American Aquarium could have been playing a farewell show at their upcoming Friday, May 31, Varsity Theatre engagement because band leader B.J. Barham felt it was time to quit.
"This was supposed to be our break-up record, our last album," Barham said. "The weirdest thing is that our record about never making it is now our most successful and is keeping us together as a band."
Their new album is called "Burn. Flicker. Die," and no one is more surprised at that success than Barham himself. He wrote the album with an honest look at life on the road as American Aquarium's swansong.
Like many groups, they started as a casual band in college. But Barham wanted to do more than just be a neighborhood good time band.
"Everybody wants to be in a local band that plays once a month and drinks free beer," he said. "It's fun. But when you ask members to hit the road, it takes a while to find people with that dedication."
The current line up of Bill Corbin (bass), Whit Wright (pedal steel guitar), Kevin McClain (drums), Ryan Johnson (lead guitar) and Barham (guitar/lead vocals) has been in place for five years.
Barham admits their musical choices are not easy to fit into a specific genre or category.
"We're just an American band that has a twang. Some people think that's country, and some people think we're a country band that rocks a little too hard. We just make the music we like to make," he said.
"Burn. Flicker. Die." is their seventh release in the same number of years.
"After seven years, you start questioning yourself," Barham said, "and these songs come out of that desperate sense of 'What the hell am I doing?'"
While fans dream of hitting the stage in a new city every night, Barham began to envy the normal lives of the people at his group's concerts.
"You're waking up every day realizing that you're pushing 30 and that everybody else your age has houses and kids and you still live in a van and drink every night," he said.
Yet, Barham still loved how American Aquarium's music touched fans. He reached even deeper for a more personal level of honesty for "Burn. Flicker. Die."
"If you're honest to the emotions, then the music is universal. Most of my songs are stuff you would only tell your best friend, and I put it on an album for anyone to hear. If you're honest, people respond," Barham said.
The response to "Burn. Flicker. Die" is so strong that it has transformed American Aquarium from a group finishing its run into a band with a renewed sense of purpose.
"People come up to me at shows and say they feel like they really know me. Having my songs affect somebody that much makes it worthwhile," Barham said.
Barham grew up in the small town of Reedsville, N.C. He entered North Carolina State University in Raleigh at 18, but music became his focus and he dropped out of college..
"I'm not good at anything else. There's all of the hardship and all the bad stuff about it, but then those two hours on stage every night makes it worth it," he said.
Barham says the he loves playing the current tour because old fans are coming out and new fans are showing up.
"Our live shows are raucous, especially in Baton Rouge," he said. "It's always a very high-energy show. A lot of those guys have been coming to see us for years. It goes beyond fan base. They're friends."
American Aquarium plays the Varsity, Friday, May 31. To get more information about the band go to AmericanAquarium.net.