is it?
Barham: We’re playing the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh the Thursday before and down in Athens. Ga. on Friday. I’m so happy that Hopscotch has come together, though. When they first started talking about it I was like, “Bulls**t, there’s no way this is gonna happen.” It did, and we’re really excited about it. We’re at the Lincoln Theatre with Max Indian and Lucero and it’s gonna be a straight rock-and-roll show.
Y!W: Now that the dust has settled on the release of Small Town Hymns, what’s in store for the band?
Barham: Another record. We’re going into the studio with Jason Isbell [formerly] of the Drive-By Truckers. We’re moving to Muscle Shoals, Ala. to record it, but we’re doing it a little bit different for this one. We moved to Oxford, Miss. to make this last one. We lived in the studio last November and wrote the whole thing down there in two weeks. We already have most of this one written, so we’re just going down there to record it.
Y!W: Isbell did a lot of interesting things on his own solo record, bringing in the horns and harmonies. What do you think he brings to the studio for American Aquarium?
Barham: Jason is really good at capturing what Muscle Shoals is famous for and that’s its soul and honesty. I’m really hoping that he brings something like that to our record. It’ll be interesting to see what he has in mind. He already told me he’ll be singing and playing guitar on it. I’ve got most of the songs written already and we all have our own ideas as to how it’s going to sound, but you never know. That might all completely change with Jason.
Y!W: Where do you intend to go with your next record thematically?
Barham: It’s about Raleigh. It’s a very, very dark look at Raleigh. How I view it only being there a couple months out of the year, how I view it from the road, how my view of the road has changed. On Dances With the Lonely, it was all about young, fun, get drunk every night, there’s a girl in every town. I wrote it about our first couple years touring and it was fun. It was about getting as intoxicated as we possibly could and playing a show and then finding some young lady to write that next song about. We were just being stupid and young.
Y!W: Is this going to be your “growing up” record?
Barham: I think that was really our last one. It was all about Reidsville and small-town America, and getting out of them to try and do something better. It was a good segue into this next record, realizing that being in the big town can eat you alive.
- Yes! Weekly

"American Aquarium, "Rattlesnake""

American Aquarium’s new album Small Town Hymns is out May 1st. In the mean time, they’ve posted a few of their new songs online, including "Rattlesnake," above.

At a time when so many bands are busy dicking around with art school interpretations of roots music, trying to reinvent the wheelbarrow and create an avant-garde Americana revolution, it’s refreshing to hear American Aquarium throw a fastball right down the middle. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not following some sort of path or formula. Quite the opposite— they’re following the songs, and frontman BJ Barham can write a hell of a song.

A lot of songwriters would need three rhyming dictionaries and a farmer’s almanac to write the line, “and when she called me ‘darlin,’ I started caterwaulin’,” but for BJ it comes naturally, as if there’s no other way to describe how he felt at that moment. But it's not just BJ alone he makes these songs so solid. The rest of the band shows remarkable maturity for what’s still a relatively young group of guys. No one’s trying to show off or act like they’re God’s gift to guitars, as if they could make it rain and impregnate a woman with a single note. They play exactly what is needed to support and drive the songs and stories, rocking just as hard as possible, but without getting in the way.

Some people compare BJ Barham to Ryan Adams, primarily because they’re both from North Carolina, which I suppose is better than comparing him to, say Jesse Helms, but I’ve never felt the Ryan Adams comparison was quite right. Sure, in a very broad since, you could say, “hey, if you like Whiskeytown’s stuff or Heartbreaker, you’ll like this,” but it’s a bit of a misnomer to say he’s another Ryan Adams. I always sort of got the feeling that if a bar fight broke out around Ryan Adams, he would slap himself in the face, curl up in the fetal position and cry until the dust settled. Then he’d track his sobbing over distorted voicemails of Courtney Love accusing him of stealing all of Bean’s money and release it as a double album, insisting it’s punk rock. I don’t think BJ would do that.

