Sloss Fest 2018: A Photo Recap

By Brent Thompson

The Sloss Music & Arts Festival (July 14 & 15) offered its most diverse lineup to date. Hip-Hop, Americana, Electronica, Country and beyond were all represented at this year’s event. We were on hand to capture the excitement!

 

Artist Photos (Top to Bottom): Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Vance Joy, Aracde Fire, 21 Savage, Nikki Lane, Griz, Margo Price

 

 

Mind and Humanity: A Conversation with Rayland Baxter

By Brent Thompson

Rayland Baxter has only released three full-length albums, but it seems his career has extended for much longer (that statement is meant as a compliment). The son of renowned multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter [Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, R.E.M.], Rayland writes songs that declare him wise beyond his years. His latest album, Wide Awake [ATO Records], finds the singer/songwriter addressing the universal theme of decision-making over its 10 tracks. On Friday, July 20, Baxter will perform at Saturn. Okey Dokey and Brett Bigelow will open the 8 p.m. show. Recently, Baxter spoke with us by phone about Wide Awake, isolation and pop songs.

Birmingham Stages: Rayland, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to your show at Saturn.

Rayland Baxter: It’s going to be awesome – the best green room in the United States. The bands can stay there when they play there.

Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Wide Awake. If you will, talk about the creation of it.

Baxter: The oldest song is “Casanova” and that song I wrote on the way up to Lollapalooza four years ago to see Cage The Elephant. I wrote it in the back seat of my buddy’s car and it sat around because it was out of my style. Other than that song, most of these songs came to life up in Franklin, Ky. – where I lived the winter before last – at my friend’s studio called Thunder Sound. At the time, it was just becoming a studio and it was in an old rubber band factory. I was in the clerk’s office living with a Wurlitzer and an acoustic guitar by myself. I stayed there for three months straight and wrote about five albums’ worth of songs.

Birmingham Stages: Did you enjoy the isolation surrounding that process?

Baxter: I loved it – I’ve spent a lot of time up there since then. I love being by myself and I love writing and diving into my mind and following the greats and trying to make my footsteps a little different than theirs.

Birmingham Stages: Would you like to write in that same environment again?

Baxter: I’ll do that again and I’m preparing by taking voice notes on my phone and dating and labeling them. When I get time to write, I’ll go back to that room and test it out again. Kentucky’s maybe my favorite state. I love cornfields from being a Field of Dreams fan as a kid – the mystery of the cornfield. Thunder Sound is surrounded by cornfields and orchards and the stars.

Birmingham Stages: The press release for Wide Awake mentions the album’s recurring theme of decision-making. If you will, talk about the material’s lyrical content.

Baxter: We’re all faced with decisions – thousands upon thousands of them a day from how tight to tie my shoe, should I open my mouth, should I have an opinion. All of these decisions. Humans make decisions and it’s our legacy we leave behind. I’m just exploring my mind and humanity.

Birmingham Stages: Your lyrics somehow manage to sound personal and universal at the same time.

Baxter: We’re all feeling the same things on some level. That’s why pop songs are fun to listen to – they talk about middle of the road issues like love, loss, right and wrong. It takes a special pairing of words and melody to cut through the crust of the same old shit that’s being poured out. I love the pop form of a song on a Beatles level. I want people to hear my point because it’s there point as well.

Rayland Baxter will perform at Saturn on Friday, July 20. Okey Dokey and Brett Bigelow will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $13 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Photo Credit: Shevin Lainez

Rhythms and Sounds: A Conversation with Roman Street

By Brent Thompson

Music can take listeners to faraway places and Noah and Josh Thompson are living proof. Growing up in Mobile, Ala., the brothers and guitarists took to the exotic sounds of Flamenco, Latin Jazz and Gypsy Jazz. These days, the Thompson brothers comprise the instrumental duo Roman Street (named for a street in the Alps). On Saturday, July 21, Roman Street will appear on the bill of the Eric Essix CD Release Concert at the Lyric Theatre. Recently, the Thompson brothers spoke with us by phone about speaking through your instrument and creating the latest Roman Street album, Bohemia.

