Fireflies. June Bugs. Cicadas. Menthol Lights. Heirloom Tomatoes. Duke’s Mayonnaise. Cherokee Purples. American Aquarium frontman and songwriter BJ Barham knows that the smallest details often make for the most vivid memories. That’s what he focuses on in the wistful new single ‘Cherokee Purples‘, a standout from the band’s upcoming album The Fear of Standing Still (out July 26th via Losing Side Records/Thirty Tigers). Barham has been refining his craft as a songwriter for over 20 years, and his work has only gotten more vivid, concise and powerful as he’s put the time and effort in. All the work put in has clearly paid off in a song like ‘Cherokee Purples‘.
“There are many strains of heirloom tomatoes grown here in North Carolina but the best, in my humble opinion, are Cherokee Purples,” Barham explains. “They are a hearty fruit. Whether sliced as a side dish or on display as the centerpiece of a tomato/mayo sandwich, they immediately take me back to my childhood in Reidsville,NC. ‘Cherokee Purples’ is a song about nostalgia and the power of sensory memory. How a sound or the smell of a tomato sandwich can transport you back to a very specific time and place.
“For me, it’s my grandmother’s house. As silly as it sounds, every summer when I make this sandwich, I can’t help but think of the summers spent at my grandmother’s house. The sandwich is painfully simple: two pieces of white bread, thick sliced tomatoes, salt, pepper and Duke’s Mayonnaise, but I believe the perfection is in the simplicity. One bite and I’m immediately taken back to the early 90’s. Spending our days outside, drinking from a water hose, eating fruit and vegetables straight from the garden and having homegrown tomatoes at every meal.”
For nearly two decades, American Aquarium have pushed toward that rare form of rock-and-roll that’s revelatory in every sense. “For us the sweet spot is when you’ve got a rock band that makes you scream along to every word, and it’s not until you’re coming down at three a.m. that you realise those words are saying something real about your life,” says Barham. “That’s what made us fall in love with music in the first place, and that’s the goal in everything we do.”
On The Fear of Standing Still, the North Carolina-bred band embody that dynamic with more intensity than ever before, endlessly matching their gritty breed of country-rock with Barham’s bravest and most incisive songwriting to date (lead single ‘Crier’ – co-written with Stephen Wilson Jr – is a great example). As he reflects on matters both personal and sociocultural—e.g., the complexity of Southern identity, the intersection of generational trauma and the dismantling of reproductive rights—American Aquarium instill every moment of The Fear of Standing Still with equal parts unbridled spirit and illuminating empathy.
Recorded live at the legendary Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, The Fear of Standing Still marks American Aquarium’s second outing with producer Shooter Jennings—a three-time Grammy winner who also helmed production on 2020’s critically lauded Lamentations, as well as albums from the likes of Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker. In a departure from the stripped-down subtlety of 2022’s Chicamacomico (a largely acoustic rumination on grief), the band’s tenth studio LP piles on plenty of explosive riffs and hard-charging rhythms, bringing a visceral energy to the most nuanced and poetic of lyrics. “In our live show the band’s like a freight train that never lets up, and for this record I really wanted to showcase how big and anthemic we can be,” notes Barham, whose bandmates include guitarist Shane Boeker, pedal-steel guitarist Neil Jones, keyboardist Rhett Huffman, drummer Ryan Van Fleet, and bassist Alden Hedges. 
Mixed by four-time Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker (Queens of the Stone Age, Emmylou Harris), The Fear of Standing Still shares its title with one of the first songs Barham wrote for the album—a soul-baring look at how raising a family has radically altered his priorities and perspective. In the process of creating what he refers to as “a record about growing up and growing older,” Barham also found his songwriting closely informed by his ten years of sobriety, as well as his ever-deepening connection with American Aquarium’s community of fans.
“Whenever someone tells me that one of our songs helped them in some way, it encourages me to be more and more open—almost like peeling a layer off an onion,” he says. “This album is a writer 18 years into his career, peeling away the next layer and seeing just how human we can make this thing.”
American Aquarium will be coming to the UK in August and playing at The Long Road Festival on Fri 23rd. For more information and all tour dates please head to the band’s website here.

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