Music & Nightlife

With new fire, N.C.’s American Aquarium fuses personal, political on ‘Things Change’

Raleigh-based rock/alternative country band American Aquarium.
Raleigh-based rock/alternative country band American Aquarium.

If American Aquarium’s BJ Barham had finished writing his band’s new album, “Things Change,” right after the 2016 election, he would have a very different record.

The album kicks off with “The World Is on Fire,” which begins with Barham and his wife waking up after the election.

“We were trying to have a kid at that point and thinking, ‘Why are we trying to bring a kid into this world?’ ” says Barham. “Everything I was writing at that point was negative.”

Instead of continuing in that vein, the North Carolina native — who plays Visulite Theatre next Thursday with the band — took time to examine the opposition’s argument, taking less than a month to complete the songs last September.

“I decided I didn’t want to make a negative record. I wanted to ask questions and start dialogue. I didn’t want to tell someone, ‘I’m right. You’re wrong.’ I wanted to come at it from an angle of, ‘Why did you make this decision?’ People from the left want to assume people on the right are racist, misogynistic, hatemongers. I grew up in Reidsville. They aren’t mean people.”

“The word that jumped out for me was desperation. The right only focuses on the rich and the left only focuses on the poor and what gets lost is the working class of America that were huge supporters for Trump. This whole subset that used to be the backbone of American culture is being forgotten about, if not being ignored,” he says.

“I’m a Southern person. I like Dale Earnhardt and fried chicken and college football. We have more in common we can talk about, but we can’t talk about politics. We live in a time where we don’t want to have discussions anymore. It used to be if I was a liberal and you were a Republican, we could sit down over coffee and have a spirited debate and remain friends,” Barham says.

“We’ve got to a point where we can’t have that discussion because we’ve removed respect from the table. Friends of 20 years are unfollowing each other on Facebook and getting in a bubble where we only come into contact with people that think like we think.”

But the election wasn’t the only change Barham experienced since the last American Aquarium record, 2014’s “Wolves.”

“I got married, got sober, had an entire band quit and an entire band joined,” says Barham, who addresses all the above on “Things Change.” He and his wife also welcomed a daughter recently.

The departure of the lineup of the past eight years (the band’s been around for 12) led to a reinvigorated experience overall.

Although he says he would never have fired anyone: “Getting rid of people that don’t want to be there and replacing them with people that are excited, energetic and passionate, it’s not a surprise the work flow gets better.”

That workplace is the road, at least until the end of summer. It’s off to a good start considering “Things Change” is American Aquarium’s highest-charting album yet. It debuted at No. 3 and No. 6 on Billboard’s Americana and country charts, respectively, and cracked the coveted Billboard 200 at No. 156. It’s the album he thinks the band will be remembered for.

“I hope (listeners) hear a kid that’s slowly finding a voice and learning that all his problems aren’t the rest of the world’s fault. That’s the goal,” he says. “Writing this record made me a little more conscious about who I am and what footprint I’m leaving in the world.”

American Aquarium

When: 8 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave.

Tickets: $15-$18.

Details: 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com

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