Latin Music Week

American Aquarium Tackles Sobriety on 'One Day at a Time': Premiere

Cameron Gott
American Aquarium

BJ Barham is headed into a new era of American Aquarium with his latest album, Things Change. And the track "One Day At A Time," premiering exclusively below, is drawn from a fresh chapter in his own life that began nearly five years ago.

"That song is about my sobriety," says Barham, who gave up drinking after a shot of Cold Turkey on Aug. 31, 2013 and, going cold turkey, became officially sober a year later. "'One Day At A Time' is kind of my self-analyzation -- 'OK, I had a drinking problem. Where did this problem start? At one point in time I was just a dude drinking cold beer on the weekend with his friends; How did that turn into a guy who couldn't function before noon without half a bottle of whiskey?'

"So it's a self-analysis of how I fell so far into the hole and then pulled myself out of that hole. Everybody likes a good comeback story, and that's what a lot of sobriety stories are. You hear that phrase in recovery a lot -- one day at a time. You can only control the day, and as long as you control the day you can fight one more."

But Barham adds that the personal tale takes on a different meaning in the context of Things Change. "I wrote about sobriety, but it can be applied to what we're going through now as a society in the current state we're in," he says.

On Things Change Barham does, in fact, discourse on the state of the nation, and the world, in the Trump era. He wrote the opening track, "The World Is On Fire," the day after the 2016 Presidential election, but after the first verse Barham "had to take a step back and say, 'I really like this, but I can't be that guy who's just angry all the time.'" He proceeded to seek both balance and a different kind of message on the rest of the album's songs.

"This whole record is a lot of questions about what happened to our country," Barham explains. Much of it is informed by the touring he did to promote his 2016 solo album, Rockingham. "It really brought a lot into focus for me. Instead of being in my bubble of my friends who believe the same thing as me, I got to go out and talk to the guy in Wyoming, in South Dakota, and find out 'Where are you on this? Why do you feel that way?' Being a songwriter is 100 percent observing and listening to what's going on around you. That gave me a lot of experience when it came time to put pad to pen."

And Barham was pleased to learn that some assumptions about Trump's supporters were wrong. "A lot of it was just kind of desperation," he explains, "not knowing what else to you. The biggest thing I heard is 'The right doesn't care about us anymore. The left doesn't care about us at all. What do we have to lose on this? Why not go for the wild card?' Looking back they might regret that decision, but it re-instilled my faith in humanity. Not every one of these people are hateful, bigoted, misogynistic people. They're still good people. I needed to see that."

Things Change also lets Barham reclaim American Aquarium after a schism last year with the other members, most of whom had been on board for the group's last two records. He acknowledges the idea of continuing was "daunting at first," but he's "re-inspired" by the group's new lineup, which spent some time touring before hitting the studio to make Things Change.

"I had a couple weeks of self-doubt, wondering 'How do you recover from a fracture this bad,'" says Barham, who wrote the new track "When We Were Younger Men" as a kind of peace offering to the previous band members. "Luckily the new guys are a shot in the arm. We put together a pretty great band and spent the fall out as a unit and got tighter and tighter and tighter. It was reinvigorated, re-inspired. I got to fall back in love being on the road and playing music live, which is awesome."