Sure, there’s plenty of heartbreak in BJ’s songs, but it’s less like the type of heartbreak someone would scribble in their diary at an independent coffee shop, and more like the kind of heartbreak you’d yell into that merciless bitch’s voicemail a couple hours after closing time. Listen to “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” alternately titled “Whore song.” (off the previous album). - No Depression

"American Aquarium- Small Town Hymns"

I’m sitting here in front of the laptop on the eve of getting to see American Aquarium live for the very first time (by the time you’re reading this I’ll already have seen them) and I’m preparing to do my third piece about an American Aquarium album. When they first started up they were easily described as Whiskeytown-meets-Lucero, and every obligatory Springsteen reference was earned in full. With their latest album, Small Town Hymns, I feel like the band is finally starting to try and break out of those limits. Some will point at the lyrical content of this album and say it’s safe, playing well within the tried and true confines of the genre, and honestly I cannot argue with that assessment. That said, what B.J.’s lyrics might lack in refinement is made up in the kind of authenticity that can occasionally find a small handful of his “songs” present in the bar during hometown shows, and I can appreciate that kind of thing.

In the past I’ve described American Aquarium as an “indie rock band with just enough twang & swagger to keep this particular blogger engaged”. This time around the tides have certainly changed, bringing us a largely Americana sound with enough indie elements to keep it from sounding stale or formulaic but that swagger, that ain’t going nowhere.

For me the real gem in this album isn’t in it’s lyrical content (liked or not) and it’s not in the indie main dish, which has been relegated to a mere side dish. No, where this album truly excels is in its overall feel. To me, the album has a quiet desperation to it with an underlying theme of people trying get out of their self-defined limits, beliefs, towns and habits, even though everyone, including themselves, know they’ll probably fail. Maybe it’s ’cause I grew up in a small town with the same mind frame or ’cause I’m drunk tonight, but there is something about that that I can embrace, befriend and label Essential Listening. -

"American Aquarium's Small Town Hymns"

The first couplet of "Gone Long Gone"—the penultimate track of Smalltown Hymns, American Aquarium's fourth album—reads like the record's thesis statement: "I spent my whole life running from the truth/ I blamed it on the women and I blamed it on the booze." You could call it an epiphany for frontman BJ Barham, whose songs have long been fueled by scorn cast toward the scores of barroom girls with whom he's fallen in love, at least in song. "Gone Long Gone" is the sound of Barham growing up, turning bitter self-pity into mature reflection, and it spreads across Smalltown Hymns.

If you think Barham's totally letting those Southern sirens off the hook, don't fret: He alternately equates women to pernicious vipers on "Rattlesnake" and to both raging storms and angry colonies of wasps on "Hurricane." But even then, he still gives credit where credit's due, referring to the snake as a "glorious mistake." Instead of taking aim at others, the once brash singer now properly takes some of the blame himself.

Given that lyrical deviation, it might seem surprising that Hymns is Barham's most consistent and cohesive batch of tunes yet. Despite releasing four albums in five years, this band's output can be anything but steady—both in the spurts in which it comes and the quality that results. These 10 tracks, almost entirely written and recorded in a month's time, seem to be part of a whole. Reverting back to his storytelling strengths, Barham paints a picture-perfect image of his smalltown Carolina upbringing on "Reidsville," describing the Ford and Chevy muscle cars that stretch across the streets of his hometown on a Friday night and the hopeful high school sweethearts that fill them.

For the first time, Barham successfully experiments with portraying characters. "Brother, Oh Brother" speaks of a rifle-toting soldier who struggles with the war he fights. It's hardly groundbreaking for songwriters at large, but it's certainly refreshing to hear Barham handle a new topic. "Water in the Well" is his crowning achievement, a dark divulgence written from the eyes of a Southern patriarch who sees suicide as the solution over salvation after losing possession of his inherited farmland.