Birmingham Stages: Noah and Josh, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about your writing process and how that process applied to the creation of Bohemia. Were the album’s songs newer compositions, older ones or a combination of both?

Noah Thompson: Josh and I both composed a little independently on this one, but most of the material was made for that album.

Josh Thompson: We work on each other’s songs, but I wrote the majority of mine – four or five of them – for the CD. I have a loop station at my house and every week or so I’ll go work on an idea. I’ll look back and find something I made two years ago that I forgot about and I’ll listen to it. There are one or two pieces on this CD where the ideas predate the CD by two or three years, so it’s a little bit of a mix of old and new stuff.

Birmingham Stages: Being from the Southern U.S., how did the two of you get turned on to World Music, Gypsy Jazz and Flamenco?

NT: There’s a story I like to tell because we get asked that question a lot. Josh and I grew up here and went to high school here and went to college in the South. Our parents are really musical and we had different types of music played around our house when we were younger. I just frankly was bored with learning the normal stuff that aspiring guitar players learn around here – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Buffett and Dave Matthews. Not that it’s a knock on that music, but I always found the Spanish and European stuff so much more challenging and interesting. I never thought that I’d be playing it professionally – I just liked the way it sounded and the way it made me feel. The rubber hit the road when Josh and I met a guitar duo called Tonic Strings – they were here coming through the South and we heard it and fell in love with it and the rest is history.

Birmingham Stages: These days, people can easily find Jazz via satellite radio, Internet and iTunes. How do you feel about the state of Jazz in the era of these modern outlets?

NT: We don’t play a mainstream genre of music, especially in the American South. But I think the way people consume music has helped us. People keep coming to see Josh and I play because they like to see guitar players improvise and play onstage and we have a good time and jam. I think people have become more open-minded given the way people consume music these days.

Birmingham Stages: This may be an odd question, but is there a sense of relief in playing instrumental music? By that I mean having no pressure to tie lyrical content to your music.

JT: I think that Noah and I realized pretty early that vocals were not our forte [laughs]. We weren’t born with that gift. It was great to find out that you could still have a fulfilling career as an instrumental musician – there was a relief with that. The whole point is to make the instrument speak. That’s the highest praise you can get – people come see you and say, “You can really make that instrument talk.”

NT: [Writing lyrics] is challenging. I’ve tried to put some lyrics to our songs – that’s a completely different skill set that some people have. But, like Josh said, I love the fact that people dig instrumental music and enjoy it in a different way. With instrumental music, people can make of it what they want – you don’t have people telling you a story. We’re just giving them rhythms and sounds. The same song will make people feel chill or elated.

Live at the Lyric: Eric Essix CD Release Concert with special guest Roman Street takes place on Saturday, July 21. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $20 – $30 and can be purchased at www.lyricbham.com.

The Feeling of Hope: A Conversation with Jerry Castle

By Brent Thompson

Jerry Castle took his frustration of the 2016 election results into the recording studio and created an upbeat album for troubled and confusing times. The result, Brand New Hello [My World Records], is a collection that weaves a story of despair and redemption over its 14 tracks. On Thursday, July 12, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter – by way of Virginia – will perform at The Nick in a double-bill show with Iron Mike Norton. Recently, Castle corresponded with us via email about Brand New Hello, songwriting and the notion of creating full albums in a singles-driven musical climate.

Birmingham Stages: Your bio mentions the election being the inspiration for the material on Brand New Hello. Were all of the songs written after the election or had some of the songs been around for awhile?

Jerry Castle: I wrote one song before the election, “Watered Down Wine,” and the rest were written after. I felt like it fit into the story line of the album so I included it. I started writing the rest of the songs the day after the election and wrote the majority of them by the end of 2016. It’s the quickest I’ve ever written an album.

Birmingham Stages: Brand New Hello plays like an upbeat-sounding album for troubled times in our country. Was that approach intentional or did the songs just come out that way?

Castle: I wouldn’t say that my intent was to be upbeat during troubled times but that’s the way it came out. I did feel a bigger divide in our country than I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Like a lot of other Americans, I was overwhelmed with politics. I poured that frustration into writing and recording this album. I think there was a therapeutic element to the process. I knew that I wanted to learn to program and explore songwriting via that avenue, so I did. I learned to program while writing the songs and in recording them in the studio. It had a real impact on the overall vibe of the album. On at least half of the songs on the album, I wrote the music before writing the lyrics. Historically, that’s highly unusual for me.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process? Do you continually lay down ideas or do you shelve writing while on tour?

Castle: I’m continually keeping track of my ideas, usually on my phone, but I’m not sitting down, digging in and hashing out those ideas. I’ll let a song idea unfold as much as it naturally does but then I’ll leave it until I’m ready to do the work. Editing is hard work and it’s really time consuming. I have to be in the right mindset to do it.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs still evolve even after you take them into the studio – for example, does the finished product ever come out darker, brighter, more sparse or more full than you would have originally thought?

Castle: Oh absolutely! I try not to get overly tied to ideas until I’m in a studio setting. What the life or vibe of a song should be seems to become more apparent in a studio setting.

Birmingham Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant for you even after you’ve played them dozens of times?

Castle: Frankly, I’ve always had a hard time with that and it has probably hurt my career a bit. Generally speaking, I support my albums via touring for three to four months and then I’m so burned out on playing the same songs over and over, that I get off of the road and start writing another record. I’ve put out five albums over the past eight years. I’m addicted to the feeling of hope that a new song seems to bring me.  So once I tap into that, I usually abandon the touring part and focus on recording a new album. I’m really trying to make a focused effort this time around to ease into the Brand New Hello tour. I want to give this album a real chance to be heard and that just can’t happen when you support an album for such a short amount of time.

As far as things that I’m doing in the live show to help avoid burning out so quickly on this tour, I’ve included a fair amount of improvisational sections in the set. That unpredictability creates an energy that forces me to stay in the moment. Being that the new album has more up-tempo songs than previous albums, I think that energy helps to keep things fun.

Birmingham Stages: Some artists say the current climate – Youtube, iTunes, satellite radio – is great for artists given that fans have so many avenues to access music. Some artists say for that same reason it’s difficult to separate yourself from the crowd and be heard. How do you feel about the current climate?

Castle: I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer. There are benefits to the current music environment and there are negatives.  It’s like the Wild West these days in that there are less steadfast industry rules than ever. It has never been easier for an artist to put out music and I think that’s good for singer/songwriters and bands that are truly approaching their music as art.  However, with that comes over-saturation. I think one of the big negatives to the current environment is that full-length albums seem to be more of an antiquated way of putting out music. I think a lot fewer singer/songwriters and bands are capable of consistently putting out full-length albums. I think if you take a look at artists that do, you’ll find an overall higher quality of music than an artist that only puts out singles. Artistically, you learn so much more through the process of putting out entire albums.

At the end of the day, I think that you still separate yourself from the fray by being great live.  You don’t ever want someone to come and see you live and leave saying “that’s not as good as the record.”

Jerry Castle will perform at The Nick on Thursday, July 12. Doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Tickets to the 21+ show are $6 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

 

Come celebrate 41 years of Charlemagne Records!

