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The Age of Aquarium

Will their new Jason Ibell-produced album be the charm for Raleigh's American Aquarium?

POSTED: June 19, 2012 3:40 p.m.
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B.J. Barham, center, and his electric North Carolina cowboys make up American Aquarium.

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The fourth studio album from Raleigh's hard-living rock ‘n' roll heroes, American Aquarium, is in the can and ready to be unleashed. Burn.Flicker.Die, produced by former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, will likely be the one to inject singer/songwriter B.J. Barham and his electric North Carolina cowboys into the rich and fast-moving bloodstream that is Americana in America.

Last month, the band toured Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands, and discovered that their Springsteen-meets-Wilco enthusiasm and intense musical charisma had already crossed the pond.

As they await their album's release, American Aquarium - unable, of course, to sit still - has tossed a few dozen shows onto the itinerary. Barham and his boys are re-visiting some of their favorite towns, and that means Savannah.
And that means the Jinx on Saturday, June 23.

How was Europe?

B.J. Barham: It was one of those things where if you asked us a couple years ago if we thought we'd ever get to spend a month in Europe, touring, we would've said you were crazy. It was the first time over there for all of us. I think our favorite country was Spain. Spain is one of the coolest places I've ever been. The food, the culture, these giant mountains. The beaches were gorgeous. We got to see the beaches on the Bay of Biscay side, and on the Mediterranean side. We spent 11 straight days in Spain. All in all, it was amazing to pull ourselves out of our comfort zone. And go somewhere where we're kind of the weirdos.

Are there fans over there? People who knew who you were?

B.J. Barham: Some shows differed from others. On average, the shows weren't huge, but the people who were there already had a CD, or they already had some of our music. Our crowd over there is much older than our crowd over here. There, the young kids at out show were like 35, 40. The Americana scene over there is definitely an older-person genre.

What are German Americana fans like?

B.J. Barham: Amazing! Germany definitely, out of all the places we went, Germany probably speaks the best English. They're just really energetic fans - they know the songs. There were plenty of shows where people were calling out songs for us to play. And for a moment, it felt like home: It was like "Wow, this is really neat."

You're playing some shows with Corey Smith this month. In fact, when he was in Savannah a year ago, you opened the concert. How far does that relationship go back?

B.J. Barham: We've been playing shows with him for about four years now. When we first started playing with him, we were kinda completely unheard of. He liked our music, took us on tour, and we developed more than just a musical friendship. All of his band, all of his crew, we're all just really good friends. They're gonna be lifelong friends of ours, and any time Corey calls and says "Hey, you guys want to come play some shows with me in front of 3,000 people?" we usually don't turn those down.

The new album is coming out soon. What can you tell us about it?

B.J. Barham: The record comes out on the 25th of August. We're super-excited about it. As everybody knows already, Jason Isbell produced it. Chris Stamey, who produced our Dances For the Lonely actually mixed the record. We've never had to sit on a record this long - usually, as soon as it's done, we master it and send it off to the CD place. We get it back the day of the CD Release Party and put it out.

Do you record live in the studio?

B.J. Barham: We do, and then we got back in and fix what needs to be fixed. The main thing about tracking live is making sure you get a cool feel, making sure the drums and the bass are kind of there. If we cut a cool guitar part live, we keep it, but if we want to refine we got back and overdub stuff. I do all the vocals at the end, because I'm never, ever gonna be happy with vocals. It's one of those things where, there comes a certain time where you go, like "Ok, I think that might be the best it's gonna sound." There's a couple vocal things we got live, but most of it we went back and overdubbed stuff. Every record we put out, I look back and there's stuff I would've changed.

Does having Jason Isbell in there kind of raise the bar for you?

B.J. Barham: I think so, we've already gotten way more press than we did for any other record. We were seeing blogs mentioning this record a year ago, when we announced we were going to be doing it with Jason Isbell. So having somebody that high-profile attached to the record definitely makes it a little bit more of a bigger thing for us. It makes people who usually wouldn't pay attention to the band go "Oh, if Jason's working with them, maybe I should give them another listen."

It's called Burn. Flicker. Die. What's that mean?

B.J. Barham: There's a song called "Burn. Flicker. Die." The entire theme of the record is: We're in our late 20s, we've been doing this for six years. You see bands that immediately get big and famous, and then there are bands like Drive-By Truckers and Lucero who take 15 years to break. You start asking yourself questions. We've done this for a long time, and put out what we think is a quality catalogue ... you wonder if your time is gonna come? Maybe we made the wrong decision? Maybe we're doing the wrong thing - maybe we should go back to school?

The song's chorus says "You burn too long, you flicker and die." At the rate we do this, we haven't been exactly the kindest people to our bodies. So you wonder how long you can keep up trying to make it without, you know, killing yourself.

American Aquarium

Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.

When: At 10 p.m. Saturday, June 23

Opening: Aaron Woody Wood

 

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