Today marks the release of American Aquarium’s new record ‘Lamentations’ and Country Lowdown’s Amy Westney got the chance to chat with lead singer BJ Barham about the new record and how he is coping with the current pandemic:
Amy Westney: Hey BJ! So we spoke about a year and a half ago when ‘Thing’s Change’ was coming out and you were in the UK. A lot has changed since 2018! Especially right now.
BJ Barham: Yeah. We didn’t see this coming!
Amy Westney: It seems to have got crazy very quickly.
BJ Barham: Yeah, extremely! The first I heard of it was around Thanksgiving, late November, early December. I’d heard like rumblings but, you know, I think it’s just, you know, the cockiness of every country. It’s never going to get to you and then all of a sudden here we are five months later and it’s here and everything is shut down. We weren’t dealing with it the best way we could. Any word on how it is in the UK?
Amy Westney: Everyone is pretty much on lockdown. The police have been given the authority to intervene. They’re actually stopping people in their cars just to make sure that they’re not out for any non essential reason. In the UK the rule is, gathering’s no more than two unless you’re part of a household. So obviously, if you’re a family you’re spending time with each other. So that’s okay. But outside gatherings, no more than two people at any moment.
BJ Barham: Oh, wow. That’s intense.
Amy Westney: Yeah, but hopefully they will start to see improvements.
BJ Barham: Yeah, I’m worried about us. I’m worried about here. There’s so many people that are selfish enough to just go outside whenever they want to. It’s going to elongate this already long process.
Amy Westney: I think it’s going to spread so quickly here that soon everyone’s going to know someone who’s been affected and maybe that will start to hit home and keep people inside a little bit more.
BJ Barham: I think sadly, that’s what it takes, I think it takes somebody being affected for them to put their own needs aside and think about the bigger picture.
Amy Westney: Right, especially with the latest news about Joe Diffie and other big names getting it. Hopefully that will help to bring that awareness in as well.
BJ Barham: When you start losing people senselessly that didn’t need to die, I think that people start taking it more seriously.
Amy Westney: You are getting ready to put a new record out. At least in this current situation people are staying in – hopefully listening to music!
BJ Barham: I mean to be completely honest, that’s exactly what… We had a big meeting a week and a half ago to talk about strategy, and that’s what we are banking on. So many people are going to be home at the beginning of May that everybody will be able to listen to the record.
Amy Westney: Right, I think in a weird way, definitely in Nashville you know, as the music industry in Nashville on Broadway has been shut down for like, two weeks, and it is a ghost town! It’s bizarre. I have friends that solely rely on money from playing on Broadway, but at the same time you’ve got all these people, yourself included, doing the StageIt shows. I feel, like in a weird way, it’s kind of cool for the music industry because people are seeing a whole other side of how to put their music out. Have you been able to embrace that and enjoy the isolation concerts?
BJ Barham: Yeah, it’s one of those things where I think that anytime you have a break from normal it gives you a chance to think outside the box. Maybe I’m just a career optimist, but I look at these kind of situations as a chance to get ahead of the curve. So, everybody is complaining about how they can’t do this, they can’t do that. The minute that I knew that we were all going to be stuck inside, I started thinking, well, how can we find a way to still play music for people? I’ve been doing StageIt shows since 2016. So that was my first thought. It was like, OK, I’m going to get on StageIt and do more shows, but how can I make them unique for people? So I decided to do different albums every night from start to finish. Something that is extremely unique and something that my fan base has never had before. Trying to find a way to keep my music in people’s minds. For me, it was it was about embracing the only way you could play music for people when you’re on quarantine, which is from your house. It’s one of those things it’s nice to see, because at first me and a couple other people had announced shows, and now there’s like 20 shows a day you can tune into! People are consumed with music a lot more now. So, it’s about adjusting strategy, maybe putting out a few extra singles than you would have, just because people are there to listen to it. So for me and the folks at New West and my team, it’s still full steam ahead for the first release. I noticed a lot of people are moving release dates back. I know Margo [Price] just announced that she was not putting her record out like she planned. So, you know, we’re kind of betting on if more people start pulling out on putting out records, then we can kind of corner the market for a week or two. That’s kind of what we’re planning on doing.
