American Aquarium‘s sixth album, Burn. Flicker. Die. , extends the reach of the North Carolina band, down I-95 and across I-20 to Texas. For the past five years, American Aquarium has toured 300 dates per year, mainly within the Southeast, yet their foray into Texas led them to Red Dirt and Texas Country music, expanding their fan base and the music that speaks to their songwriter, BJ Barham. Until January of this year (2012), all of these dates happened due to Barham’s alter ego, Bradley Thompson, chief booking agent and public relations magnate. Many independent bands use this ruse, but few are as successful playing this game as he was.

Barham’s professionalism and singular focus forging American Aquarium into his lifelong career, and not just a hobby, have yielded natural and sometimes painful changes along the way. From the early days of a rotating cast of friends and players for occasional local gigs, through statewide and then regional touring, to constantly living on the road with a band that’s been “all in” for the last four years, Barham’s vision does not allow slackers. The beauty of bringing on management, a tour manager, and press is that Barham is free to be part of the band–grumbling about wake-up calls with the guys, instead of being the band mother and father keeping everyone on the path.

One of the intentional sonic choices of American Aquarium that intrigues us is their choice to work with different producers for each record. All of Barham’s songs begin as folk songs on acoustic guitar. As the band line-up has solidified in the last few years, the method in which a song develops has naturally changed, too. At first, songs were fleshed out with Barham’s supervision, and now they blossom from their origins with more trust and input from the band members themselves. Choosing different producers brings a different shine to each record. From legendary Southern musician, Chris Stamey (Alex Chilton, Mitch Easter, The dB’s, Scott Litt–we’re all about the six degrees of R.E.M.), producing Dances for the Lonely (calling upon backing vocals from Caitlin Cary of Whiskeytown again), to stretching their comfort zone by writing all the songs in the studio, writing in the morning, recording in the afternoon, mixing in the evening and never looking back on Small Town Hymns, to ultimately determining that they were a band who needs to let songs find themselves on the road first, and record them in a comfortable setting with friends.

The latter is how American Aquarium ended up working with Jason Isbell to produce Burn. Flicker. Die. Recorded by Jimmy Nutt at the Nutthouse in Sheffield, Alabama, the Muscle Shoals influence and critical ear of legends who happen to be friends, made this studio process the most comfortable and creative thus far. When hanging out playing pool a couple years ago, Isbell goaded Barham, “When are you gonna let me produce one of your records?” and Barham jokingly replied, “You got the next one!” Once the guys were ready to record, the band mates did not believe Isbell had really offered to produce with them. Barham called him up, and within two days had the studio and dates lined up. Working with peers whom they trust and respect brings American Aquarium’s music to new levels with each release.

Songs in this radio show include:

  • American Aquarium Burn. Flicker. Die. “Cape Fear River,” “Savannah Almost Killed Me,” “Saturday Nights”
  • Ryan Adams Heartbreaker [Explicit] “To Be Young” (NOTE: This song is not explicit.)
  • J Roddy Walston and the Business J Roddy Walston And The Business “Pigs & Pearls”
  • The Hold Steady Separation Sunday “Stevie Nix”
  • The Lumineers The Lumineers “Flapper Girl” (partial song at the end of the episode) NOTE: We chose the Lost Attic Tapes version, currently available legally, for free on Noisetrade, but we do not know how long it will remain available there.
  • Corb Lund Cabin Fever “Bible on the Dash” (featuring Hayes Carll) NOTE: We purchased the original version of this record, and only recently learned of the Deluxe Edition. You should buy the Cabin Fever (Limited Deluxe Edition). 😉 Even more awesomeness.

NOTE: Burn. Flicker. Die. will not be released until Tuesday, when we will add those songs to the Spotify player.