Writing one song with an appealing melody is difficult. Bloomington's Michael Adams and his War Painted Horses band mates have filled their debut album “Murder at the Wheelhouse” with 12 melodic gems (not including a hidden track). When lauded for his impressive songwriting ability, a trait not always present in even great musicians, Adams deftly deflected the compliment.
“I think a lot of people put up their own roadblocks, especially talented musicians," said Adams. "I know a few I run into that say the same thing. I think if you put your mind to it, you can do this. I think there is a formula for a good song, but I think anybody can write a song, and from there, maybe a good one comes down the road.”
Though he’s been a self-described music lover for decades, the 45-year old Adams is relatively new to public performance and recording. Five years ago he summoned the courage to take the music he’d been noodling with in his bedroom and on his home recording gear to open mic nights around Bloomington-Normal. Emack and Bolio’s, Treehouse Lounge, and Merna Tap were just some of the venues that allowed Adams to flesh out his songs in public and acquire confidence in his abilities.
“I just kind of cut my teeth and got my feet wet at some of these venues, and was lucky enough that some great musicians were wanting to play with me. That builds confidence in what you’re doing. To have even one person come up to you and say ‘hey, I dug that’ -- it makes you want to come back,” said Adams.
Future band mate and multi-instrumentalist Clint Thomson was one of the great players he met at a showcase. The two quickly clicked and created what evolved into War Painted Horses. The rest of the band includes multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Stevie Manuel, drummer Kenny Shepherd, and Andy Blick, another member featured on multiple instruments. Adams said the band worked collaboratively to flesh out songs on “Murder at the Wheelhouse.”
“I write all the lyrics," said Adams. "I come up with the initial melody lines and the band kind of grows them from there.”
The albums songs are lyrically laden with poignant observations ranging from childhood to critiques of American foreign policy. He said “Three Sisters” is one of the songs about his childhood.
“And there’s some Greek mythology in that song with the three sisters," said Adams. "They only had one eye they passed between them. I found that interesting and found some correlation in my own family that way. I’m the youngest of six, three sisters and two brothers. And you’re always stuck in a time capsule. You’re always ‘Mikey’ you’re always at a certain age and not allowed to get any older. The song is about how I’ve changed and how you should get to know me now."
Adams is a painter for Facilities Management at Illinois State University. He's also a military veteran who acquired PTSD from his time serving in the U.S. led U.N. intervention in Somalia. He said playing and recording with War Painted Horses has been therapeutic and helps him deal with his disability, including the difficult time he has sleeping at night.
“Just to have something to focus on and the creative process has helped tremendously. I’ve come to the point where I can manage it (PTSD), it’ll always be a part of me and the people that are closest to me realize that. But I would say the music thing gives my brain more things to think about as opposed to wandering back into bad memories, or things that would trigger sleepless nights,” said Adams.
War Painted Horse is a term that originated when Native Americans would paint their horses before going into battle with the (U.S.) cavalry.
“The cavalry would target the horses," said Adams. "So instead of hiding the horses, they would just send them into battle. I guess when you have a name, you have to become the name, so we’re working on that right now.”
Like the painted horses of American history, Adams is out front, playing his music publicly. It's a long way from five years ago when he first stepped out of his house and into the open mic spotlight. And he said he is extremely happy with War Painted Horses debut album.
“I think it captured the moment in time we were trying to capture," said Adams. "I think everything we talked about as a band and all the ideas we came up with are incorporated on the record. I hope people take the time to listen to the whole thing and enjoy it.”