I don’t think there’s a band out there that has been so prolific for as long as American Aquarium.
Led by frontman and songwriter BJ Barham, the transcendent alt-country group American Aquarium formed in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006, and since have amassed an incredible catalog of music that features 10 albums, 2 live albums, 2 cover albums, and 2 EPs. The output is impressive, but it’s even more amazing that Barham has been able to write with such intensity, emotion, and authenticity for so long, and never sacrifice the sake of the song in an effort to push new music.
One of the coolest things about American Aquarium is how each of these albums acts as a snapshot of a certain time in the band’s existence, a notion that Barham has acknowledged himself quite frequently. All phases are tied together yet wholly unique and extremely important to the band’s ethos, but as frontman Barham has gone through changes over time, so too has the band’s image and song content.
Starting out as a rowdy college town band, the first albums centered around girls, break ups, and partying. The next stage was a melancholy outlook on life in the band, over indulging in the partying, and the persistently nagging questions of “will we ever make it?” and “Is this even worth it?” Following the post Burn.Flicker.Die breakthrough that sort of reinvigorated the band, Barham eventually got sober and changed his lifestyle, bringing about a new brand of American Aquarium with a fresh outlook on life and music with increasingly meaningful and introspective lyrics.
Now, family seems to be at the forefront of Barham’s mind, as he has prioritized a work-life balance more so than ever in his career to ensure he is spending adequate time with his wife and daughter. Moreover, he has been outspoken about losing several people close to him over the past few years to addiction, illness, and suicide, among other causes. With such tragedy often comes perspective, providing a new outlook on life and what is truly important.
These influences manifest themselves in his music in different ways, one of which is evoking emotion through nostalgia by remembering times with those who are no longer around, something Barham did frequently on American Aquarium’s previous record Chicamacomico in 2022. And since it’s been just over a year since that album’s release, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in the name of prolificity, Barham is back to teasing new music.
Fitting squarely within the band’s greater ethos and in an extension of the themes set forth in Chicamacomico, Barham’s latest tune, and the first sneak peak of a forthcoming 10 song record, “Cherokee Purples” finds him reflecting on summers of his childhood, something he is currently reexperiencing through his daughter. But since it wouldn’t really feel like an American Aquarium song if there wasn’t a sad twist to it, this nostalgia centers around his late grandmother’s role during that formative period in his life.
Barham took to Instagram recently to share an acoustic version of the song, some context behind it, and an update on his recent effort to crowdfund the band’s next project:
“To say THANK YOU for fully funding our tenth studio album in less than 36 hours, here’s a brand new song called “Cherokee Purples”.
As we watch summer take it’s last breath and come to a close, I feel like this is a pretty appropriate song to share with y’all. I wrote this one back in May about the summer days of my childhood in Reidsville, NC spent at me MeMaw’s house. She was an incredible woman. Strong. Independent. Fiery. The matriarchal backbone of my Mom’s side of the family.
I’ve never written a song about her or the obvious impact she had on my life. This song came to be because I took a break from writing one day to make a sandwich and the idea for this song popped into my head. It’s a song about youth, nostalgia, Duke’s Mayonnaise and homegrown tomatoes.
I hope y’all dig it as much as I do. If not, there’s nine other songs on the record that sound nothing like this one. Thanks for listening and always supporting live, original, independent music”