The new American Aquarium song “Crooked + Straight” is a great motivator for anyone who has ever wandered through life uninspired.
Clocking in at nearly five minutes long, it’s a lyrical epic reminding everyone that all the answers they’ve ever needed in life are found within the heart.
“This song is a message saying you are in charge of changing your lot in life,” frontman BJ Barham tells CMT.com. “You’re going to have help along the way, and you’re going to have people who steer you off the road. But as long as you keep your eye on what you want to do, then it’s possible.”
The title is based on a line in the August Wilson play, Fences, a production Barham read in high school. Viola Davis won an Oscar for her role in Denzel Washington’s 2016 film adaptation, while Washington received an Oscar nomination for his lead role as the family patriarch.
“Throughout the entire movie, every time his son complains about life and not having the privilege, he’d say, ‘You’ve got to take it with the crooked and straight,’ and it’s something that’s stuck in my head.”
Verse one is autobiographical to Barham and his isolation from his Southern Baptist family to pursue music.
“To truly find myself,” Barham says, “I was going to have to go off into the world kind of as the black sheep of my family and realizing that being the Southern Baptist good guy wasn’t going to be my role in life. And then putting it from a father speaking to a son and instilling what I believe in the chorus, it said everything I wanted to say. If anybody asks me how I got started in the music business, I’m just going to play them that chorus.
“It’s not easy. Everything is going to fall apart in your life. But if you can learn how to react to the falling apart with putting it back together, you’re going to be just fine.”
The second verse alludes to the dissolution of the last iteration of American Aquarium. In April 2017, Barham announced five of his bandmates moved on to pursue other endeavors. Since the band formed 13 years ago, 30 musicians have played with the group. The current lineup celebrates its one-year anniversary this summer.
“Watching five of my best friends for damn near a decade kind of wash their hands of me was a big thing for me,” Barham says. “I had two or three weeks of just feeling sorry for myself. But my wife put it very easily, ‘You can either complain about it, or you can change it.’
“You can always rely on yourself,” Barham adds. “You take for granted just how much of a force of nature you are as an individual … It’s not about me transforming as a person. It’s about me learning, and if I want anything done, I’m going to have to work harder for it. This song is the example of that.”
Barham says “Crooked + Straight” embodies an overall theme of perseverance on the next American Aquarium album, Things Change. Available June 1, the 10-song collection was tracked in December 2017 under the production of Grammy-nominated musician, John Fullbright.
“He is hand’s down one of my favorite singer-songwriters in the country,” Barham says. “And we walked away with a record I feel is the most concise representation of what I’ve been trying to do in music for 12 years. I feel like it’s the most fully realized album that American Aquarium’s done. I feel like it’s a benchmark I’ve set for myself.”