By Brent Thompson

41 years of existence in retail is impressive  – 41 years of existence as an independent music retailer is astounding (just proves that downloading and streaming can’t keep the good ones down). On Thursday, July 12, Charlemagne Records will hold its 41st anniversary celebration at Brennan’s Irish Pub. Featuring jazz performed by Charlemagne owner Marian McKay (photo inset), the festivities will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Brennan’s is located at 1108 20th Street South.

http://brennansirishpubbham.com

 

 

 

In A Different Place: A Conversation with Travis Meadows

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

If I could buy myself a conscience that wasn’t broken

Mend every fence I drove my hard head through

Re-lock all the doors I wish I never opened

Unlearn all the things I wish I never knew

And it came out through this bottle

It came out through my fists

It came out way too early

I wish it never did

These are the opening lyrics to “Sideways,” the first track on Travis Meadows’ latest album, First Cigarette [Blaster Records]. Anyone familiar with his material knows that the singer/songwriter isn’t afraid to lyrically rip off the bandage and expose the wound. The third album in a quasi-trilogy of self-reflection tied to his sobriety, First Cigarette – the follow-up to 2010’s Killin’ Uncle Buzzy and 2013’s Old Ghosts and Unfinished Business – is no exception. Dubbed “Nashville’s Favorite Underdog” by Rolling Stone, Meadows’ fellow artists have taken note of his talent as Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Wynonna Judd and Mary Gauthier  – among many others – have recorded his songs. on Friday, June 29, Meadows will perform at Saturn as the supporting act for American Aquarium. Recently, Meadows spoke with us by phone about First Cigarette, vulnerability, sobriety and the evolution of his adopted hometown of Nashville.

Birmingham Stages: Travis, thanks for your time. With such an honest and open writing style, do you feel a sense of relief when you record songs or do you feel vulnerable and exposed?

Travis Meadows: This is the third record with the “vulnerable” Travis, so it’s not really as terrifying as the first one was, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy. What’s funny is I’ve kind of built a fan base from Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, which documented me getting sober.  Actually, the thing I was more nervous about was not having every song being heavy in content. I’ve been touring for quite some time post-rehab and I put myself in the listener’s shoes and thought, “If I had to listen to 90 minutes of this kind of depressing shit, I’d want to shoot myself in the face.” So I put some levity on this record on purpose. That was actually more terrifying to me. Would fans think I’ve sold out? But the reality is A: I’m happy and more content in life and B: The last couple of records were really self-indulgent with me processing things. On this record, people can catch their breath and smile and bob their heads and then onto the next heavy one [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: You seem to accomplish the difficult task of writing personal songs that also have universal themes.

Meadows: That was also a little bit of an on-purpose. The record that started all of this was documenting me getting sober, so that was deeply personal and self-indulgent and I never intended for anybody to hear those songs. One of my counselors suggested I keep a journal and I said, “I’ll write songs about it of you think it’ll help,” and all of this kind of happened accidentally.

But I’m in a different place now. I’ve been in a vulnerable place before and people do identify with that and I think it gives people permission to be okay with themselves in going through hardships. Scars and all, we do an injustice to ourselves sometime. We think, “If I was married to this lady” or “If I had this job instead of that one” or “If I made this much money instead of that much money, I’d be happy.” The reality is the secret to happiness in life is being content with who you are and where you are, scars and all. I think that’s what some of this music does. If this guy can survive this kind of stuff and process it and stick it out there, maybe it’s okay for me to talk to somebody about what I’m going through. It seems to be working.

Birmingham Stages: Your bio details your struggles as a child – witnessing death and enduring divorce – and your later battles with cancer and addiction. Are you tired of discussing those topics or is helpful and cathartic to do so?

Meadows: When I first started talking about it, it was helpful and cathartic and it kept me out of trouble. I think now I don’t need to talk about it so much to keep me out of trouble, but it does still serve as a good reminder of how far I’ve come, which is important as well.

Birmingham Stages: How does your writing process tend to work? Do you write on the road?

Meadows: I don’t know how some of my extremely famous friends do it with this kind of schedule. I can’t write [on the road]. Literally, I’ve just laid down across the bed and I’m trying to rest because I just rode seven hours and I’ve got an hour before soundcheck. I don’t know how they do it. I’m putting down ideas and song titles and lyrical ideas sometimes, but to flesh them out on the road for me at this stage of my career is impossible. It has to be when I’m back home on the clock.

Birmingham Stages: Speaking of your “extremely famous friends” – to use your words – how do they end up recording your songs? Do they hear them on your records or do the songs reach them through publishers?

