On the one hand, the newest single from alternative country band, American Aquarium, is as straightforward and unambiguous as they come. “Six Years Come September” isn’t a metaphor; the length of time in question refers to the arrival of six years of sobriety for band founder BJ Barham, since making an unintentionally permanent announcement about “never drinking again,” amid the crowd in a Texas bar.
Conversely, the song’s biggest element of significance – that the journey of getting sober doesn’t culminate in a single victory but comes with its own sets of trials – is a sentiment one could say is anything but straightforward or obvious to those outside looking in.
While the major chord resolutions from Barham’s guitar and a higher octave melody played by crisp and polished piano do give “Six Years Come September” a mildly uplifting quality, there is serious reflection and a sense of penitence unfolding in the lyrics that very subtly but effectively displays the kind of obscure adversity built into an otherwise happy looking existence staying on the wagon.
“As a person in
recovery myself, I wanted to make sure that I addressed addiction but, I really
wanted to write a song about the darker side of sobriety [and] the difficult
parts of recovery. So many people think that when you get sober, it’s all just
unicorns and rainbows from here on out. One of the hardest parts of the process
is looking yourself in the mirror each morning, seeing the flaws and finding
acceptance in your shortcomings. It’s easy to ignore and numb what we don’t
like about ourselves but, facing it head on and accepting the broken parts of
ourselves is the true challenge,” says Barham.
I ain’t had a drop to drink since the day that you left me
Six years come September I’ve been cursed with this clarity
Gotta stare in the mirror yelling at a stranger looking back at me
And the ghost of the man I could have been still haunts all my dreams
Though the song isn’t a through and through autobiographical piece, Barham would certainly be someone with a sincere grasp on what it means to properly convey, and fully empathize with, the potential consequences of making choices that negatively affect oneself and others.
“I wanted to write about that daily struggle in a very real way. What if everything that mattered to you in life was taken away from you because you had that last drink. This is about a guy whose sobriety wasn’t a positive step towards change but, a self imposed punishment. Forcing yourself to live each day sober just to remind yourself what YOU lost. It’s a heavy look into the darker corners of recovery,” Barham says.
Acknowledging all these components being mapped out and deliberately written to tell a story without glamorization, one of the most satisfying things about “Six Years Come September,” is actually the inadvertent setting and style of the accompanying music video’s cinematography. The fact that the video had to be shot with the most minimal of personnel and in a setting of just Barham at a remote location, ended up beautifully enhancing the impact of the song’s message, rather than feeling like creatively restrictive circumstances. Ultimately, the music and visuals of “Six Years Come September” blend purposeful contemplation with a bit of adaptation to the unwanted spontaneity of life. And given that’s what everyone – but especially people maintaining sobriety – face daily, the whole piece feels like a set of parallels that was simply meant to be done in the exact way it was – to gorgeously meaningful results.
“For the video, [the director and I] wanted to capture that darkness. We shot the video with our friend and director, Brandon Ward of The Frame Theory, out of Knoxville, TN. Brandon really embraced the idea of forsakenness and eventual recovery and wanted to use the visuals to build on and reinforce the story told in the song. We filmed this video a few days before the mandated COVID-19 quarantine, so it was just me in an empty warehouse with an acoustic guitar and a cameraman. We did this out of necessity and safety, but also realized it added to the bleakness of the song. I’m really happy with how the video echoes the sentiment of the song,” Barham says.
“Six Years Come September” serves as the latest track off American Aquarium’s next album, Lamentations, which is due out on May 1, 2020 via New West Records.