American Aquarium has been a band for 12 years. And, they’re also a brand new band starting last year. Founder BJ Barham created American Aquarium in his dorm room at N.C. State back in 2006, but as of their 2018 release, their 7th studio album appropriately titled Things Change, he’s now backed by 4 entirely new members. Barham’s own life has also undergone some seismic changes: Now 34, he’s recently sober, married, and as of just a few months ago, a first-time father. But he’s still writing and singing about the lessons, stories, and lives that define rural America, and that identify himself, a native of a small tobacco farming town in North Carolina.
The reinvigorated Barham now delivers his folk-infused, southern rock and roll with a band that sounds better than ever, including as heard on this album’s newly released first single, ‘Tough Folks’, which opens with the rancorous line, “I’m caught in the shadows, the American South / Somewhere between hypocrite and hallelujah.” “At the end of the day, if you’re not writing songs to affect other people’s lives, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” says BJ, reflecting on the new album, where he’s been, and where American Aquarium is headed. “Money may come and go. You may never get fame. But if you sit down and write songs to affect people, you can do it your whole life and be happy.” As he sings in the chorus of this extremely catchy, guitar-heavy tune, a snarling ode to people proud to have a little dirt under their fingernails, “Life ain’t fair / Saddle up, boy, and see it through / Tough times don’t last / Tough folks do.”
This past weekend, American Aquarium finished the second leg of their Things Change release tour, 56 one-night stands in 56 coast-to-coast U.S. cities over the summer, with 33 more shows taking them from the Southern states and then through Europe starting up in September. A Twitter review from the most recent show in Fayetteville, AR. stated, “These guys burn the stage down, pour themselves into the music, and perform songs that matter. It’s been several years since I first saw them on the front stage at this same venue and the new lineup is even stronger.” Even in tough times, occasionally Things Change for the better.