Though Hymns is the closest American Aquarium has come to a singer-songwriter record—and indeed, songwriting is the focus of the album—calling it such would be a major disservice to the six fellows backing Barham. Where last year's Dances for the Lonely crackled with live-wire energy and bombastic bar-band arrangements, Hymns is the balance between 2008's lush The Bible and the Bottle and its understated companion EP, Bones. Whether it's the gentle arcs of pedal steel and organ upon which "Hurricane" and "Gone Long Gone" ride or the careful interplay of violin, mandolin and banjo that frames "Brother, Oh Brother," each member plays the role that fits the piece here.

Sure, not all of American Aquarium's hard-won fans will love Smalltown Hymns—particularly those who live only to sing along to "I Hope He Breaks Your Heart," the sneering anthem they've alternately dubbed "The Whore Song." But Hymns finds American Aquarium again gaining traction as both Barham and his boys rein in their rowdiness, realizing that along with a dose of perspective, less can be a lot more. -

"Album Review: American Aquarium-Smail Town Hymns"

American Aquarium’s last full-length album, 2009's Dances for the Lonely, is full of Springsteen-esque rock and Hold Steady hooks. It ropes you in from the first few chords of the first track. It won me over pretty quick, and placed number three on my Top 20 of 2009.

Their newest release, Small Town Hymns, is not a replica of, or a follow-up to, Dances. It’s not a rock album and it won’t immediately grab your attention, but it will sneak up on you and grow on you if you let it.

With the bar band left behind–at least for the time being–on Small Town Hymns, American Aquarium presents ten tracks that find lead singer/songwriter BJ Barham taking a detour from the ire and heartbreak that fueled Dances (“a ‘fuck you’ record about one girl said 12 different ways“). The result is a somewhat-mixed outing, with the North Carolina band reverting to the basic elements of a southern/ band while showcasing a more mature sound.

One of the album’s flaws is BJ’s lyrical approach to women, which drifts a little too often towards simple metaphor and cliche–woman as hurricane (Track 1); woman as rattlesnake (Track 7). In between we find (on Track 2) “a modern-day Audrey Hepburn,”the queen of Appalachia” and that she is, inevitably (by Track 9) “Gone, Long Gone”.

The exception to this pattern is “Meredith”. Punctuated with a mid-tempo country shuffle, you can hear BJ sidestep cliches and aspire to break his old patterns, promising Meredith, “I’ll change for you.” (Although, I think we all know how that’s gonna work out.) My other favorite song on Small Town Hymns is the accomplished “Coffee and Cigarettes,” which tackles familiar territory but with a unique treatment.

Dances was written in response to a particularly painful breakup and targeted at one South Carolina resident named Nicole. Each track felt entirely, if painfully, sincere. There didn’t seem to be a question that each song was based on an actual person or event, whether it was someone BJ wanted to marry or someone he knew for a few hours. But for some reason, I suspect the songs on Small Town Hymns are based are theoretical characters.

In addition to mis-steps in love, the other prevailing theme on Small Town Hymns is a look at the social geography of the South. On “Water in the Well,” we hear the familiar story of a Georgian farmer about to lose his land, and with it, his pride. “Reidsville” introduces an 18-year-old trying to escape his hometown, though both the singer and the audience know he’s predestined to fail.

While at times it feels like the band is turning out obligatory pieces on prescribed themes, and BJ is reaching a little too far for a rhyme (“when she called me darlin’, I started caterwaulin’”), Small Town Hymns is a welcome addition to the growing catalog of this Carolina band, even without the Springsteen fix.

Be sure to catch these guys live when they play a town near you, which, at 300 shows per year, they are bound to do. In addition to putting on a sincerely great live show, these dudes are sweethearts and just the right amount of trouble.

