Maroon 5’s James Valentine (left) and Adam Levine perform at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., as part of a college campus tour.
“I’m very romantic about my city,” Levine says. “I love what California stands for — being progressive and sort of thinking ahead. Californians are a very different kind of people, I think.” He singles out the dependably beautiful weather — “this amazing bubble of warmth,” per his description — as one of the place’s charms, while Carmichael, a surfer, points to the ocean. “It’s a great driving town too,” Levine adds, offering Mulholland and motorcycles as a match made in heaven.
“I’ve just always really loved it here and thought that I’d live here forever,” the singer continues. “I’ve never had any desire to live anywhere else.”
Despite their deep hometown pride, Levine and his bandmates felt they needed a change of scenery when it came time to start recording Hands All Over. The decision was made not just for the sake of inspiration but for the sake of efficiency. “We made the previous record here over the course of a year,” Levine says, “and I know that with all the distractions of home, this new one would have taken us two years if we’d stayed in LA.”
So instead they flew to Switzerland, setting up shop at producer Robert “Mutt” Lange’s studio on Lake Geneva. (“There wasn’t much to do there except enjoy the pretty scenery and jump in the lake,” Levine says. “It was awesome.”) Lange is the legendary (and legendarily reclusive) sonic architect behind such megaselling blockbusters as AC/DC’s Back in Black, Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Come on Over by Lange’s ex-wife, Shania Twain — records that make Maroon 5’s albums look like underground sensations by comparison.
“He thinks our success is cute,” Levine says with a laugh, “because it’s such a fraction of what he’s achieved. His pitch was, like, ‘You guys have sold some records and you’ve done pretty well.’ But that was what was so great about working with him: feeling like we had a lot left to prove.”
Carmichael says Lange pushed the band to improve and tighten its songwriting — “to make things better and to not just settle on the first try.”
“He pushes you, but he also really supports you,” Levine says. “He wants you to be inspired and he wants you to do it your way, but he also knows how to get the right results out of people — the right performances and the right songs and the right sentiments behind the songs.”
“It wasn’t just about doing things that were really hooky,” Carmichael says. “He wanted emotion. It’s all about connection for him. He thinks about connection on a lot of different levels; sometimes it’s lyrically, but most of the time he thinks about it sonically. What’s going to grab somebody’s ear in whatever country they’re in, whatever language they speak, and instantly connect with them?”
The result is the band’s most immediate-sounding effort yet, with airbrushed electro-arena guitars in the title track “Hands All Over” (think Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”) and superthick harmony vocals in “Never Gonna Leave.” There’s one song called “Misery,” but it rides a bouncy bass groove and features a sunny Jackson 5–like melody. “Mutt and his engineer tweak every little tiny nook-and-cranny sound, so that you hear things popping out at you that you never thought you could hear,” Levine says. “It’s very overwhelming — you can’t ignore it.” Adds Carmichael, “We tried to put so much energy into the record that we were just exhausted when we were done recording.”
Levine says Hands All Over is the most Maroon 5-ish record Maroon 5 has made. “We don’t wear our influences on our sleeves on this record, which is cool,” he explains. “It’s exciting when you can’t necessarily put your finger on it. Say what you want about our band, but there’s no one like us. We have our own sound, and I think that’s what made us hard to place in the beginning. That’s what kind of made us weird. Our songs aren’t weird — they’re pop songs. But the context and who we are and what we believe in and how we dress, all that kind of stuff — it’s this weird combination of things.”
In some ways, the band itself is a weird combination of things. As Levine suffers from the aftereffects of his evening of overindulgence, Carmichael munches a salad of homegrown greens fresh from his backyard garden. (The keyboardist planted lettuce before he left for Switzerland and is now enjoying the fruits of his labor. “I reaped what I sowed,” he says. “It’s so true what they say!”) Valentine, meanwhile, once played guitar with ska-punk goofballs Reel Big Fish and these days pals around with brainy indie-rock types such as Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley.
All of those differences notwithstanding, Levine and Carmichael agree that the relationships among the band’s members have never been deeper. Carmichael compares the situation to a marriage, which sets Levine off and running. “If I could feel about a woman the way I feel about my band, I’d probably be married. That’s probably why I can’t hold a relationship — because I’m married to my band,” he says, laughing. “We all know that no matter what arguments we get into, or whatever creative disputes we have, we’re not going to break up over something like that. Once you get over the hump of 10 or 12 years, it becomes worth it to work through it.”
“We spend so much time on the road together that you have to think of it like a relationship,” Carmichael says. “That way, all this doesn’t feel like it’s impinging on our life. It is our life.”
Of course, there are still those other lives that do exist back at home — the ones with girlfriends and parents and siblings and dogs. And how do the musicians’ circumstances affect those?
“Negatively,” Carmichael admits with a laugh.
“There’s not a person on the planet who’s okay with it,” Levine says. “ ‘I love you, I’ll see you in a year.’ It stunts your growth, being in a band that works all the time.” He shakes his head. “Then again, I don’t know if I’d want to have a conventional life; I’d probably be bored.”
He thinks for a bit and then gives a little sigh. “I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult; it’s just been different. Sometimes the thing that you love is also the thing that you hate, you know? But 90 percent of the time, I’m like, ‘Thank God I do this, because I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise.’ ”