Ben, my husband and Lucky Luxe co-owner, lived in North Carolina for several years of his growing up while his dad was in graduate school at Duke and went to high school there in a tiny town called Reidsville. I always heard the stories of his old friends there, about playing basketball and senior day mud fights, and more often than not, stories about his buddy BJ Barham would come up, too. He was the token high school friend with a garage band everyone loved. In college, Ben would receive the occasional message on facebook inviting him to one of BJ’s Mississippi shows on American Aquarium‘s national tour routes, and he would brag to people, “My buddy’s band is gonna make it, y’all. They’re gonna be huge.” One day I was scrolling through my newsfeed and saw a video someone had posted of a live American Aquarium show, and I had to get my jaw up off the floor. I’d never heard them before, and loved the way it felt like all the best things about alt-country and 90s alt-rock were in their music. I became a big fan, and Ben said, “I told you so.” We finally met after college at one of their shows in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and again at Ben’s 10 year high school reunion where we also met BJ’s adorable (then) girlfriend, now wife, Rachael, whose incredible collection of vibrant, beautifully done tattoos belie her sweet and quiet spirit.
Nowadays, Mr. and Mrs. Barham and their French bulldog, Bueller, share a beautiful home in Raleigh, North Carolina when he isn’t on the road with American Aquarium. His band shares a publicist with Bruce Springsteen, rubs elbows with Ryan Adams and Dwight Yoakam, and is getting big love from Rolling Stone Magazine and CMT, so, it sounds like they’ve arrived. Today I’m proud to share our interview with the brand-newlyweds who know a thing or two about making a long-distance marriage work.
Photo by Miguel Emmanuelli
Tell me about how you met and how you felt about each other that first day. What eventually happened that made you each believe you would get married some day?
Rachael: Our love story does not start off with a once upon a time! I met BJ in Jacksonville FL (where I was living). I was actually on a first date with someone else, and the band that was opening up the show were friends of mine. I was actually headed out after their set, but a coworker told me I should stay for the next guy because she thought I would really like him. BJ started singing those sad songs of his and I started talking, at which point he immediately yelled at me from stage. A little embarrassed, I shut up. After the show, I made my way to my friends to say goodbye, and BJ just so happened to be right next to them. I told him the show was great and asked him where he was from (I liked his deep southern accent). As soon as he mentioned he was from North Carolina I pushed my then-roommate in front of him, and said “her too” and left. As luck would have it, we all ended up at the same bar later that night, but we never spoke. The next morning the old Facebook worked its magic and I had a friend request from you-know-who. Now here is where our versions will differ about who wrote who, and how this whole thing got started (he started it!). But, because our relationship slightly overlapped with previous ones I am going to skip some details and just say this—something that started off very casual became serious quickly (so quickly, neither one of us really noticed for a while). We spent every day, all day texting, telling each other things you would never tell someone you were trying to impress or date, because we didn’t think it was going to ever get that far. Then, poof —before I knew what hit me, I was in love. In just 7 months here was this person who knew everything about me, and never once judged me. Again, fast-forwarding past a few messy details, decisions were made and that was that. I had, against some pretty terrible odds, found the person everyone hopes to find. The person that just gets them, that makes them whole. I never felt incomplete before BJ, boyfriends came and went without ever really phasing me. At the risk of sounding even more cheesy than I already have, BJ was a piece of me I never realized was missing – but now I hope to never know a day without him.
BJ: I met Rae at a show in Jacksonville,FL (where she is from) while I was on an acoustic tour in 2011. She was on a date with someone else and really didn’t seem to have any interest in me. She talked throughout the show and I called her out from stage and asked her to be please be quiet because other people actually wanted to see the show. I think I embarrassed her. I tried talking to her after the show but she kept insisting that I talk to her friends instead so I took that as an “I’m not really into you” kinda vibe. The next morning I woke up and checked Facebook and she had written “good show” on my wall. That led to me sending a friend request, which then led to me sending a message, which then led to me asking for her number. We texted night and day for about 2 or 3 weeks and then we decided to see each other. After our first date (a taco place in Athens,GA) I knew that she was the one for me. She is the female version of me. From the things we find funny to the sordid stories of past relationships, we are the same person. We spent months getting to know each others deepest and darkest secrets and neither of us ran away. I had finally met someone that didn’t judge my past. This was the “love” and “acceptance” that should only have a place in a cheesy romantic comedy, but it was right in front of me. We dated for a year, then she moved to Raleigh, then after two years of seeing the best/worst of each other, I asked her to be my wife, and she said “yes.” Not the most conventional road to ever after, but I’ll take it.
Tell me the things that mattered most to you about your wedding day.
Rachael: Of course I wanted everything to look nice, and go smoothly, but our families were meeting for the first time, so I was most concerned with everyone feeling comfortable. Also, 95% of our family and friends were coming from out of town, I felt like needed to play host as well as bride which made me a little (a lot) cranky at times, but at the end of it, the most special part of the day, aside from marrying my favorite human on the planet, was that my mother and father were both there to walk me down the aisle. My dad has been ill the majority of my life, and my mother is the glue that holds my family together and to have the two of them by my side on that day was just perfect.