American Aquarium: Coffee and Cigarettes

You can stream other tracks from Small Town Hymns on the band’s myspace page and buy the album from Last Chance Records or on iTunes. - More Cowbelle

"Small Town Hymns- 5/5 Stars"

Late last year we were completely captivated by Dances For The Lonely by American Aquarium. What an energy and a passion that had that record. Graham Parker, Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven and Marah took us on to the sound of this band from Raleigh, North Carolina, to interpret. It is a pretty big surprise that this Smalltown Hymns (Last Chance Records), a totally different kind of album. Much quieter. Not a plate, when the house to jump, but a CD that deep in your consciousness pervades. BJ Barham (vocals, acoustic guitar) writes superb songs that you can not let go. Wandering souls populate his lyrics, of course, dangerous women and Barham also saves himself. And of course that incredible attraction of life itself and the roads that beckon: She was on her momma's dress, it was white and quilted Freshly pressed, she Looked like the Queen of Appalachia. We Threw everything we had in the back of my daddy''s Cadillac. We dared the whole world to catch us. We got a full tank of gas, a bottle of booze, a pocket full of cash and nothing to lose ... We're heading out anywhere, but here, everything we know is in the rearview mirror. The wind sets it dancing to her hair, giving Occasionally Glances or her face, all freckles and sunburns. With a smile you will not soon forget to the way she lights her cigarette, she's a modern day Audrey Hepburn. She's got her daddy's temper, her momma's eyes, the world ahead of us and her by my side (Nothing To Lose). The beautiful sights on Smalltown Hymns flow like a river through small villages. He was born outside of Memphis, just north of Tupelo. Oh lord, she's a Mississippi queen. And just like that big river, oh boy she'll pull you under. She fights fire with gasoline. I want to make That glorious mistake. She's got the kisses of a thousand angels and the bite of a rattlesnake (Rattlesnake). BJ Barham Aquarium to send American division of the Altcountry, which includes Richmond Fontaine belongs. Barham alongside the band consists of Zack Brown (piano, Wurlitzer), Bill Corbin (bass) Kevin McClain (drums), Ryan Johnson (electric guitar, banjo), Jay Shirley (Hammond B3) and Whit Wright (pedal steel). Together they are responsible for a truly great album. Available at CD Baby. - AltCountry.Nl

"American Aquarium-Small Town Hymns"

Raleigh North Carolina’s American Aquarium will be releasing their fifth album in as many years come this May, and it just might be their most impressive creation to date. If you know anything about the band, or have managed to catch one of the roughly 600+ live shows they’ve performed in the last five years, you’re more than familiar with the things that make this band great. Like many of our favorite bands, American Aquarium’s general persona is a direct reflection of their lead songwriter, and his songwriting (see also: Lucero and Ben Nichols, or The Drive-By Truckers and Patterson & Cooley.) Among such great company, BJ Barham and American Aquarium will certainly hold their own.

The instruments behind BJ’s deep Southern drawl and incredibly creative yet natural lyrics fall perfectly into place to burn the finished product into your brain in a way that’ll have you tapping your foot in enjoyment and nodding your head in agreement. What’s the same about this album as those before it, is that it derives much of it’s inspiration from the things that cause us the most of our worries… women. BJ Barham must’ve had his heart broken more times than one man should, but he’s managed to take each of these experiences and illustrate his feelings more poignantly than most men ever could. What’s different about this album is that, to put it succinctly, it’s a real country album. That’s the only way I can wrap my head around it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some rocking, but there isn’t a Katherine Belle and there are no Antique Hearts, and it’s perfect. And for a guy that STILL listens to Dances for the Lonely on a weekly basis, that’s saying a lot.

The album opens with “Hurricane” that starts off with the musical equivalent of what feels like waking with the sunrise, as opposed to preparing for the worst. Guess what? It’s a metaphor, for a girl. BJ sets the scene of a town preparing to be torn apart by a storm, while Whit Wright’s pedal steel swirls around like the wind picking up steam. From the get go, you can feel that the band is taking a more introspective approach to being used and abused, not looking for revenge, but rather looking back at what it was for what it was, and it’s a beautiful way to do it.

