Judging by american aquarium, the alternative country sextet from Raleigh, North Carolina, are not afraid of introspection. Frontman and songwriter BJ Barham recently channeled his grief at losing several loved ones while holed up in the Outer Banks town of Rodanthe writing songs. The title of the resulting album, Chicamacomique, came to see him while jogging through town one day. Chicamacomico was both Rodanthe’s original name as well as a lifeboat station (now a museum), which served as a refuge of last resort for wayward sailors in pre-Coastguard times.
Although the metaphor is clear, Chicamacomique is not heavy listening. One of Barham’s gifts for songwriting is the ability to evoke memory and emotion without falling into the tropes of sad minor-key songs. “Wildfire” – whose video G&G is proud to feature below – about a person who falls so deeply in love that her passion consumes her. It’s also a bright, peppy track with a hook worthy of a festival chant.
“[Wildfire] it is to be well alone, [and then] someone who comes into your life, burns extremely hard for an extremely short amount of time, and then burns through every bit of independence you had,” Barham says. “And then when they leave, the consequences completely turn your life upside down. I had a few.
For the music video, American Aquarium worked with stop-motion filmmaker Hannah Darrah, who previously lent her vision to the video for “Southern Sadness”, from their 2015 album, wolves. Watch the exclusive premiere of “Wildfire” and read our Q&A with Barham below.
What themes drive the new record and where does “Wildfire” fit in?
Chicamacomique ultimately is a record on loss. I wrote songs about me and the miscarriage of my wife, the loss of my grandmother, the loss of my mother, how my father reacted to the loss of my mother, the loss of two years of my life [to the COVID-19 pandemic]losing friends by suicide. [“Wildfire”] falls right in the middle of it. [Most of the songs on the album] are not easy songs to listen to if you have experienced this kind of loss recently. I think “Wildfire” is the exception.
What inspired you to write “Wildfire”?
It started when someone asked me to write something that wasn’t personal, and then it turned into something personal, so I kept it to myself. Once I started writing it, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a TV show song, it would probably be a I-save-this-for-me song. I think it’s an amalgamation of four or five of my previous relationships, and heck, maybe a version of my current relationship if I hadn’t played my cards right. [laughs].
Everyone has been through the kind of relationship that burns out before it can come to anything. That kind of stuff is something I don’t write about very often anymore, just because I write autobiographical tunes. So when I write something like this, people worry that something is wrong in my personal life. [laughs]. But that’s the fun of life experience; you never lose that. You don’t forget.
You are also celebrating the tenth anniversary of Burn. Sway. Die., which was to be American Aquarium’s last album. Instead, it was so widely acclaimed that it kept the band from breaking up. How did that ultimately save you too?
It got me to where I am today – the songwriter I am today, the human being I am today. Burn. Sway. Die. was despair with its back to the wall. I couldn’t write [that album] today. I don’t swirl around in my own addiction and self-loathing – I’m not that person anymore. I had just met my wife when this record came out, and here we are eleven years after the beginning of our relationship. We have a child [and] a very different life from the one we had when we first started dating. It’s a wild and wild ride.