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story.lead_photo.caption American Aquarium is Bill Corbin (from left), Ryan Johnson, Whit Wright, Kevin McClain and BJ Barham (seated).

— American Aquarium makes no secret of the band’s influences. Indeed, their very name comes from one prominent influence - Wilco - which uses the term in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the first song on their critically acclaimed 2002 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The song’s lyrics begin: “I am an American aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue …” And though American Aquarium founding member BJ Barham doesn’t admit to any assassin tendencies, or even any intent to break hearts, he does recognize that the word “drinker” has sometimes been used to describe his band. Indeed, a recent story in the magazine Lone Star Music contains a confessional about a song, “Bigger in Texas.”

“The whole first verse is just about having no money to eat in the state of Texas because we spent it all on booze at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock, Ark.,” Barham was quoted as saying. “On a map, it looks very short from Austin to El Paso, but we had to drive overnight and it was just dreadfully miserable. It was my first realization of just how big Texas was.”

Contacted on the road, where the band spends most of its time, Barham verifies the magazine’s story, adding, “That was 2007 or 2008, when we had that epic night in Little Rock and spent what money we did have, then went to Texas, with no money in our pocket and a pretty bad hangover.”

Barham, a native of Raleigh, N.C., prefers his Little Rock memories to focus on how much help the band has received from its record label, the Little Rock-based Last Chance Records.

“From the first time he saw us, Travis Hill, the label owner, has been a great champion for the band,” Barham says. “One of our largest fan bases outside Raleigh is in Little Rock, where we have grown, going from the White Water to Stickyz to now the Rev Room.”

American Aquarium got its start acknowledging its other musical influences besides Wilco, to include fellow North Carolina bands Whiskeytown, Six String Drag and The Backsliders. The first American Aquarium album, Antique Hearts, came out in 2006, followed by The Bible & the Bottle, in 2008; Dances for the Lonely in 2009; Small Town Hymns in 2010; and Burn. Flicker. Die. in 2012.

“Whiskeytown was an influence for anyone back then in Raleigh,” Barham says. “Ryan Adams from that band went on to become a superstar. And Caitlin Cary, who was also in that band, has sung on our last four albums. Another member of that group, Skillet [Eric Gilmore], has designed four of our five album covers.”

Barham (like Corbin, a former student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh) is the only original member remaining in American Aquarium. Bassist Bill Corbin, who joined in time for the second album, proved his dedication to band idealism after he had to get an emergency appendectomy.

“Bill got operated on at 3:30, made it to the 5:30 sound check and then to the 11 p.m. show and afterwards slept for two days,” Barham says. “The doctors and fans and everyone were in awe of him.”

The other members of American Aquarium are Ryan Johnson on guitar, Whit Wright on pedal steel guitar and Kevin McClain on drums.

When it came time to make Burn. Flicker. Die. last year, the band decided to enlist fans in the project, turning to the Kickstarter site to raise money.

“The fans really helped us, coming up with $24,000,” Barham says. “So we had some money left over to hire a publicist and do some radio promotion. We had Jason Isbell [formerly of the Drive-By Truckers] as our producer, and so we spent eight days in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where a lot of great music has been recorded.”

The band also has a Fayetteville show Jan. 31 at George’s Majestic Lounge. For details, see

American Aquarium

9 p.m. Friday, Revolution Room, 300 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock

Admission: $8 advance, $10 day of show

(501) 823-0090

Weekend, Pages 40 on 01/24/2013

Print Headline: American Aquarium got tanked here

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