For every story of pain however, there’s a story of hope, of that beginning part of the relationship that feels so promising. “Nothing to Lose” tells this story of hitting the road and leaving everything else behind, and Bj does it so quickly and poetically that you’ll need to listen to it several times before you really feel it. The way this kid rhymes words with one another is truly a gift. Don’t overlook the musical aspects of this track though, as Ryan Johnson’s lead guitar and Kevin McClain’s drums created the tempo for this whole thing to go down.
Nothing to Lose

These guys wouldn’t be who they are if they didn’t show some real attitude, and this wouldn’t be considered a troubador country album if it weren’t for a song like “Rattlesnake.” Again centered around a dangerous woman, but the kind you know is going to burn you and you just can’t resist. This is a booze-soaked tribute to the kind of holes we tend to dig ourselves into, fully knowing the outcome. How can you not like the line “she’s got the kisses of a thousand angels, and the bite of a rattlesnake?” Zack Brown busts out an incredible piano solo towards the end of this one. I feel bad mentioning him this late in the post because Zack’s work is killer.

The last track you all need to hear isn’t about a woman at all. Well, there’s one woman mentioned, but it’s a Mama. “Brother Oh Brother” is proof positive that BJ Barham can write a song about something other than heartbreak. This is a heavy and proud song that will suck you in ala Kasey Anderson’s “I Was A Photograph” or Lucero’s “The War.” I hate to play favorites, but this is my favorite from this album. I love the way it’s written in a pattern, and emphasizes the important statements at the beginning and end of each verse. What do you call that? I don’t know, but it’s good as hell. Oh yeah, and I haven’t yet mentioned their bass player, Bill Corbin, but he’s really good too, way to go Bill!
Brother Oh Brother

All in all, if you’re going to buy ten albums this year, make damn sure that this is one of them. I’ve had it on repeat for the past two weeks and I hear something new every time I listen to it. There are ten tracks in all, each of which has a certain edge and consistency that ties it all together. If you’ve been listening to American Aquarium for a while, you’ll find a lot of familiar characteristics, but the changes should be considered promising. If it’s your first time hearing this band, this will be a great introduction to a library of music that won’t disappoint. I also must mention that you NEED to see this band play live. BJ runs a show that his half stand-up comedy, half party, and half rock ‘n roll mayhem. Yeah, it’s like 1.5 shows in one. - Front Porch Musings

"American Aquarium-Antique Hearts"

Live, American Aquarium is a big, roots-rock blunt object, a monolithic, acoustic guitar-based band, vicariously drinking behind the wheel and careening down a North Carolina country road via B.J. Barham's major chord laments. It has its moments, but the band can be as guilty of overplaying as Barham can be of oversinging. On stage, American Aquarium tries to make everything an arena ballad with a Reidsville accent and a punk zest, and Barham sometimes sounds like he's singing in the shower to old Whiskeytown EPs.

But attribute that to an ambition that makes the band feel as though it needs to save every soul in a room with its music. Oddly, it's that same ambition--a grindstone determination to turn Barham's songs into the things that kids depend upon to get over heartbreak and jump back into love--which causes the band's long-in-coming debut LP, Antique Hearts, to work so well. Viola, mandolin, organ, guitars, drums, bass and harmonica finally give Barham's songs leeway and room to breathe, moving from broad-shoulders rock to white-neck soul over 13 tracks.

Accompanied by this capable cast of ensemble (and tempered) players, Barham sounds like he's settling into his own, espousing his empirically derived views on life, love, loss and letting go with the confidence of a mature songwriter. Barham constantly sounds like he's going somewhere, and he casts himself as a peripatetic wanderer, a rolling stone with a guitar and, he hopes, a story. His chief struggle, then, is deciding on his own ultimate destination, and that beatnik indecision is what keeps him alive. On the astonishingly bright "California," he sings, "Two lovers who saw a normal life and drove the other way," only to pine later for a more compelling reunion with his paramour. That quest, met by what sounds like atheism ("Why would I ever start to pray to a God that's always only six feet away?"), points Barham to nihilist territory.

That's simplistic, though: It's the details and the essence--life in a city that "steals his paycheck one drink at a time," the streetlight outside of his window, the liberation of being able to leave his hometown--that offers Barham his salvation. Really, he just knows that, more than any religion, faith or creed, the daily struggle to survive while smiling is something on which we all can, and should, latch.

None of this is perfect, transcendent or revolutionary, but, as every song here asserts, we're only human - Independent Weekly

"American Aquarium"

Raleigh's American Aquarium's Antique Hearts is an alt-country gem, but their new song "Lover Too Late" is a music blogger's dream- an engaging tune that manages to espouse everything that makes that particular genre great. - Columbia Free Times

"Get Out"

American Aquarium musters North Carolina's Ryan Adams through cigarette-and-coffee sermons.
They are hard-nosed, soft-hearted country-founded rock pushed down the road by a driving rhythm section and an acoustic guitar's unrepentant major chords but guided to safety by expansive lovelorn narratives. American Aquarium takes Jay Farrar's tooth-and-nail toughness and smears it on a Springsteen-sized canvas. - Independent Weekly

"Knoxville Metro Pulse"

"...with lyrics like "I had more faith in her than her mother had in Jesus" and "I told her I loved her and she told me she's leaving" layered over impassioned, countrified blues arrangements, we think this is what the Boss would've sounded like in his early years, if he were raised in North Carolina instead of Jersey." -Leah E. Willis - Knoxville Metro Pulse

"Columbia Free Times"

With the intensity of a young Paul Westerberg, singer B.J. Barham drawls and yells through rocking alt-country tunes about girls, God and getting drunk. While these aren't new subjects, the approach is fresh, burning with vitriol, whiskey and the urgency of youth. With Son Volt and Wilco making music that appeals to my parents more than it does me, American Aquarium are the meek who shall inherit the alt-country earth. -Tug Baker - Columbia Free Times

"American Aquarium- Indy Week"

Forgive American Aquarium if they have been hard to track: In 2008, the band released The Bible & The Bottle LP and the Bones EP while playing more than 270 shows across the country. This year, American Aquarium plans to record another full-length and play even more shows.

During a rare break in their touring schedule, we recently sat down with frontman B.J. Barham, lead guitarist Ryan Johnson and bassist Bill Corbin to dissect a handful of the songwriters that soundtrack their cross-country treks.

American Aquarium plays Friday, March 13 at Lincoln Theatre. Tickets are $8-$10 with Cary Ann Hearst and Bain Mattox & Shot From Guns opening the 9:30 p.m. show.

- Indy Week

"American Aquarium's music rocks with Bible-Belt vigor"

Pity the woman who breaks BJ Barham's heart. She'll probably end up in a song. Then the American Aquarium bandleader will sneer as he hisses her name into the microphone on any one of a thousand nights in any one of a thousand bars just like the one in which he probably met her.

He'll preface "Whore Song" — a live staple — with a sly comment. "I'm not bitter or anything, I swear," a pained smile curling his lip. "You fuck like a woman/But you love like a little girl" he'll accuse before launching into the chorus. "And I hope he breaks your heart/And I hope you cry all night/And I hope you feel like I do now."

His venom is convincingly pure. He sings like that very woman is in the back of the room smirking at him. His eyes narrow, welling up with bile and tenderness. He's nothing if not sincere.

And that sincerity — an echo of forbears like Bruce Springsteen, Jay Farrar, and Craig Finn — is a large part of American Aquarium's appeal. For the most part, the Raleigh-based band doesn't stray far from its thematic trinity: girls, God, and alcohol. But within its narrow scope, the band paints detailed portraits on a wide canvas, resulting in a universal resonance, helped more than a little by Barham's earnest intensity behind the microphone.

The band's new album, Dances for the Lonely, trades the whiskey-drenched country-rock dust-ups of 2008's The Bible and the Bottle for fuller, more colorful bar rock arrangements not too far removed from the Hold Steady. It also finds the quintet at its best, able to draw upon its back catalog's alt-country leanings, but flesh out the old ideas with new textures (like horns and pianos) and more completely mesh the band's rock and country tendencies.

