American Aquarium: A Life Inspired by Roadhouses, Honky Tonks, and Dive Bars
A couple of years ago, the band with the unconventional name almost disappeared. They realized that life on the road, playing their raucous rock "in roadhouses, honky tonks, and dive bars," had chewed them up and spit them out.
American Aquarium's cult following wasn't paying the bills. At one point front-man B.J. Barham couldn't afford the apartment rent in their stomping grounds of Raleigh, North Carolina, and was living in a storage unit.
They decided to record one last album together, as a farewell to fans, and gave it the name, "Burn.Flicker.Die." But the dark-titled release, described as being about "failure, desperation, and disillusionment," had an unexpected outcome: Critics praised it. Their passion for the road came back. Their faithful fan-base quadrupled. The band raised money online from those fans, and traveled to the music recording mecca of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to produce a new album. They traveled the globe. And the group has played some 500 concerts since.
They even got an unlikely rave review in the staid "Wall Street Journal: "A collection of 10 scruffy songs shot through with an abundance of roots-rock grit and wistful, road-worn lyrics." Another critic said, "For every drunken night at the bar, there's a hangover the next morning. For every new relationship, there's a chance of a broken heart. It's that kind of honesty--that sort of balance--that makes their new album, 'Wolves,' their strongest release to date."
Their gritty spectrum is front and center in it, such as the title cut of "Wolves": "I knew I'd be a drifter since the day I turned 16 / I watched my daddy work on cars and the smell of gasoline / I wish someone had took the trouble to warn me / About those evil things that lie behind the trees..."
As Barham puts it, "I've always written about being the drunk guy at the bar at 2 a.m. I've written about the pick-up lines and the drinking and the drugs. This record is more personal. It's a coming of age record."
But coming of age doesn't happen without its tempests. For example, the group cycled through some 25 different members in almost 10 years. But today's foundation feels more solid, Barham says:
"Burn.Flicker.Die. legitimized us. That album was a breakup album with the road. It basically said, 'This is our last album, this is why we're quitting, and hey, thanks for the memories.' Fast-forward, though, and we've got a new record that says, 'We ain't done yet!"