Amy Westney: I feel like most people who are buying music nowadays anyway are buying online. I almost don’t see how pulling a release is overly necessary, because I think people would buy it regardless.
BJ Barham: I think the only thing people are worried about is people’s finances are on hold. Whereas they might have dropped $9.99 without even thinking about it, now they might be thinking, on second thoughts maybe I do need to save that dollar right now for something else. We did a really, really great job pre-selling the record, and so we we still feel really good. A lot of folks pre-ordered our records, so we’re going to make sure they have it, they’re talking about it…. That’s that’s a big deal for us, we’re a grassroots band. Yes, we’re on New West Records but we’ve spent the last 15 years building a career on word of mouth. So, I feel like this kind of pandemic lends itself to a band like us who is banking on word of mouth.
Amy Westney: Yeah, there are a lot of positives in it, for sure. I mean, there’s a lot of negatives, of course. But I think it’ll change the way that people just consume music. Instagram has been a huge leader, with people doing live shows and being able to have guests whilst everyone’s in quarantine. We’ve never seen anything like this on such a huge scale. From people who are just starting to artists like yourself. It’s crazy! Brad Paisley I think did one with Tim McGraw, and I think it’s a really cool way for people to start listening. In a way, I kind of hope that that continues. Speaking of Instagram, you’ve been posting a song a day?
BJ Barham: Yeah. I’ve been doing the covers every day.
Amy Westney: You’re on number eleven today?
BJ Barham: Yeh, I think number eleven was today. It’s been a fun way for me to still find a way to be creative every day and I have to try to learn a new song. So far, the fan base is really doing it because I’ve done a couple of kind of funny songs, but I’m also trying to go back and do songs that mean something to me. Or, you know, sadly enough, people that have been affected by this disease. I did a John Prine song yesterday. It’s one thing to tell someone I really love this record. You should listen to it. Then there’s another, too, to play your favourite song by that artist and be like; this is why you should listen to them. They directly influence me making music. You should check them out, too. I’m just having a ball with it and every day about 10 to 15000 people are listening to songs on Instagram. I think the Joe Exotic covers are both over 100,000. So it’s like, you know, it’s people who might just be searching for Tiger King go to watch a video on YouTube and then maybe click a link and find me… who knows? I am just trying to put as much out there that I can, even if it’s nothing more than giving people a three minute distraction every day from the absolute chaos that is in the world. That’s OK. That’s all I’m hoping for. Now, if somebody stumbled across my music because of it and becomes a fan, wonderful. At the end of the day, everybody’s already thinking so negatively about everything, I’d rather just give them a break.
Amy Westney: Yes, it’s a welcome distraction with all this.
BJ Barham: I think people appreciate the break.
Amy Westney: Definitely right now. That and other viral stupid videos. I’m sure there’s people sitting around spending most of their day watching videos of cats. Anything to distract from from the craziness. Also, Nashville just had the tornado and there was one that just hit in Arkansas, and I think everything’s very focused on the virus at the moment. There’s so much else going on that just having something a little bit lighthearted and being able to take a break for a while is really nice.
BJ Barham: Yeah, I think it’s important.
Amy Westney: So you have your single that’s out now, ‘The luckier You Get’ and ‘The Long Haul’?
BJ Barham: Yeh, The Long Haul was released in March and then this Thursday, we’re releasing Me And Mine Lamentations.
Amy Westney: So in terms of the shows you had booked. I know you had a lot a lot of tour dates that were booked out throughout March – all the way to the end of the year actually. Are they all cancelled at this point, or are you hoping to still be able to play some of these shows and to promote the singles live?
