Maturing as an artist comes with a clearer sense of one’s place in the world and the audience one reaches. For BJ Barham, the leader of the alternative-country band American Aquarium, this evolution also comes with a hearty album that generates continuous pride. Almost a year later, Barham remains just as excited as when the band’s seventh album, “Things Change,” first released. The album has been recognized in Rolling Stone and several other press sources. The media coverage from such acclaimed music publications only doubles down on this sense of thrill for Barham. In this record, he’s found a voice closer to home. He said that he “comes from a school of thought” where each new album should reflect “growth as a person and artist.”
Growth also expresses itself as a theme throughout this folk-rock album. His songs, packed with the truths of experience, all pulse with evolved folk tracks, and his vocals walk on a tightrope between country twang and rock. Folk undeniably still contributes to BJ Barham’s foundation, the pounding heart of his songs. “You can break down each one of my songs to a folk song,” Barham said. “When stripped away [they] are nothing but a story.”
Barham creates intimate music through his frank writing. His candor and introspection fuels writing that unashamedly recovers from a younger world, questioning the world post-2016 election, a fully fledged relationship and being left by longtime band members. Barham said that his “scope as a writer” has transitioned its focus to “growing older.” His shifting gears have wheeled past notions of stardom and now have turned to how his personal career fits into the world. It’s a posture that comes across as remarkably humble, especially coming from a songwriter who has just breathed life into his most successful album to date. Still, he clearly recognizes his ability to resonate with people.
“Things Change” has clear political influences as he describes having watched the “rift” in the country. “Nobody wanted to hear the other side,” Barham said. He acknowledges the difference between discussion, which he said includes respect, and arguments, which clearly do not. But his aim is not to make a statement. “I don’t want to be Bob Dylan,” he adamantly protests. “I don’t want to be the voice of a generation.” Instead, he wants to initiate a dialogue but under the weight and responsibility of fatherhood. According to Barham, he never wants his daughter, born a year ago, to come up to him and ask, “You were a part of this important moment in history, why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you engage in it?”
His next project does not intend to pull away from pressing national questions. The album will address inherited problems of the past and his difficulty reconciling his love of home with the hatred of past generations. “I’m a proud Southerner,” he claims. “But I’m not proud of the history.”
BJ Barham and “American Aquarium” will be coming back to Utah on June 20th at the Metro Music Hall. You can purchase tickets here.