by: Thomas D. Mooney
Last week, we caught up with BJ Barham, lead vocalist and songwriter for rock and roll outfit American Aquarium. The six-piece is currently riding high on the waves of their latest album, the impeccable Wolves. Barham is currently in the midst of his annual solo acoustic tour that’s taken him across the south in during the month of July.
With four Texas dates (Lubbock, Austin, Ft. Worth, and Houston), it’s the first time he’s taken the solo road to Texas. Tonight, he’ll be playing The Blue Light with fellow singer-songwriter John Moreland. As of now, presale tickets for the show are still available here.
In additional American Aquarium news, we’ll be launching our American Aquarium Song Tournament shortly. Details about the tournament can be read here.
Watch/Listen to “Losing Side of Twenty-Five” below.
New Slang: There’s a different vibe put off with a solo/acoustic show versus a full band American Aquarium show. I’d expect the crowd to be a little more tuned in and focused–especially on the lyrical aspect of songs. Does that also ring true for you? Are you a little more honed in on what you’re saying in that setting than you are when it’s a rowdy, energetic full band performance?
BJ Barham: 100%. The set is completely different. It’s a singer-songwriter set really. There’s a lot less “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” and “Katherine Belle” and a lot more “Lonely Ain’t Easy,” “Hard to Quit,” and “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” Stuff like that where the lyrics are a little more emotional and intimate.
NS: What deep cuts do you pull out of the discography? How far back will you go?
BB: I’ll play something from every record every night. I’ll play a lot of stuff from Antique Hearts. Super heavy on Bible & The Bottle, Dances For the Lonely, and Small Town Hymns.
NS: You guys just played here in Lubbock about a week and a half back. During that show, one of the things that carried over to Twitter was folks wanting you to play “Betting Man.” You guys didn’t play it. I’d kind of expect there to be songs requested during a full band show. During the solo show, do they respect it a little more and let you do you?
BB: Hopefully they respect it more. So far on this run, I’m on my fifth show and no one has requested anything during the set. They sit back and trust me. It’s one of those things. You probably saw it in Lubbock. The more and more people yell songs at me to play, the less likely I am to play it. It’s just one of those things.
BB: We have a very clear idea every night. The set changes night to night, but we have a very clear idea of what we want to do. If someone asks nicely before a show or earlier that day, we’ll try and throw it on the setlist. We try and accommodate what people want to hear. But if they want to stand up front and yell at me for 90 minutes, I usually tend to shy away from playing that song [laughs].
NS: Yeah [laughs]. Maybe it’s some cruel enjoyment I get out of it, but I tend to love when requests are shot down. The more someone wants to hear something and are constantly prodding you with the request, the more I hope it’s not played. I mean, I know it’s a fine line to walk when you’re a band performing. You obviously have to play certain songs or the crowd is going to go crazy, but at the same time, you’re not going to be able to play everyone’s favorite song every night. And just the whole aspect of it being your show that you guys have crafted over the course of the years and everything.
BB: Yeah. I hope we’ve earned the trust that we’re going to deliver a solid show.
NS: After Lubbock, you guys went and played Billy Bob’s Fourth of July two-day festival. I heard you guys had a massive response from the crowd that earned an encore.
BB: Oh man. It was just epic. We got asked to do an encore. The MC came out and said, “Listen, opening bands don’t do encores.” The crowd started chanting, “Fuck you! One more song [laughs]!” They chanted for about fifteen minutes and finally that guy came out and said that this was not normal and they were going to let us come back out and play another song. It was hands down, the most epic show of the tour pretty much.
NS: This solo tour, you do it every year, but I believe this is the first time you’re coming this far west with it. I’m excited to see and hear this aspect of the BJ Barham/American Aquarium song experience.
BB: Yeah, I’ve never taken this tour to Texas before. I’m really excited because Texas has really become our home away from home. I’m really excited for everyone to see this side of the songs. The American Aquarium show, we’re a really tight rock n’roll band. Now that I’m sober, I don’t go on the fucking drunken tirades anymore. I may tell a few jokes here and there, but we’re playing almost two hours of music every night. The solo thing, it’s more of my personality coming through. Cracking jokes and telling stories.
NS: Yeah. At one point during the last show here in Lubbock, I was going to mention it to you then, but forgot, was that I thought you guys would absolutely kill on a The War on Drugs cover. It was something that just clicked.
BB: Oh for sure! We got to open up for those guys last year in Raleigh. They’re one of my favorite bands. That record, Lost in the Dream, it’s just superb.
NS: Yeah. I know it’s just about a year old or so, but that record has to be one of my top ten favorites. I can’t remember what song you guys were playing, but it had to be something from Wolves. There are some guitar tones and ambience that you guys share at times.
BB: For sure. You know, we recorded that album at the same place that The War on Drugs record was recorded. Echo Mountain Studios in Ashville was where we recorded. It’s also where the last couple of Dawes records were recorded. It’s a really great vibey studio. I think the room had something to do with it. And then also, the drummer for The War on Drugs, Jon Ashley, he’s the one who produced Wolves. So it’s kind of funny that you literally picked out one of the records we were constantly listening to when we were making the record.
NS: [Laughs]. Well that’s incredible. Learn something new every day I guess.