American Aquarium – Hard To Quit

By: Justin Dean | @TXDean23


It was hot. Inside and outside. The smell of Lone Star Beer and Jameson was the only thing that could mask the body odor that permeated through every single inch of surrounding air space. Yet no one cared. Not the hipster kid with the rimmed glasses and too tight pants or the guy in the cowboy hat on my opposite side that definitely wasn’t going to be getting on a horse anytime soon in his bedazzled designer jeans. Normally these guys stay miles apart and don’t even frequent the same sides of town- let alone the same bar- but this was American Aquarium on a Saturday night and no one cared.

Not many bands these days can take a demographic “label” and throw it out the window of a moving Econoline, but American Aquarium has done that. They have split the seams of the independent music world and transformed themselves from a band that played small shows in dive bars in Raleigh, NC to travelling across the country playing music for anyone who will listen.

American Aquarium put out their first two records- Antique Hearts and The Bible and the Bottle- in 2006 and 2008, respectively. They signed with Last Chance Records and put out Dances With the Lonely in 2009 and Small Town Hymns in 2010. In 2012 the band released their Live in Raleigh CD before putting out the Jason Isbell produced Burn. Flicker. Die, their most popular and praised album to date, that same year. Originally B.F.D. was slated as the band’s last, but a change of heart led them to keep the drive on.

Lead singer BJ Barham can captivate a crowd and reels them in from the first time he spits words with his Appalachian twang. Surrounding him are Ryan Johnson and newest member Colin Dimeo that belt out electric truth on guitar and Whit Wright who can whine a steel so hard it would make your grandpa cry. Drummer/blogger/Huffy enthusiast Kevin McClain commands the drums while bassist Bill Corbin makes any grown man look like a 12 year old when he busts out in his “tightest t-shirt in the land” while throwing bass licks.

The songs Barham belts out tell stories of addictions, pains, and lovers lost. There is truth in every line that resonates with everyone listening. Barham can make you feel what he was feeling when “…Her mother came and packed her bags and drove her off to nowhere”. He can take you into the bathroom stall where he found his dollar bill prescriptions then out to the dive bar where he chased the drugs with red headed women, PBR, and shots of Jameson. There’s a story in every song that makes you want to be where he has been and see the things he has seen.

The shows that the band puts on don’t have set structures that follow a regimen. The band plays off the vibe of the crowd. An older crowd in a dimly lit coffee house might get a more personal, toned down show whereas the hipster kid and rhinestone cowboy at the dive bar are going to get their faces rocked off barn-burner style. No matter where you are seeing these guys it is always an enjoyable experience.

The guys in AA have been through some tumultuous times. From stolen vans to replacing members, from being on the brink of the end just to bring it back. The pains that they sing of in their songs are the pains that they have felt from a life on the road. Be on the lookout for their latest album, Wolves, set to hit record stores next year. You can also catch the guys in a downtown dive near you on their full band tour later this year or Barham’s acoustic tour if you’re a little farther east than Texas. If you are into Ryan Adams, Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, Lucero, and the like- Hell, even if you’re not- check these guys out. You won’t be disappointed.

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12 thoughts on “American Aquarium – Hard To Quit

  • August 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I had the opportunity to see these guys when they opened for Turnpike Troubadours here in Corpus Christi a few months ago and as someone who had interacted with them heavily on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I was insanely stoked. I stood in front, screamed super loud, and sang along with every single lyric. To say that America Aquarium puts on an amazing show is the understatement of the year – BJ has some of the greatest energy I’ve seen on stage in a long time and you can tell that every single one of them loves what they do. Their new album is going to be friggin’ fantastic and I can never say enough good things about them.

  • August 20, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    I was at that same concert ^^. I had been a fan for a while before seeing them live. I sold my soul to this band that night. I second everything Susan said. I also love BJ’s “STFU or get out” rule at his shows. I also just, simply, love BJ.

  • August 21, 2014 at 8:44 am

    If more bands would implement that same mentality people would actually hear so much more music than they think they do already. I was fortunate enough to see AA open for Turnpike in March of 2013. We were there to see turnpike and had not heard AA before. Luckily, we knew that Firehouse Saloon does extremely well with their opening acts so we decided to get there early. There weren’t many people there yet so it wasn’t too loud when they started and we were in awe of this band. Bought as much merch as we could that night. Everyone has to start as an opening band and if no one is paying attention then no one will know who the next awesome group is. Plus, if you’re not listening then you can’t hear the funny shit BJ talks about between songs.

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