Million gallon bash 

American Aquarium returns with a new CD and a special performance

A little over two weeks ago, American Aquarium - the twangy alt-country band from Raleigh with the E Street sense of widescreen drama - played the Jinx, packed the place, rocked it seriously and sent everybody home at closing time with big, dumb, satisfied smiles on their faces.

Come Monday, they'll do it again.

"The Jinx is our favorite bar in the entire world," says B.J. Barham, the group's singer, songwriter and cinematic focal point. "There's such a cool community feeling about the Jinx - I like telling people that right there in one of most popular tourist destinations in the South, there's this cultural epicenter of cool and hipness."

This week's repeat performance was Barham's idea. Monday will be his 26th birthday.

"Last year, we actually played my birthday in Savannah, and it was just too much fun," he says. "We actually had that night off this year - and I called Suzanne at the Jinx and said ‘I know you don't ever do shows during the week, but is there any way we could swing through?'"

The American Aquarium itinerary had the guys playing Columbia, S.C. Sunday night, and Tampa, Fla. Tuesday. The band, which performed 302 shows in 2009, is used to traveling hard, partying hard and giving it all up to the muse on show nights.

So what was one more gig? Savannah was the icing on the birthday cake.

"Every show just keeps getting better and better for us in Savannah," says Barham. "When we first started playing there, we were just hoping Congress Street was busy that night, and a couple drunk people stumbled in and bought a CD.

"But now, we're very excited and confident about the fact that we're actually a destination band now. There are people actually walking through those doors and paying a $5 cover, not just to fill up their beer glass, but to actually come in and see the show."

He's promising a wild time for the band's Savannah fans. "I'm really pumped about it," he says. "My girlfriend teases me - she says ‘I have to be there. Not because it's your birthday, but just to make sure you live through the night.'"

Barham and company are also celebrating the release of Small Town Hymns, the band's fourth album. Produced at Tweed Studios in Oxford, Miss. by Andrew Ratcliffe (Will Hoge, Black Crowes) the album represents - for Barham, anyway - a major step forward in terms of lyrics.

"The last record was by a bar band, full of bravado and cockiness," he explains. "It was just me shooting from the hip - a lot of people were looking for an artistic statement from me, and it was a ‘fuck you' record. I wasn't trying to have these great metaphors for love, I was telling one girl in particular to go fuck herself. Twelve times."

That album was titled Dances For the Lonely.

"The new one, instead of putting the blame on girls, it's asking ‘What if it's me? What if me not being home all the time is fucking up these relationships? What if it's my philandering that's fucking up these relationships?' It's definitely not pointing a finger at anyone, except for myself."

A native of Reidsville, a tiny, tobacco-growing North Carolina farm town, Barham left home at 18 to study history at NCSU in Raleigh.

The muse - and American Aquarium, named after the opening line in a Wilco song - arrived soon after he settled in.
Many of the songs on Small Town Hymns, Barham explains, "are about the struggle of being a kid in a small town, with way bigger aspirations than the same job your dad did."

He's pleased with his "narrative approach," about his newly fine-tuned lyrical details.

"I definitely get to play more characters. I'm very excited about the fact that these aren't about one girl. These are stories.

"With the last record, many people said ‘This kid's not a songwriter' or ‘He's taking a step back.'

"This is me coming back with a giant middle finger, being like ‘fuck you, I'm a songwriter.'"

American Aquarium

Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.

When: At 10 p.m. Monday, May 3

Artist's website: www.myspace.com/americanaquarium


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Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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