During the course of writing a follow-up to his 2011 solo debut, Bloomington songwriter Mike Adams and his wife, Jessica, found themselves in the midst of harrowing circumstances. They had just welcomed their first child, Asa, into the world – and immediately learned he needed lifesaving heart surgery. They lived in an apartment in Indianapolis for the first month of Asa's life.
In preparation for the long waiting room hours, Adams would sometimes walk from his distant apartment to Riley Hospital in the frigid January weather. It was on one of these morning treks through the snow that he wrote the lyrics for his new album's first single.
"Specifically, 'I'm Worried' is about that ordeal — being at the hospital while we're all going through this terrifying stuff," Adams remembers. "Just not knowing how to deal with that, how to process it."
Now living happily with his wife and (healthy!) son in Bloomington, Adams can look back at the writing of Best of Boiler Room Classics and reflect on that worried time, two-and-a-half years ago.
"There was just a lot of change, it seemed like, going on in my life at that point, so a lot of it's just about making sense of new information and new relationships with people and new stations in life," he says.
An honest bloom
I'm meeting Adams at a Bloomington diner one Saturday morning for breakfast in mid-May. He's just returned from a successful Midwest tour in support of Boiler Room. We dig into a plate of biscuits and gravy and briefly chat about his fun on the road, before digging into his musical past.
During his childhood in Northern Indiana, Adams was always surrounded by music, thanks to his family's active church involvement. From worship services three times a week to songful family gatherings, music just became a "normal part of doing things," he remembers.
Around age 16, Adams picked up the guitar, eventually playing in two or three bands in Warsaw, where he was attending high school.
"For me, it was this really formative time of kids putting on their own shows and all these kids having bands around me that were great," he says. "When I was 15 or 16, I couldn't believe that there were kids in my gym class who had bands that were as good as any band."
When it came time for college, Adams decided on IU, knowing he could find musicians to befriend there. It didn't take long – he met future bandmate Tim Felton living across the hall from him in the dorms. The two began playing music together, eventually starting husband&wife, a band whose decade-long existence came to an end last spring.
"Everything I've learned about how to be a band or how to accomplish goals in music and how to keep it together, I learned during husband&wife," Adams says. "All the dudes in that band were really committed the whole time, so it was a perfect training ground for figuring out how to do it because we could make mistakes, but everyone was still coming back. It was a comfortable place to cut our teeth."
One summer while the rest of the band was busy and away, Adams decided to knock out some song ideas of his own, personally challenging himself to make a record during a two-week break from husband&wife. These songs eventually evolved into his debut solo album, Oscillate Wisely (released under the name Mike Adams at His Honest Weight).
"It was more of just an exercise and something new to try that was different from husband&wife while [the band] was taking a break. So, in that way it was really organic just because it wasn't premeditated," he says. "Once husband&wife called it quits, then I had something to keep working on already, which was nice."
A good thing going
Adams initially had minimal plans coinciding with the release of Oscillate Wisely, but thanks to dear friend Jared Cheek, (owner of Flannelgraph Records, which released Oscillate) this would change.
"I said, 'I'm going to do this album, I'm going to just release it somehow, do one show just for the fun of it to release it, and then that's that,'" Adams remembers. "But Jared was really encouraging, like, 'Keep doing this.' Thank God because I've loved it ever since."
Cheek and Adams both vividly remember their first interaction. Cheek: "I walked up to use the urinal next to his at Bear's Place in Bloomington. This was maybe 2004 or 2005. He just looked up at me, said he couldn't do it, and walked off. He said I gave him stage fright!" (Read more about Cheek and Adams here.)
With Honest Weight, Adams lets loose on stage, jumping and running about while throwing in the occasional "high-flying kick," he says. For longtime fans of husband&wife, these animated stage antics may come as a surprise at first. But according to Cheek, they've been Adams' vision all along.
"I remember when Mike first told me about his idea for the live version of the Honest Weight stuff, he said something about wanting to be able to really ham it up out there, kind of like Sam Cooke or something," Cheek said. "I think he's actually somewhere between Robert Pollard, Morrissey, Tony Clifton, Elvis and your lovable dad up there, which is a really fun combination. Some people aren't sure what to make of him at first, but I love it when I'm able to see new people loosen up and embrace him by the end of the set."
Cheek's right about this: he is a lovable dad.
"Having a family now is awesome," Adams says. "My son is great and my wife is super cool and supportive... For me, having a family makes what I do possible."
As for Best of Boiler Room Classics, Adams can honestly say it's one of his most telling albums to date.
"I feel like it's one of the most complete ideas I've put together yet," he said. "Not that I've attained 'it,' but it feels like a culmination of all the stuff I've been working at."