B.J. Barham, founder and leader of the alt-country/Americana band American Aquarium, remembers how he and his band came second place to livestock when they first played Waco.
The band, named from a Wilco song lyric, was opening for Austin country-rockers Reckless Kelly at the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo and the crowd outside to hear them wasn’t anything remarkable. Then the rodeo ended and people came pouring out to hear the bands, Barham said.
He’s looking forward to the band’s Monday night show at the Waco Hippodrome as it’s a historic theater and there’s no rodeo competition, though he said the band adapts to wherever it is in front of an audience. “We’re one of the bands who play to the room,” he said. “We can do full-blown rock ’n’ roll or a sit-down songwriter style.”
Barham, 34, started the band in 2006 in North Carolina and his songs are a constant, which has led to a sturdy fan base.
It’s a different Barham and different American Aquarium that comes to Waco on Monday and their 2018 album, “Things Change,” has the explanation in its title.
The year feeding the songs that Barham wrote for “Things Change” covered a lot of personal territory. “I got married, became sober, had a child, my entire band left and the country had a presidential election that split it in half,” he said. “‘Things Change’ is strictly a statement of fact.”
The loss of his whole band was a major event, but not totally unexpected: American Aquarium has had 36 players in its lifetime. “At some point, you have to look in the mirror and realize you’re the hard one to work with,” he said.
Barham found a silver lining in starting over, however. His new five-piece band is more regional than Carolina-centric and fully capable of the rock-driven, story-telling Americana songs that Barham writes. Their touring is a reasonable 120 or so dates a year, giving him more time at home with wife Rachael and daughter Pearl. And both critics and fans liked “Things Change.” “It legitimized me as a songwriter’s songwriter. It was the most introspective album I’ve ever written, but also the most universal,” he said.
Things change, but not one thing. “People in love with the songs kept coming,” he said. Well, two things that didn’t change. “As long as I’m standing, it’s American Aquarium,” he said.