Meadows: Both of those – they listen to my records and I have publishers working the songs. The third option is that I actually write with them. Every time Eric [Church] is getting ready for a record, I get this phone call [saying], “Meet Eric on the bus at such-and-such time” – it’s like Mission Impossible. It’s like working for the CIA – it’s awesome. There’ll be a nondescript bus in the corner of an alley at three o’clock, so I just show up and hop on the bus and we write for his records. So, you named two of the three options. The third one is to actually write with the artist.

Birmingham Stages: You’ve seen a lot of changes in your 16 years as a Nashville resident.

Meadows: Oh, my Lord. I can’t even pull in and out of my driveway for the traffic now. I’m about ready to get some elbow room. The appeal of Nashville when I first moved there was it had all the art and culture of a big city, but it had a small-town feel. Now it’s starting to feel like a big city. I don’t want to be the old guy that hates change, but when I can’t even park in my own driveway, there are considerations of moving somewhere a little outside of town with a little elbow room.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the experience of touring with American Aquarium and the band’s frontman, BJ Barham.

Meadows: It’s been really good. I’ve got a new agent that helped make all of this happen. Up until now, I’ve been playing little small venues for 50 people. So the whole idea of doing opening slots is a little foreign to me and I and honestly felt at times like I was taking up space. But BJ and the band have been so welcoming and made me feel like a part of this tour and not just the guy that’s filling up a little space at the beginning of the show. We’ve had some nice conversations and the rapport and kindness backstage says a lot about BJ as a human being. The people showing up to the venue have also been very kind because most of them – I do have two handfuls of people that are showing up to hear me – are showing up to hear him and they’ve been kind and attentive and not talking while I’m performing. It’s been really eye-opening and quite a pleasant experience.

Birmingham Stages: Do you feel like you’ve grown your fan base on this tour?

Meadows: Yes, totally. There have been lots of conversations after my set and after the show of, “I came to hear these guys, but you made a new fan tonight.” It’s telling the truth at the merch table, I’ll put it that way. The fans aren’t going to buy your freaking record if they don’t like you. So it’s good, man – a nice pat on the back.

Travis Meadows will perform in support of American Aquarium at Saturn on Friday, June 29. Showtime is 9 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $15 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Gold Connections Performs at Trim Tab Brewing Co.

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Rick Tarbell

Gold Connections, the musical brainchild of singer/songwriter Will Marsh, has supported acts including Car Seat Headrest, The Districts and Futurebirds. Now, with the recent release of its full-length debut Popular Fiction [EggHunt Records] – the band’s follow-up to its acclaimed, self-titled EP – it’s time for Gold Connections to take center stage. Bridging the ’70s power pop of Cheap Trick and Big Star with the ’90s indie sounds of Modest Mouse and Conor Oberst, Marsh has incorporated his musical influences into a style of his own. On Saturday, June 23, Gold Connections will perform at Trim Tab Brewing. Showtime is 8 p.m. and admission is free.

http://www.goldconnectionsmusic.com/

https://trimtabbrewing.com/

That Exhilarating Feel: A Conversation with JJ Grey

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jay Simon

JJ Grey cites Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jerry Reed, Otis Redding and Run-D.M.C. as musical influences. Anyone who is familiar with Grey’s body of work won’t be surprised by such a diverse list as the singer/songwriter’s sound pulls from a bevy of styles. Wrapped in a distinctly Southern ethos, Grey’s songs pay tribute to his heroes but remain uniquely his when performed through his musical filter. Ol’ Glory [Provogue Records] – Grey’s latest release with his backing band, Mofro – finds the self-described “lived-in feel” that Grey was seeking when recording the album. On Saturday, June 30, JJ Grey & Mofro will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. Great Peacock will open the 8 p.m. show. Recently, Grey spoke with us by phone about Ol’ Glory, life at home in Jacksonville, Fla. and his approach to performing live.

Birmingham Stages: JJ, thanks for your time. How is the tour going so far?

