Roots and Consequences 

American Aquarium charts the dark side of rowdy.

click to enlarge American Aquarium is out standing in its own field. The Raleigh-based country rock band is, from left to right, Whit Wright, Bill Corbin, Kevin McClain, Ryan Johnson and B.J. Barham.
  • American Aquarium is out standing in its own field. The Raleigh-based country rock band is, from left to right, Whit Wright, Bill Corbin, Kevin McClain, Ryan Johnson and B.J. Barham.

Alt-country rockers American Aquarium have the twang and damaged soul of all of the country and western greats. But they also showcase something those artists didn't have — the raw passion found in heartland rock 'n' roll, channeling such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger. While the band raises a mighty din, anchored by pedal-steel guitarist Whit White's expressive whine, the group's lead vocalist, B.J. Barham, belts out painfully honest lyrics with the same emotional intensity of Springsteen in classics such as "Born to Run."

Hailing from Raleigh, N.C., the hard-driving band has released five albums since 2006, three of which were self-issued. American Aquarium played nearly 200 shows in 2009 and more than 300 the previous year, building a loyal following in several Southeastern cities while continuing to work on the rest of the country.

"We're used to touring," says guitarist Ryan Johnson. "We kind of have to do it. That's all we can do to be able to keep playing music."

Now the band is bringing its work ethic to bear on a forthcoming sixth album called "Burn.Flicker.Die." Attempting to raise $20,000 on kickstarter.com to record — for information on Kickstarter, see p. 19) — the members have already secured former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell as producer.

They feel these new songs are worth the extra effort and money. In recent months, the group's songwriting has taken a more mature and introspective shift. They are calling "Burn.Flicker.Die," which they hope to release this spring, a "record about consequences," pondering how being in a 300-show-a-year touring rock 'n' roll band has affected their personal lives.

A great example is the track "Lonely Ain't Easy," where vocalist Barham spells it all out: "Nine years of my life that I'll never get back / Funny how the good times never outweigh the bad / That diamond couldn't cut through all the problems that we had / Cause I was always gone and she was all alone / What chance did we have?"

Much of the Aquarium's earlier work focused more on the very things that created these consequences — drinking, touring hard and having a good time. "Rowdy would be a good description," Johnson says. "You go out and have fun and party and stuff. [But] you have to own up to the consequences of that.'" S

American Aquarium performs at the Camel, 1621 W. Broad St., on Dec. 10 at 9 p.m. with Skylar Gudasz and the Ugly Girls. Tickets $5. All ages. For information, go to thecamel.org.

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