BJ Barham, ‘American Tobacco Company’ [Exclusive Premiere]
Back in December of 2015, American Aquarium founder and frontman BJ Barham announced plans for his first-ever solo album, Rockingham; the announcement came by way of a PledgeMusic campaign, and in less than 24 hours, the record was more than 30 percent funded. As a gift to those early pledgers, Barham released an acoustic performance of the LP’s opening track, “American Tobacco Company” — and today, The Boot is premiering the studio version of the tune exclusively for its readers.
“I wrote this song about my grandfather and the 40-plus years he spent working for the American Tobacco Company in Reidsville, N.C.,” Barham tells The Boot of the new song. “Growing up in Reidsville in the early part of the 20th century, your family either farmed tobacco or worked in the manufacturing of cigarettes. My grandfather did both.
“I wrote this song about the generation of people raised on the grand idea of the American Dream and the post-war realization that hard work didn’t always equal success,” he continues, reflecting on the life of his grandfather. “He got home from the war and immediately went to work at the factory. He spent 12 hours a day, five days a week, sitting at a machine for four decades, and never complained, never thought about doing anything else.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Barham’s solo music is deeply personal; even with American Aquarium, the frontman always finds himself writing and performing from an intimate place in his life. However, Rockingham may be the most intense record for Barham yet: It was written as a sort of emotional response following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, when American Aquarium were on tour in Europe and found themselves just a couple of hours away from Le Bataclan. Being so far away from home during such a turbulent time triggered something inside Barham, and in just a matter of days, Rockingham was written.
“There are plenty of good folks in small-town America that work hard and just can’t catch a break,” he says, reflecting on his own time growing up in Reidsville, the focal point of the new album, “living paycheck to paycheck, just to keep their head above water. It’s a darker look at the American Dream, and I think that is why a lot of folks can relate to it.”
Rockingham features eight tracks from the depths of Barham’s history. Readers can listen to “American Tobacco Company” below and get more details on the record ahead of its Aug. 19 release via PledgeMusic.
Listen to BJ Barham, “American Tobacco Company”: