Raleigh, North Carolina's American Aquarium, led by lead-singer-songwriter B.J. Barham have done their best to wear-out the roads of the entire country, but especially the south, since they become a band six years ago. Barham and crew specialize in the Springsteen-meets-Faulkner country-rock that can be a supremely pleasing combo when done right.
With the release of their latest LP, the Jason Isbell-produced Burn.Flicker.Die, the band shows the fruits of not only artistic growth and development beyond frat-rock cliches, but a grown-up ability to focus on a life where sacrifices are regularly made, and sometimes the choices that are made aren't the ones that should've been made.
Life on the road has been a constant for each of the band's members since before the release of their debut album, The Bible and the Bottle in 2008. Understandably, Barham has a conflicted relationship with "The Road."
"The road is all I've really known for the last six years," he says as he and the band gear up for a run through Texas that will, of course, lead them to South by Southwest. "We decided very early on that the only way we were going to be able to 'make it' was to be a touring band, playing every dive in the country, making fans one at a time. I should have known at some point that the road was going to take a huge toll on my writing. The road has affected every relationship I have ever been in, why not my music. I wrote this record with the thoughts that it would be the last American Aquarium record we would make. After these years, we were broke, spinning our wheels, looking around and wondering why other bands were making it, and we weren't. We've worked so hard for so long. I wanted people to understand why bands fall apart. Divorce, substance abuse, broken friendships - all because of the road. The road is what we put before anything, and it's cost us everything. This was my break up record with the road."
Even with such a dour feel going into the recording of the latest record, the conflicted feelings on his life as a touring musician continue to show themselves, as Barham clearly isn't really ready to trade in his life for anyone else's soon.
"Of course I question the worth of the sacrifices. Everyday I do, really," admits Barham. "Thanks to social media, we get to see everyone around us getting married, having children, buying houses and we're still traveling around in a 15 passenger van just like we were when we were 20 years old. The idea of a family was a pipe dream back then. We could barely support ourselves, let alone kids and a mortgage. But at the end of the day, I truly believe it's worth it. I wake up every morning happy to go to work. I love my job. I travel the world and get to do something I believe in, something that I built, something that I own. Not many of the friends I have sitting at desk from nine-to-five can say that."
As much as the Barham and the band ruminate on the life away from home, it is the representation of an identifiable home that also fuels Barham's creativity as much as the nomadic lifestyle has. Even though images of the Southeast region they're form pop-up in his songs regularly, the concept of home isn't about boundaries on a map for Barham.
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"Springsteen has written some of the best southern stories and he's from New Jersey," he says. "The idea of home has been a theme that has appeared on all of my records. I have a love/hate relationship for my hometown that shows in my writing. I think people relate to that honesty.
Of course, Barham also points out the things that he misses from home, also. Even the most mobile of musicians needs to find home-base every so often, before getting back to the struggles and worries of the road.
"I love Raleigh. I wouldn't live anywhere else in the world, and I still find comfort in going home a few times a year, seeing my family, eating Short Sugar's BBQ, and remembering where I came from. It evens me out."