American Aquarium's Chicamacomico album is all about loss, and its title track finds the band's frontman, BJ Barham, grappling with his emotions after his wife suffered a miscarriage. He had the song idea for a while but was worried the subject matter was too dark and painful to explore.
"This idea hit way to close to home and the thought of writing a song about the toll that a miscarriage can have on a relationship scared me to death," he admitted. "It's a song about a couple having to relearn how to communicate and relearn how to love, in the wake of such immeasurable loss. As a couple you find yourself asking 'why us?' What did we do to deserve this? Could we have prevented it? You keep those emotions locked up because you feel like you are the only ones going through this, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of couples have been forced to endure the same hardship."
Ultimately, he reasoned that his story could help bring comfort to those other couples grieving their own losses.
"This song is an attempt to normalize that conversation," he continued. "An attempt to bring it out of the dark corners of our life and into the light where it has less power. An attempt to erase the blame and shame that we somehow put on each other and replace it with the love and support the situation needs. This is a song about healing. It's a song about falling back in love after trauma. It's a song about enduring your darkest days and fighting through it. I hope this song serves as a salve for anyone that has ever went through this and a reminder that happiness can still be found on the other side."
The tongue-twisting title refers to a 19th century life-saving station for shipwrecked mariners built on the Outer Banks in the band's home state of North Carolina. It's an appropriate metaphor for an album about surviving hardship, but how the heck do you pronounce it? Barham told the Songfacts Podcast
to simply sound it out: Chicka-ma-comic-oh.
The stripped-down approach is a mark of maturation for the band, whose early days were fueled by a noisy mix of Southern and punk rock. Barham points to his own growing confidence as the reason for the change.
"When you are young, you want to play everything loud and fast and I think that comes, at least in part, from uncertainty," he explained ahead of the album's release.
"I hadn't fully found my voice back in those early days so the louder and faster the songs were the less chance someone could actually hear what I was saying. The more comfortable I got with my 'voice,' the more confident I became in my lyrical ability. I'm not afraid of the lyrics sitting way out front anymore because I am confident in the songwriting. The band can still cut loose and take over a song, but they aren't expected to do all the heavy lifting these days."
Produced by Brad Cook, Chicamacomico is American Aquarium's ninth studio album, released 10 years after their Jason Isbell-produced breakthrough, Burn.Flicker.Die. The band, who's also made records with Shooter Jennings (Lamentations) and John Fullbright (Things Change), stays fresh by using different studios and different producers.
"We're always trying to mix that up because it brings a different chemistry to the table," Barham told Songfacts. "It's bound to, and the record we made with Jason, if we'd tried to make that record with Shooter, yes, the lyrics would have been the same, but the songs and the sounds you would get at the very end product are two totally different things. It's kinda like if I sent my wife grocery shopping or I went grocery shopping, yes, we'd get a lot of the same stuff, but it would be very different same stuff. And that's kind of the analogy - it's like, at the end of the day, you're walking out with a buggy of sustenance, but what is in that buggy of sustenance?"