Bloomington's Mike Adams asks himself hard questions on 2016 instant-classic 'Casino Drone'
Mike Adams was going through “some really heavy stuff” while making his 2014 album Best of Boiler Room Classics under the band name Mike Adams at His Honest Weight.
“My son had just been born, and he had these major heart problems, so there's a lot of stuff on that record where I'm writing lyrics while my son is in heart surgery,” said Adams by phone from his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. “And my uncle had passed away, and my whole family is really close. I was with him when he died.”
Adams' son came out of surgery just fine and is now a healthy 5-year-old who loves playing drums and listening to heavy metal, but after the dust in Adams' life settled, he began taking stock and asking himself tough questions while writing songs for his excellent, overlooked 2016 record, Casino Drone.
“I was looking more at myself than my environment,” Adams said. “I have carved out a life for myself where I have a job, but I still get to go on tour and make records and hang out with my friends and play music. … When you're young and just getting into music, you have goals and things to look forward to. You see it as this thing on the horizon, and then when you catch up to it, you have to figure out, if I'm gonna keep doing this, then, artistically, what does it look like going forward? What am I singing about? What are the things that I care about — that are important enough that they push me to create things in their honor?”
That self-examination is perhaps most apparent on album standout “The Lucky One,” as Adams attempts to reconcile the satisfying aspects of his life with an undercurrent of discontent that manifests itself throughout the record. “Our old hands are wrung to the bone,” he sings, “but I'm the lucky one.”
Even though Adams' songs are autobiographical, he writes in such a way that anyone can relate to the music. (“I think it is important for me to say whatever I need to say, specifically, but leave some avenues for people to project themselves onto it,” he said.) It's a skill he honed for about 10 years while fronting indie-pop act Husband & Wife before going solo on 2011 album Oscillate Wisely, which he made with the self-imposed limitation of not using any acoustic guitar.
“Before I make a record, I tend to set some rules for myself,” said Adams, who sings and plays all the instruments on record but tours with a full band. For Casino Drone, he recorded the drums in double time on a reel-to-reel tape deck, then slowed them down to normal speed. “That influenced how everything else sounded on the record,” he said, “because the drums have this pitched-down, sloggy, dreamy quality to them. So all the other decisions I made had to complement that.”
After recording his parts, Adams sent the songs to friend and “sonic genius” Adam Jessup, who mixed the record and added production that wraps Casino Drone in a shoegaze-laced blanket of swirly fuzz that perfectly pairs with Adams' glistening guitar licks and Brian Wilson-evoking vocals.
Adams attributes his sound and songwriting style partly to singing in church groups as a kid while growing up in a cornfield three hours north of Bloomington. “I think just that I've spent my whole life in Indiana influences my sound,” he said, self-deprecatingly adding that “a low-key, Midwest, superficial sincerity is where I'm coming from.”