BJ Barham: We’ve got a conference call tomorrow. April is when we’re going to make a decision. I have a feeling that the first leg we’re going to have to postpone, just because as optimistic as I’m trying to be, I can’t see everything just fixing itself that quickly. I can’t see us just going back to normal.
Amy Westney: I think even if things die down, people are still going to be paranoid about going out.
BJ Barham: Oh, for sure. There’s going to be people that are excited to get out of the house once everybody gets the green light, but there’s also going to be, like you said, a lot of people like given an extra month. So even if we were able to, you know legally, I think that it would be detrimental to the tours because we wouldn’t be playing to the maximum amount of people. We’re doing it on a month by month basis. We haven’t been on the road since late January, so we’re kind of chomping at the bit just to get back out and play shows. To our fans, we’ve let them know that if we have to cancel shows, you can pretty much bet on we’re going to make it up to you later in the year. If there’s anything that we want more right now it is to be touring.
Amy Westney: It must be a shock to the system, to play so much and then all of a sudden be like, hey, we’re not doing anything? With regards to your songs and your writing you do tend to write a lot about about the world – you know, about the stuff that is going on and that is relevant. So, can we expect some songs to come out of this quarantine?
BJ Barham: Of course. I think! I think anytime there’s crisis, I think anytime there’s large swells of negativity, you’re going to have artistic output. Yeah. Any time there’s an election, any time there’s mass hysteria over anything, you’re going to have creative people writing about it. Yeh, just like we’re going to see a lot of children born nine months from now, we’re going to see a lot of songs born in the next year because of this as well. I remember saying that in an interview right after the 2016 election. Let’s look. If there’s any upside to this, we’re going to have four years of really great art! [laughs]. Again, it’s about trying to find that silver lining and trying to find that glimmer of positivity in a sea of darkness.
Amy Westney: That is very important!
BJ Barham: I think it took me a very long time to learn how to do that, but it has served me extremely well the last five or six years. Learning how to find the good in things and not just focusing on the bad.
Amy Westney: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes, especially you know, situations like now when there’s so much negativity. But yeah, I think it’s important to try and hold onto that. And thinking like that is the reason that people can get through it because you can kind of hold on to something. I will be looking forward to hearing some coronavirus songs for sure! [laughs]. Once this is over, however long this takes – it’s going to be months before things are back to normal – I guess we’re probably looking at 2021 now. I know you have some international dates booked up for the end of the year which, fingers crossed, you’ll still be able to play. I guess looking at moving forward once all this is out of the way, will you be releasing new music and planning on more international tours?
BJ Barham: For us, we’re kind of on a two year schedule. The goal is – put out a record, tour it for a couple of years. Since we started we’ve been a band for fifteen years and we’ve had eleven releases. So you know, a couple of records, a couple EP’s. I had a solo record and eight studio records. So, we’re trying to stay productive, we try to stay on schedule. I’ve gotten a lot better as I’ve gotten older about setting aside the time to be creative and write. Just to make sure that every couple years I get to make a record and to put new material out to the world for people to consume. Hopefully, we get to get back to business as normal and I get to go on the road for 18 months and play these songs for people around the world, and then hole back up in a studio and create more art to do for another two years. That’s my goal for 2021, just to continue to tour and continue to be creative and can continue to to hone my craft.
Amy Westney: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today! I’m excited to hear the new single and I hope that you don’t get too stir crazy in the house!
BJ Barham: I’m really enjoying being home. I’m enjoying being with my family, but yeah, I keep reading! You know, friends are on social media who are just like – I’ve got to get out of this house!!
Amy Westney: I think we are all going to be thankful to walk out the front door! I don’t think anyone’s ever going to take that for granted again.
BJ Barham: Oh, for sure! Like I said, I can’t wait because I don’t think anybody’s going to talk through shows anymore. I think people have learned their lesson that how important live shows are, and I think people are gonna take it a little more seriously!
Amy Westney: We can only hope!
BJ Barham: Exactly. Well, thank you so much for taking the time.
Amy Westney: No worries. Have a great evening!