American Aquarium

“We’re heading out, anywhere but here/And everything we know’s in the rearview mirror.”

B.J. Barham writes what he knows, and he knows life on the road.
Barham, guitarist and lead singer for American Aquarium, wrote those lines in “Nothing to Lose” about life and love on the road – a place he knows well.
After all, the alt-country band – made up of B.J. Barham on vocals and guitar, pianist Zack Brown, drummer Kevin McClain, lead guitarist Ryan Johnson, bass player Bill Corbin and Whit Wright on pedal steel – has only had 13 days off in 2010.
The band is rolling through Tupelo and North Mississippi early next week, on roads they’ve traveled before.
In just four years, American Aquarium, who calls North Carolina home, has racked up more than 600 shows and released five albums, most recently “Small Town Hymns” in May.
Barham said the band finds home in both the studio and out on the highway.
“They are two completely different kinds of monsters,” he said. “For the live shows, we get to cut loose and be monsters and do what we know how to do. It’s a very natural element for us. …We look at the album as an artistic representation. We can be artistic, we can add strings and horns.”

Punks playing country
American Aquarium is the rare band that relishes both the rough-and-tumble road lifestyle and the meticulous search for perfection in recording.
An American Aquarium live show is rowdy but honest, Barham said.
“Imagine punk kids playing country music. We’re kind of all over the place,” he said. “I go on these stories about who the songs are about, and fans really love the honest aspect. They like to know I didn’t write it just because it sounded good or because I could make money off it. They loved the story and place that goes along with every song.”
That life-on-wheels lifestyle leads to songwriting, which leads to recording an album – and Barham said American Aquarium’s latest is something he’s proud of.
“The best way I can describe it – the last record was a Saturday night record, and this is a Sunday morning record. This is a hangover record,” he said.
Though the band is currently touring and “Small Town Hymns” is only about a month old, Barham is already working on new American Aquarium material.
“For the most part, I have the backbone of the record done,” he said. The band will hit the studio in late 2010 with former Drive-By Truckers member Jason Isbell on deck to produce. The album will be recorded in Isbell’s hometown of Muscle Shoals, Ala.
“I’m sure Jason Isbell is gonna put his magic touch on it. I have a feeling going to Muscle Shoals to make the record, it’ll definitely have some history of Muscle Shoals in it, that honest soul music that comes out of there,” Barham said.
But first, Barham and gang promise a good time when they bring their show to Tupelo and the surrounding cities.
“If you’re looking to have a good time, I can guarantee it’s at Woody’s. It’s gonna be a blast. We had a blast last time, and unless some natural disaster happens, it’s gonna be just as good this time,” Barham said. “It’s gonna be a show for music lovers. If you’re a music lover, I think you’ll love what we’re doing.”

Check ‘em out
– Who: American Aquarium
– When: 9 p.m. Monday
– Where: Woody’s, Tupelo
– Cost: $7
– Info: (662) 840-0460

Other opportunities
– If you can’t make it to the Monday
show, American Aquarium is also per-
forming at the Princess Theater in
Columbus on Sunday, the Blind Pig in
Oxford on Tuesday and at the Hi-Tone in
Memphis on Wednesday.

Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio