Interview: Adam Levine, Maroon 5

Maroon 5 get to the soul of pop

When a band has a massive first album, as Maroon 5 had with Songs About Jane, it can be the start of an incredible roller coaster ride. The pressures of a full schedule, heightened expectations, pigeon-holing, and critics looking for a big target can all conspire to lead to the dreaded 'sophomore slump,' with an inferior second album pouring cold water on what formerly seemed a promising career.

But Maroon 5, who tour here in March, must have seen trouble coming, because the pop soul combo's second effort, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, is an energetic, well-crafted tour-de-force that keeps much of the intimate, bittersweet quality that worked so well on the first album, but adds stronger hooks, more rigorous production, and a whole new sheen of musical texture. Despite their success, Maroon 5 still seem driven by the energy and hunger of contenders.

"Yeh, the band has always had something to prove," the group's singer and main songwriter Adam Levine says down the line from L.A., after working on the video for Goodnight Goodnight the fourth single from the current album. "Regardless of how big and successful we had become on that first album, we really wanted to outdo ourselves on this album, and at the same time win the respect of some people we missed along the way. When you are successful on this level, people tend to want to break you down. It doesn't really bother me very much, but I always feel like people misunderstand us for whatever reason, and I want people to get it straight. So, that's what keeps us going."

Perhaps one of the reasons for Levine's attitude is the awkward path Maroon 5 followed to success. Songs About Jane, detailing the painful break up of an important personal relationship, was a slow-burn success. Following its release in 2002, it only started hitting the upper reaches of the US charts in 2004, leading to the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2005. Also, four of the group's five members, including Levine, had experienced failure in the indie rock band, Kara's Flowers.

Maroon 5's evident desire to avoid the sophomore slump on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long saw them bring in several top producers, including Mark Stent, Mike Elizondo, and Mark Endert.

"They all have different things to offer," Levine enthused. "One was more of a rock 'n' roll producer, one was a more innovative, forward thinking soundsmith, and the other one was a musician at heart and an amazing arranger. Music's a very fragile delicate thing. One wrong move and it's totally destroyed. So, it was nice to have different perspectives to really kind of weigh it back and forth."

With so much production talent, the album's musical texture is richer than its Matt Wallace-produced predecessor, but what about style?

"I think the beats are a lot more 4/4, pounding, on the floor," Levine commented. "I think it's catchier than the first album. The first album was more of a soul R‘n’B record. This album is more rhymic and upbeat."

The greater sophistication of the musical texture also echoes increasing complexity in Levine's sources of inspiration. No longer able to rely on a single central muse, as he did with Songs About Jane, he now has a wider focus.

"When you're writing lyrics, if you're not writing what you feel you can run into a lot of trouble," he said. "I always have to be as honest with myself as possible. My muse for the latest album wasn't nearly as specific as the first – you can't really get more specific than that – but I was so astonished by the success of our first album that the second album is maybe a reflection. I'm thinking about the kind of person I was, the kind of person I am now, and wrestling with life a little bit. I think that's the continual theme of the second album."

The picture of Levine's life that emerges from his often autobiographical lyrics is of a series of intense romantic encounters punctuated by cynicism, with occasional bouts of sentimentality. This is a characterization that he is happy to agree with.

"Yes, exactly," he agreed. "That's right in the middle. I think I'm an old sap at the end of the day. I'm also wide awake in the world, and I definitely don't let it all just go by. The saddest moments of my life are the ones that I write about. I'm so fortunate, but I can only really write when I'm feeling down, and, so, you almost have to capitalize on it. It's almost as if, 'Wow, I feel like shit. I'd better make use of this.' Otherwise, it would be a complete waste."

Colin Liddell
7th March, 2008
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun

Check out the full interview tapescript at Y'know - Interviews with the Famous.
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  1. This look is so JAGER! luv!
    Petal, Trinidad, W.I.