EXCLUSIVE: American Aquarium’s BJ Barham Fully Embraces Heavy Emotions (And So Should You)

Ask BJ Barham for an update on his world these days and you’ll find his response to be simple… and perfect.

“Life is good,” he said with an audible smile during a recent on-air chat with The Creek’s Charles Davis and Sam Stephens. “I’ve been home for the past couple months, just preparing to release this record in July. And then once the record comes out on July 26th, we’ve got about a month before we hit the road and we’re on the road pretty much the whole fall.”

And he’s thrilled to return and “relaunch” with a stop in the city where soul lives.

“Macon is getting the rare one. I think this is one of three shows we’re playing between February and September,” he said.

And Macon, Georgia also couldn’t be more excited to welcome Barham and his bandmates from American Aquarium back to town for a special show Sunday, May 19th at the Capitol Theatre.

American Aquarium, via their website

Down time for these fine fellas is a rarity, at least historically it has been. But for Barham, this particular season of his life and career has been about regrouping and restructuring, prioritizing a healthy balance of creativity, family, and rest with the road to remain at his mental and emotional best.

Digging deep into the emotional landscape of his inner world and the world around him is a central theme of the band’s forthcoming album The Fear of Standing Still. This record finds Barham as a songwriter at his most vulnerable, which is not to imply that this is the first time the North Carolina native has opened up his heart as a lyricist. Quite the contrary, as most fans would agree.

But this time, this project, and these songs represent a new level of emotional exposure for Barham. They’re complex, direct, revelatory, gritty and yet soft in all the right places as they tackle his latest and most passionate observations on the generational curses and societal issues holding all of us (Barham included) back from true self-actualization and real authenticity.

They’re brave as hell… and so is he.

Take the latest single “Crier,” a long overdue and deeply necessary song co-written with Stephen Wilson, Jr. that Barham described as a challenge to the definition of manliness so many of us were taught as kids, especially in the South.

“I was raised by a man who was taught to suppress his feelings because his dad taught him to suppress his feelings, and his dad taught him…it’s generational,” he revealed. “We were all raised, and I’m sure there’s still people who still believe this, that boys don’t cry. Boys don’t show emotions. If you show emotions, it’s weakness and somebody will exploit that weakness. So the best thing for you to do as the rock of your family is to learn how to push that stuff deep, deep down and be the emotional rock so the rest of your family can feel feelings. But you can’t feel feelings as the man. This is a song saying, ‘If everybody’s leaning on you, who are you supposed to lean on?'” It’s a concerning and valid question that scores of us can agree has lingered quietly in the air over the last several decades, as we’ve watched many of the men in our lives slowly embrace the realization that neglecting their own mental health has led to dire consequences for them individually and also for society as a whole. For Barham, when those tears do inevitably come, you just have to let them roll.

“I’ve never been one to shy away from my feelings. I think my grandmother called it being tenderhearted.”

“In every aspect of our life, it’s okay to cry, whether it’s in the early stages… It’s the first thing we do as soon as we come out to prove that we are alive: we cry,” he so wisely observes.

The first thing we do when we hurt ourselves as kids is to cry. The first time someone turns their back on us and leaves us, the first thing we do is cry. And for some reason that gets kind of painted as like, ‘Oh, you can’t do that. You’re a guy. You can’t do that.'”

The response to this “really big rock song” tackling toxic masculinity, mental health, and feeling feelings has been delightfully surprising for Barham, who wasn’t sure where it might land with fans, if it landed at all.

“We’re just happy it has an audience,” he admitted.

“When you’re playing some form of country music, or in our case country music adjacent, there’s a real fear of putting a song like this out. But what we’ve realized is that it is affecting people far more than it’s alienating people. I’ve had more people come up to me over this song and be like, ‘I’m glad somebody finally said it.’ Instead of being like, ‘What are you talking about, man? Boys don’t cry.’

It is one of those things where I feel like it’s something that’s been bubbling up, especially this generation of men. I feel like it’s something that needs to be talked about, and once one person talks about it through a loudspeaker, or in this case a microphone, it makes it a lot easier for a lot of other people to start talking about it.”

BJ Barham via americanaquarium.com

“I’ve never been one to shy away from my feelings. I think my grandmother called it being tenderhearted.”

But the show in Macon promises to be a wide range of sounds, songs, feelings and emotions. For Barham, it’s imperative that you strap in, feel it all, and just enjoy the ride.

“It’s going to be a rock show, but there’s going to be a couple moments of human beings talking to each other, and that’s what we try to do. We try to make sure it’s a 90 minute rock block, but there’s going to be a couple moments where you might catch yourself crying or you might catch your partner crying, and that’s okay, because that means that I did my job and I made you feel something.

And as a songwriter, you’re paying money to see me for 90 minutes. If I can make you feel one emotion, whether it’s laughing, whether it’s crying, whether it’s calling your mom and dad after the show, I did my job as a performer. And so Sunday night will be no different in Macon, Georgia.”

Tickets for American Aquarium’s Sunday night show May 19th at the Capitol Theatre can be purchased HERE.