Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Adoption story

North Carolina country rockers American Aquarium on their love affair with Orlando


  • Amy Schlatter

Southern Fried Sunday featuring American Aquarium

with Christina Wagner, the Wholetones, the Oakhill Drifters, Rickey Dickens & the Revival
5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16
Mills Ave. Liquors

North Carolina alternative country-rock band American Aquarium has built a slowly percolating name thanks to their huge, heart-rending tunes. But lately, between all the soaring, chest-carving notes, is the sound of a band starting to break out. They recently began touring abroad, signed a European record deal, are about to sign an Australian one and will start recording their next album in January with Jason Isbell in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

But this is no overnight Cinderella story. Even in today’s virtual hyper-reality, some bands still earn it one city at a time. In the last four years, American Aquarium has notched more than 1,000 shows, touring with like-minded heavyweights like Isbell, Lucero and Drive-By Truckers. Luckily for the band, theirs isn’t just another tour-grind tale; it’s the story of hard work beginning to pay off for a worthy band. And it’s a yarn that’s been playing out particularly in this city.

On paper, their Americana rock sound – a blend of Whiskeytown and Bruce Springsteen – would be a smash in a city that already loves Lucero. Only it wasn’t exactly instant. Fortune found them, however, during one of their first Orlando shows at the Peacock Room.

“I straight cold-booked it on MySpace,” says band principal B.J. Barham in his affable drawl. “I just emailed every club in Orlando, and the Peacock Room was the only club that got back to me. So we played a show at the Peacock Room, and it just so happens [Will’s Pub owner] Will Walker was there. And it was just one of those chance encounters where he was there having a drink and came up to us afterwards.”

They’ve been playing Will’s Pub on tour stops ever since, where their audience has steadily magnified into a critical mass. “The [August] acoustic show was really big for me because it was proof,” Barham says. “We have a lot of friends that come out to see the band in a lot of towns. If I come through acoustic, it’s five less people. It’s me and an acoustic guitar, you know? Only real fans come out to that. And Orlando was one of the best-attended shows on that tour. It was really inspiring to me because these kids were up front, mouthing the words to every song. Those are the kind of fans I want to build. And Orlando seems to have that in abundance.”

Whether rendered solo or with the luxuriously full band, the sweet, epic heartbreak of American Aquarium’s music is seeping into Orlando’s marrow with shows that have been stretching further into the night and deeper into the bottle. As has been happening across the major cities in the South, as well as Europe and Australia, their trajectory here is beginning to spike.

“You can play a town and you can feel momentum build, and Orlando’s definitely one of those towns where we feel momentum building,” Barham says. And then, he notes with laughter, there are the tangible signs of fandom: “Orlando’s turning into one of those towns where every time we come, we’ll either walk down to Wally’s or somebody will have a fifth in their car and we’ll go drink with them.”

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.