(Left to right) Maroon 5’s Matt Flynn, Mickey Madden, Adam Levine, James Valentine and Jesse Carmichael
All style and no substance? Hardly. Los Angeles pop-rockers Maroon 5 set the record straight with their impressive upcoming new album.
Adam Levine has felt better.
It’s a typically balmy afternoon in Los Angeles, and Levine, front man of the multiplatinum-selling rock band Maroon 5, is hanging out in the kitchen of his funky Spanish-style home, nibbling on takeout sushi and recovering from a rowdy Thursday night that culminated in his belting out Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” at a 40th-birthday bash for Hollywood party maven Brent Bolthouse. Jesse Carmichael, Maroon 5’s keyboardist, is here, too, as is Levine’s chummy personal assistant. As the three men chew over the merits of a handful of hangover remedies, Levine, 31, offers up an interesting medical idiosyncrasy — namely, that he hasn’t tossed his cookies since he was 9 years old, when he got sick after a screening of The Wizard of Oz at LA’s Cinerama Dome.
Might today bring that exceptional streak to a close? Unlikely, says the singer; at this point, he figures he’s immune to morning-after sickness. Plus, he admits, it’s been long enough now that the idea kind of intimidates him.
Given his fragile physical state, you could understand if Levine wasn’t exactly in the mood to answer questions. Instead, he brims with visible passion as he and Carmichael talk about Maroon 5’s forthcoming new album, Hands All Over, and especially about Los Angeles, the city that has served as the band’s base since 1995. That’s the year Levine, Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick — then students at LA’s Brentwood School — put together a squeaky-clean pop group called Kara’s Flowers, which released only one album before attracting guitarist James Valentine and morphing into Maroon 5. (Dusick left the outfit in 2006 and was replaced by Matt Flynn.) Driven by Top 40 radio staples such as “Harder to Breathe” and “She Will Be Loved,” Maroon 5’s 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, got off to a slow start but went on to sell more than 4.7 million copies; the band’s sophomore set, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 in 2007 and moved another 2.1 million CDs.
Yet for all their commercial success, respect from tastemakers — you know, the folks who can’t get enough of Radiohead and Lil Wayne — has been harder to come by for Maroon 5, who’ve established a reputation for making what Levine describes wryly as “music for soccer moms.” (One Village Voice writer compared the band to “Journey and Huey Lewis and the News and any other prosaically sexy squad of hit makers who decide it’s their calling to entertain arenas full of potential Survivor contestants.”)
And this is where the group shares something with its home, for like Los Angeles, Maroon 5 is regularly mischaracterized as being all surface and no depth — a pretty face without a soul, to put it another way. Sure, the band’s music is sleek and catchy, but in a musical echo of LA’s behind-the-scenes diversity, it’s also full of weird chord progressions and dark lyrics about romantic disillusionment. And Levine and his bandmates — who are fans of everything from Thelonious Monk to Michael Jackson to Alice in Chains — can really play.
“They taught me in an instant what it means to be a real musician,” says Jason Segel, the Forgetting Sarah Marshall star who joined Maroon 5 onstage at shows in New York and Las Vegas last year. (Hit up You- Tube for the hilarious results.) “Any one of them is better than I am at any instrument you could present. Some people are born to do specific things, and each of these guys is meant to be a musician.”
Producer Mike Elizondo was more than impressed with Levine’s musical chops when they worked together on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. He says Levine’s pretty-boy appearance has done him a disservice when it comes to winning respect.
“Because he’s the lead man and he’s obviously a good-looking guy, Adam can sort of be underestimated,” he says. “But the fact is that he’s an incredible musician with a great voice who writes amazing pop songs with melodies that stick with you.”
For his part, Levine says he tries not to sweat the credibility issue. “I do think it’s important to be taken seriously,” he allows. “But at the same time, you can’t jump through hoops for that kind of stuff. And at the end of the day you can’t take yourself too seriously. The more I learn about people and about our career and about life in general, I’ve realized that the less seriously you take yourself, the more seriously you’ll be taken.”
“And the happier you’ll be,” Carmichael adds.
“You just have to be who you are and hope that people like it,” Levine continues. “And if they don’t, then screw ’em.”
Levine’s devotion to LA is evident as soon as you enter his house. Framed Los Angeles Lakers jerseys share space on the wall with blown-up photographs of the singer sitting courtside at the Staples Center with Jonah Hill and Jack Nicholson. And when Levine saunters into his kitchen wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt, you can’t help but notice the large tattoo that occupies some prime real estate on his right shoulder: Los Angeles rendered in inky cursive script.