Whether the band steps back to quietly complement a country ballad like "Downtown Girls" with a sad shuffle and softly weeping steel guitar, or ramping up a bar-room anthem like "Mary Mary," it sounds equally well suited for a dive bar, a stadium, or the best Chevy Trucks commercial never made.

Live, Barham can give his band a break, for a solo song borrowing plenty from all of Ryan Adams' heart-on-sleeve balladry and flashes of lyrical brilliance. Or with the band in tow, he can lead the room through shots of Uncle Tupelo's whiskey-drenched and gravel-worn country-rock and the Hold Steady's fists-raised bombast, making American Aquarium a versatile unit, and one that ought to strike a chord with anybody who's ever been drunk and/or heartbroken. Or about to be.

Sometime in the set, Barham will settle down. The bile in his throat will recede, and he'll remind you that love and lust isn't all pain. Maybe he'll crack a smile and head into "Clark Avenue," whose refrain gives The Bible and the Bottle its title. Jump blues piano trills and Telecaster crunch meets a blazing fiddle and a driving rhythm section. Barham's telling his story about meeting a "sexy as sin" redhead in double-time. "Her hand kept crawlin' up my thigh/She says, 'I don't do this with most guys,'" he boasts, surprised by his own luck. "My heart was racin' like an engine and dancin' like a Harlem queen."

Here's hoping — for her sake — she does him right. - Charleston City Paper

"American Aquarium: Struggles Of A Small Band On The Rise"

BJ Barham approached the microphone. With some confidence, yes, but perhaps not what he is used to having. "Hello, we're American Aquarium and we're from North Carolina," he announces with a nervous swagger to the sparse crowd; a statement he would repeat more than a few times this evening. Surveying the room, he sees no familiar faces; this is rare, especially compared to back in Raleigh. This wasn't a prime timeslot -- Sunday night at 11 pm -- as they are often accustomed to, but, still, it was New York City. Their set would be a good one, though Barham would not think so. So much so that his base player would look at him with disgust between every song as Barham apologized to the crowd. This was August of 2006, the five member band's first trip to New York. Only one would ever return.

Almost two years to the day -- in 2008 -- Barham is back in New York. His band has the same name but it's composed of entirely new members. He has his feet -- wearing ever present cowboy boots -- resting up on a nearby chair as he tunes his guitar for a show. This wasn't the same singer from before -- at least in this city; there was a laid back confidence not displayed two years prior. Though, this was still New York and, almost comically, on this Sunday evening, they would be bumped from 9 pm until Midnight. The band would make the rounds to make sure the modest, but seemingly dedicated, New York fan base they had acquired would stick around after the time change. They did.

"I gave up my job, risked putting irreversible strain on my relationship, missed countless family functions and go months at a time without seeing friends. Even with all that, I never once thought about it as being a choice." -- Bill Corbin, American Aquarium Bassist.

But, that's the dream, right? Starting a band. Almost any night out amongst friends often ends with a drunken/high/cocaine fueled -- pick your accelerator -- pact that, yes, we will start a band. The reality is much more depressing. No money, constant lineup changes -- so much so that a song on their debut album, "Ain't No Use In Trying," chronicles this very phenomena -- nights wondering where your next bed is and, yes, those dreaded late Sunday night start times. How do you know who's in this for the long haul? "Anybody that's willing to get in the van for two months," Barham would say, "I usually assume that they're taking the job relatively seriously."

American Aquarium's sound changes from album to album. Their first release, Antique Hearts -- an album they admit, because of the new lineup, they don't really know how to play live -- has a traditional southern rock meets Springsteen tone to the album. The follow up, The Bible Meets The Bottle departs from the solemn, yet, mainstream tone; at times upbeat, at times downright depressing, with its backwoods country sound. The new release, Dances For The Lonely returns to the bands traditional sound; only, really, for the first time, considering the new, but stable, lineup. The new album title comes from, as Barham describes, "About being on the road all the time and missing people back home. And that's where the lonely factor comes in is when you have somebody back home and you're always on the road; it takes it's toll on any kind of relationship. The road is tough and it embodies that."