JJ Grey: Last night was the first night. We’ve been hitting 10 to 14 days and then 10 to 14 days off and doing it like that.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk abut the body of material for Ol’ Glory.

Grey: Some of it was new, but a song like “Turn Loose” is probably from 20 years ago. In fact, after 20 years I still didn’t have the lyrics the way I wanted them. The music track was recorded when we did [2013 release] This River and we still had it, but lyrically I hadn’t finished the tune. That song was written when I was living in London in ’97 or ’98.

Birmingham Stages: Did you feel that “Turn Loose” would eventually resurface and appear on an album?

Grey: You never know. What happens is I forgot about it and stumbled across a demo of it. It popped back up again and we found it on tape and in a short time I had the lyrics and had everything worked out. I recorded the vocals at my home studio.

Birmingham Stages: The press release for Ol’ Glory states that you wanted the album to have a “lived-in feel.” To that end, how did you approach the recording?

Grey: All the other records, progressively, aside from from the first record – from [previous releases] Lochloosa to Georgia Warhorse – most of the music the band had never heard until we got into the studio and I played them a demo. We’d play in the studio, then we’d go rehearse it and play it live. I just didn’t want that to happen for Ol’ Glory. I used to wish I could re-record things, but I don’t have that feeling now because we played in Europe and really started settling into it. It’s been around the block a few times. In a show, you find out real quick where the weak spots are and what needs to work. You’ll hear it real quick.

Birmingham Stages: From what I understand, you live on a property that includes farmland and a recording studio in addition to your house.

Grey: Yeah, I love it. I wouldn’t ever leave permanently, but if I did leave I’d go to the West Indies to get warmer [laughs]. I live in Florida and people laugh when I say that. The studio I have now is a writing studio and I’m going to build one where I can put the whole band in there and rehearse and double as a recording space.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

Grey: It shows up when it shows up. Right now, my house flooded from Hurricane Matthew two years ago and I’m still not back in it. We just wound up lifting the house five feet in the air and redoing everything. It’s tough – I have to finish the house and I want to work on music and I have to go on the road. It’s a crazy time, but I’ve got a bunch of stuff and we’ll see where it lands.

Birmingham Stages: What is the makeup of your live shows these days? Do you comprise your set lists from all points of your career?

Grey: It just kind of happens that way. I never sit down to make sure I include songs off every record – I just wind up doing a “best of” all the records. We bring out a light engineer now and he’s only done a dozen shows with us. I won’t vary it too much until he really learns it and then we’ll rotate in other songs. When we put out the next record, we’re going to rotate through some more songs.

The band I have now – these guys are phenomenal and they’ll write out charts. The first time they play it in a rehearsal is like they’ve been playing it for years. It’s really cool to have that, but I like a little bit of fast and loose, too. We keep sections of the show like that, but it’s also great to have some consistency. You have your anchor points and then we let go again. I think of it like climbing up a cliff when you hold on and have that exhilarating feel of letting go – it can be the same way.

Birmingham Stages: You have a large catalog of material now that spans nearly 20 years. How do songs – particularly older ones – stay fresh to you?

Grey: Every time I play it is the first time I’ve played it in that moment. I haven’t gotten tired of any of them. I still watch Gilligan’s Island reruns and I don’t get tired of them when they’re on TV [laughs]. The music is almost in the periphery – the thing taking center stage is being locked into the moment with the people onstage and the people in the audience.

Emporium Presents: JJ Grey & Mofro at Avondale Brewing Co. on Saturday, June 30. Great Peacock will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $30 and can be purchased at www.avondalebrewing.com.

