1st November 2018
Interview with B J Barham from American Aquarium
The Borderline London
RS: Welcome to the United Kingdom.
BJ: Hi, it’s good to be here.
RS: Is this your first trip to the UK?
BJ: This is my third trip over here, I came here solo in 2016. Early 2017 I bought the band over here and now we’re back for the third go.
RS: This is your last night in the UK. So far, you’ve done Bristol & Manchester, were they good shows?
BJ: Yeah. It’s amazing, the first time we came over here there was 15-20 people & last night there was almost 200 kids in Manchester, it’s growing & word is spreading over here & we like that.
RS: There is a booming Country scene over here.
BJ: For sure.
RS: There are Festivals popping up that are occurring in our summer. I think you’d be a great festival band so I really hope to see you on one of those line-ups.
BJ: Fingers crossed, if they ask us, I promise we’ll come.
RS: Oh, I’m sure we’re going to ask you.
RS: Moving on to the record ‘Things Change’, the opening track, ‘The World is on Fire’ – is this a reflection of how you feel at the moment or you were feeling at the time you wrote the record, because I know a lot has happened this year? Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, by the way.
BJ: Thank you! She’ll be 7 months next week. She is growing up on me.
This record is an amalgamation of the past 2 years of my life. In 2015 we released a record called ‘Wolves’ and since that record I got married, I got sober, I had a kid. I had an entire band quit. I had an entire band join; the US had an election that split our country in half. So needless to say, the well was deep for inspiration.
‘The world is on Fire’ – I started writing that song the morning after the 2016 election, it’s where I was at, I was angry, I was confused, I was questioning whether or not my wife and I should even think about bringing a kid into the world, and that song is a reflection of that. I didn’t want put blame on people, so it’s just a conversation, it’s a dialogue.
I learnt that a lot of people who wrote these political songs come out and they scream on their soapbox, I’m right you’re wrong! I don’t think that gets anything done, I think just stating how I feel about the situation, not condemning anybody but just stating where I think we’re at is how to take care of that.
RS: You’ve done it very eloquently.
BJ: Thank you so much.
RS: Ive also noticed on the Album, with tracks such as ‘Things Change’ and ‘Tougher Folks’ Is that there is hope there.
BJ: For sure. I think that the underlying theme of the record is perseverance and hope. If you want to see change, make that change happen. if your current situation is rough, work harder, make it better.
I think that the ultimate theme with this record is hope. So, I’m glad that’s coming out.
RS: That’s definitely coming out.
BJ: Good, I succeeded in what I set out to achieve.
RS: You did.
BJ: I didn’t want it to be like this, when I started writing this it could have taken a very dark turn. I didn’t want it to be that dark, dismal and the world is coming to an end, no it’s not going to make it, there is no hope for anybody. I wanted it to be a record to address the current situations we’re all facing but also kind of this silver lining, that you know, no matter how bad your situation is you can get out of it. You can work yourself out of it. It’s hard, it’s not easy and that’s what ‘Tough Folks’ is about “tough times don’t last, tough folks do”. That’s kind of a mantra that this band lives by.
RS: Would you classify yourself as a tough person?
BJ: Of course, I’ve had to be. To be a musician for 12 years I truly think you have to be a tough person. It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s taxing, it takes its toll because it’s a very slow growth for a band like us. We’re independent, we’re not played on mainstream Radio, so every time we take a step on the ladder it’s a lot of work that goes behind each one of those steps up the ladder. Here we are 12 years into our career and still, you know, compared to some of the big time, we’re still small time.
RS: That’s an opinion. That’s not an opinion I hold.
BJ: You know, we’re successful, we’re able to play music for a living and not have to work jobs we hate. I consider that a success. I get to wake up every morning and do something I love doing. I’ve made it as far as I’m concerned, I’m just talking about the big picture. My mother always asks when are you going to be on the radio? When are you going to be on television? To that I have to explain to her that that’s not really what our band does, but I get to pay my bills on time and take care of my family, and like I said the most important thing is doing something I love doing every day and as long as I’m able to do that I’ll keep doing this.
RS: What happened with the breakup of the old incarnation of the band?
BJ: it’s the same explanation as why marriages end and why boyfriend and girlfriend split up after years together. Life happens. When we started the band we were all together, we were all on the same page, we started from the same root system and as that tree grew branches that started getting further away from each other, and then you look up after eight years of playing together and you realise that none of you are on the same page anymore and that’s what happened with us.
As people we grew differently, our priorities changed our musical tastes changed and our musical goals changed. In early 2017 they let me know that they didn’t want to play music anymore with me. They let me know that their musical goals and aspirations did not align with mine anymore so are they all walked away and I was left with the decision of whether or not to continue to do this or maybe focus on a solo career. I just released my solo record ‘Rockingham’ 6 months before that, so a lot of people thought it was a perfect time for me to go solo, but then I reminded myself that none of those guys were original members. This thing has been mine since the very beginning, and it was very hard to do, but as long as I looked at those guys as just another chapter of a very long book then I can continue to do this, and so I wrote the final pages of that chapter of that book and I started a new chapter.
RS: Do you still see the guys now?
BJ: A couple of them, a couple of the guys I think I will remain friends with for the rest of my life and there’s three of them that I’ll probably never talk to again. That’s how breakups work you know? Everybody’s had the break up where a couple months go by and you can have coffee and you are friends. There are some people you’ll never see again, you never want to speak to again. I’m at that point with a couple of those guys. I wish them all the best of luck. I hope that they find happiness in whatever it is they’re looking for. But that chapter of my life’s over.
This band has been together a little over a year and a half. We put out the best record this band has ever put out, critically and commercially, the two ways you measure success in this business. This has been the most successful record so I’m just trying to go onward and upward, keep this thing moving on the tracks, and this new band really helps to make that easy. They are a crack band, they are really good and I feel very fortunate to kind of be rejuvenated. It’s like starting a new relationship, you know I still get the butterflies, it’s like being on a second or third date.
RS: What do you have planned for the future with the band?
BJ: Another record. Hopefully we’ll be going in the studio sometime next summer making another record, continuing to tour.
RS: Working hard…
BJ: Doing the same thing I’ve done for 12 years, make a record every two years and then tour my ass off and play as many shows as I can between records.
RS: Ok finally, an interesting question for you. You have some interesting fans, one in particular.
RS: Stripper Jake
BJ: Stripper Jake!! Yes!! *laughs*
RS: What is the story behind Stripper Jake?
BJ: Stripper Jake is a guy from Colorado, he is a fan of ours, who has quickly become a very good friend of ours. Back in the olden days he would come to shows and if he liked a song he would take off an article clothing and throw it on stage.
He would predetermine before the show what songs he wanted to hear and if we played those songs we got article of clothing. Some nights we didn’t get anything, we didn’t play anything he wanted to hear. But, then some nights he would end up in his in his underwear, standing in the middle of a crowd with a beer, screaming and we quickly started calling him Stripper Jake. just because, you know, we’ve got seven records and ninety two song. We can play for a very long time so in the course of a two to three hours set we might have played eight or nine songs that he really wanted to hear. After you get done playing those songs you look up & you see a half-naked guy in the crowd, it’s hard not to call him Stripper Jake.
RS: Yeah, I’ve seen photos of boots and clothes on the stage ….
BJ: Yeah, he’s a wild and crazy guy. Over the years he’s become a dear friend, he’s not just a fan anymore, for me and a lot of the guys in the band he’s a dear friend. It’s funny you bringing that up all the way over here. He’ll get a kick out of that!
RS: Thank you for your time, BJ, I’m really looking forward to the show later tonight!