Barham admits that the band's sound depends on his particular mood, "The next record that I started writing is really slow and sad and depressing. It really matters what's going on in my life. This last record [Dances For The Lonely] was pretty much written on tour. Tour is a really fun time. The newest record -- I've been off the road for three weeks now -- it's been more of a somber record I'm writing next." When addressing the question of if it's hard promoting an album when that album's tone may not reflect his current mood -- such as what Springsteen is going through, on a much larger scale, with Working On A Dream, an album he is only playing three to four songs a night from on a tour promoting said album, "Usually Springsteen [an admitted inspiration for the band] is very good at being the voice for the country but I think he missed the mark on that one. It's not hard for me to recreate this feeling on stage -- I know some songwriters write from experience and some write from fiction -- all of my stuff is from experience. It's very easy to put myself back to where I was when I wrote those songs."

The end result: Sometimes this is the crux that defeats the dreams of most bands when the members see a different ending when they turn the page. Corbin admits,"I don't think anything in life is certain so I am not as focused on American Aquarium 'making it' as much as I am with making music that I love and believe in. We would gladly drive across country to play for one person who believed in us and related to our songs."

Barham would add, "Of course we want to be successful. We don't want to be radio big ... there's a difference between being big and successful. Like the bands like Drive By Truckers and Wilco who go out every night, play for a thousand people, and make a great living doing it." And the off chance that he would ever try to become 'The Rocker' on American Idol, auditioning while his band was home at home none the wiser, "I will guarantee that, in anybody's wildest dreams and nightmares, that will never f-cking happen."

BJ Barham approached the microphone. "Hello, we're American Aquarium and we're from North Carolina." Surveying the room, the cocksure gleam in the cadence in the young man's eyes resonating, he says, "I think I know every single person in this room." There would be no apologies on this evening. The mea culpa were replaced with stories from the road. A story about cheap beer was met with a round of Busch beer purchased for the entire band from a female fan. This was a prime timeslot -- Friday night at 8 pm -- which they are, now, accustomed to. This was March of 2009, another trip for the five member band from North Carolina to New York City. Every single one of them will return. - Starpulse


Small Town Hymns (2010, Last Chance Records)
Dances for the Lonely (2009, Last Chance Records)
The Bible and The Bottle (2008, Independent)
Bones EP (2008, Independent)
Antique Hearts (2006, Independent)



“At a time when so many bands are busy dicking around with art school interpretations of roots music, trying to reinvent the wheelbarrow and create an avant-garde Americana revolution, it’s refreshing to hear American Aquarium throw a fastball right down the middle.”
-No Depression

“As director of the conference and festival, you can only imagine how exhausted I was by midnight on Saturday. Yet, I found myself at The Basement just in time for American Aquarium's set. I was blown away…..It was the icing on the cake for me!”
-Danna Strong Americana Music Association Festival/Nashville, TN

Hailing from Raleigh, NC, American Aquarium’s southern musical perspective is a blend of honest songwriting, an unwavering work ethic, and a genuine love of rock & roll. Whether you call it alt-country, Americana, or roots rock, one thing is for certain: Their music is a fresh voice that borrows from many forms of the American songbook.

26-year old songwriter and bandleader, BJ Barham, brings songs to the four other band mates who breathe life into a performance that is equal parts Springsteen-esque rock bravado, old-school country lyrical heartbreak, and indie-rock introspection. From the college coeds to tattooed bikers and hipsters, the band has demonstrated their ability to cross boundaries.

With 4 years, 5 albums, and well over 600 shows under their belts, American Aquarium is the continuance of the road warrior meets studio craftsman ethic that has long been a part of the rock & roll and country music cultures. They are a band and crew that spend most of their lives between a van on the road and stages all across the country. Their collaboration forms a wholly new and polished version of what Americana might start to look like in the years to come.