American Aquarium’s New Era: A Conversation with BJ Barham

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Cal Quinn 

BJ Barham is a master storyteller, but sometimes – as the saying goes – truth is stranger than fiction. The singer/songwriter built a loyal following as frontman of American Aquarium, but literally found himself without a band in 2017. Doubting himself, his craft and his future, it’s unlikely that Barham could have foreseen himself in the creative and inspired state that defines him these days. Armed with a revamped lineup of Barham, Shane Boeker, Joey Bybee, Ben Hussey and Adam Kurtz, American Aquarium released Things Change [New West Records] earlier this month. Recorded in Tulsa, Okla. and produced by singer/songwriter John Fulbright, the 10-track collection includes cameos from John Moreland and Jamie Lin Wilson. On Friday, June 29, American Aquarium will perform at Saturn. Recently, Barham spoke with us by phone about Things Change, set lists and escaping negativity.

Birmingham Stages: BJ, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to the Saturn show later this month.

BJ Barham: It’s one of my favorite rooms in the country – it’s a special place.

Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Things Change.

Barham: Thanks, man. It’s my favorite record we’ve done so far, but that’s coming from the egotistical artist side of me that thinks everything I’ve created is the best thing I’ve created and everything I’ve made before that is an effort to get to where I am now. It means a lot more coming from you than from me [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the evolution of the album. Are these all new songs or had some been around for a while?

Barham: All of these songs are brand new. In the last couple of years of the band, I didn’t write any songs. I was kind of in a creative wasteland and I wasn’t inspired to write anything. Most of that was being surrounded by so much negativity – nobody really wanted to be in the band in anymore. Everybody was showing up to collect paychecks – we weren’t inspired anymore and we weren’t best friends anymore. At a certain point you stop faking it and get onstage and deliver the songs enough to where people don’t complain. But, looking back, they were lackluster performances. The last songs that I wrote were for my [solo] record Rockingham, which I wrote in the fall of 2015. So from 2015 to February 2017, when the band quit, I hadn’t written a song at all. For somebody who calls himself a songwriter, that was kind of intimidating. Should I keep doing this? Am I really a songwriter? Then I get this band together in August 2017 and it was like someone walked over to a water spigot and turned it on. I wrote the record in a couple of months; We were in the studio for eight days and we made a record. In my opinion, it’s a record I’m going to be able to stand on for a real long time.

Birmingham Stages: How did you put the new lineup together?

Barham: I didn’t know these guys. I knew a few of them in passing, but my drummer came to an Austin show on my solo tour and waited in line and said, “You think I can put a band together for you?” So he put together a shit-hot band of Texas guys and my pedal steel player lives in Nashville. We got together and practiced twice and went on the road for two months. That was a trial period of a getting-to-know-each-other phase. Can we tour together and get along? Can the songs stand up still? We took those songs to a bunch of our main markets to see if our crowd would accept a new band. The resounding answer was, “Yes.” This band is the best lineup I’ve had the opportunity to play with and that’s not knocking anybody in the past. It’s just a true statement and anybody that’s seen this band live will agree.

Birmingham Stages: When you’re surrounded by negativity – as you were in the previous lineup – I assume you start to see the world through that lens.

Barham: I learned very quickly that if you surround yourself with negativity, you can’t help but look at the world through a negative filter. We weren’t always negative – when we started the band, we were on the same page. We were a bunch of kids in a van traveling around the country and playing songs that we all believed in. But – just like any marriage – when you’re with the same people for eight or nine years and you grow as people, you grown in different directions than the other people in the band. With the culmination of five or six [people] growing in different directions, there had to be a breaking point. That breaking point came in February 2017.

Birmingham Stages: With several albums in the American Aquarium catalog, how do you go about comprising your set lists these days? How have the new band members approached the older material?

Barham: Man, these guys are so open-minded about going back into the back catalog and trying to find some of the gems that have been forgotten. I’ll bring a song from the past that I like and my pedal still player will say, “That’s a terrible song – we’re not going to play it anymore.” We’re eight studio records deep right now and that’s 111 songs that we have to choose from any night and most nights we play 24 songs. Realistically, we should be able to mine a lot of the back catalog and get a pretty revolving set list every night to keep fans on their feet.

American Aquarium will perform at Saturn on Friday, June 29. Travis Meadows will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $15 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.