BJ: I think I may be the only groom in the history of groom-dom that cared more about the wedding than the bride. Rachael just wanted to elope at the courthouse but I was pretty insistent that we have a proper wedding. All I cared about was my friends and family being there to watch me commit my life to this woman. Our story is not believable. When I tell other people how we got together they laugh and think I’m joking. I wanted them to see how real this was. How a woman changed every view I had on relationships in the matter of a few months. The most important thing to me was keeping it low key. We paid for the wedding ourselves, 100% out of pocket, so we didn’t want it to be this extravagant event. Good food, open bar, friends and family. That’s what we set out to do and I feel like we nailed it.
Photo by Miguel Emmanuelli
Planning a wedding can be stressful. It’s expensive. Your feelings all become so elevated about the event, and before you realize it’s happened, your relationship and the actual marriage can get put on the back burner almost like a reward for getting through the enormous party. How can a wedding become less about planning a party and more about the new family that’s beginning?
Rachael: I may not be the best person to ask— or maybe I am. Unlike most relationships, BJ was the one that wanted the traditional (I use that loosely) wedding. If I had my way, we would have taken all the money spent on food, and cake, and everything else and spent a month in Costa Rica instead of a week. However, I am glad we did have a wedding day instead of just running to the courthouse, mostly because our parents probably would have killed us. Don’t lose sight of why you’re really doing this. Your family and friends are not there to eat fancy food or listen to a popular band. They are there to be blinded by your love for the day. Money is one of the major reasons couples fight, so there is no point in putting yourself in debt for a party you will hardly remember. In my opinion spend your money on a great photographer, they will make even the dirtiest rock and roll club look magical (see my wedding photos). Weddings are special, but ultimately they are still just a party. During the planning process just keep reminding yourself, the little stuff does not matter. No one but you really cares about your tablescapes or floral decorations. You didn’t need the perfect lighting or flower crown to fall in love, you certainly don’t need them to say “I do.” Just relax, some things are probably going to go wrong, and that’s okay. As long as you and your partner are there to say those very special words in front of the people you care most for, that’s it. The wedding will be a success.
BJ: You have to understand that at the end of the day, it’s just a big party. It’s not going to go perfectly. There will be surprises and glitches, but its about something so much bigger than that. Its you and your partner, committing the rest of your lives to each other, in front of the people that matter the most. If you keep that in mind, it makes trimming the fat a lot easier. We started off with a 200+ person guest list and narrowed it down to 75. We only invited the people that we knew would make it a priority to be there. Every single person we invited came to the wedding. They didn’t come for the over the top ice sculptures or a 5 star chef cooking a limited menu. They came to eat BBQ, listen to a rock n roll band, and watch two people they care about become one. When you realize that is what you are planning, it becomes a lot easier.
Rachael and BJ’s custom Lucky Luxe wedding invitations
Photo by Miguel Emmanuelli
How do you each envision your marriage 10 years from now?
Rachael: Well in 10 years BJ will be 41 and I will be less than 6 months away from turning 40, so I assume I will be having a slight nervous breakdown. Aside from the mass quantities of wrinkle cream I’m already thinking about buying just writing this—I’d like to think the Barham Farm will be in full swing. We are in the beginning stages of looking for our first home now (which we’ve named the Barham Farm), so by 2025 BJ should be touring less and home more, our daughter (fingers crossed) will be 7ish, and that should be really fun! We are still a few months away from our first wedding anniversary so 10 years holds so many possibilities, I am sure we will have had our ups and downs, but there is no doubt we will grow stronger from them. Marriage takes work. It is not easy to make a lifelong commitment to always put someone else before yourself. I look forward to the challenge. The last few years with BJ have taught me a great deal about myself, and I’ve grown so much. He is truly the best man I have ever met and he doesn’t make a single decision without considering our best interest as a family. So I can only hope that a photo of us 10 years from now would show: two strong individuals still very much in love, a healthy and happy child, and maybe just a couple of French bulldogs, goats, and chickens!
BJ: A lot has changed since we got married. The band has seen its first bit of national success. I’ve been sober for over a year (8/31) and me and Rae are starting the process of buying our first home. 10 years from now I hope she still looks at me the way I look at her. I’ve never met anyone in my entire life that exudes the things that woman does. She does it for me. The worst day in the world can be cancelled out with a 2-minute chat on Facetime. I hope that never changes. Kids are definitely in the equation. 2 is my ideal number. I can’t wait to be a dad. I know a lot of guys fear that step but I am ready to welcome it for sure. So, 10 years from now… Home. Kids. Happy. If I can have all three, then I’m the luckiest dude on the planet.
What advice would you each give to a newlywed?
Rachael: Don’t forget how much you love each other and why you got married in the first place. “Marriage is a humbling experience. It is part skill, part luck, elbow grease and blind determination. It isn’t always pretty.” I think that quote by Michele Weiner-Davis sums it up better than I ever could. After the honeymoon it’s time to face reality, each person has lived their whole life as an individual and now you’re a team. Remember you are not always going to see eye to eye on everything, so try to look at things from your partner’s point of view. No one is easy to live with all of the time, so just close your eyes and remember how you felt when you said “I do.”
BJ: Everyday gets better and better. You notice things about your wife that you never even thought about before. Everyday I fall more and more in love with this woman. She is the strongest, smartest, most independent person I have ever met and she teaches me so much about myself everyday. Appreciate your mate. Never make them feel inferior. You are equals and in this for the long haul. Don’t go to bed angry with each other. Never stop trying to impress her. Tell her you love her every chance you get.
Thank you so much, friends. I hope you readers will check out American Aquarium’s tour dates and see them live the next time they’re in your neck of the woods. You’ll love them!
Keep up with Rachael here: instagram