Tapescript Interview: Adam Levine, Maroon 5

On the 12th of January 2008, I did a 20-minute 'phoner' with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. This was for an article I was writing for the International Herald Tribune/ Asahi Shimbun. He was in Los Angeles where he had been working on the video for Goodnight Goodnight and I was in Japan. This is the full, unedited transcript of our rather amicable conversation (with a few gaps).

Liddell: So what have you been doing just now?

Levine: I've been shooting a video right now.

Liddell: Which song is it for?

Levine: It's for the song Goodnight Goodnight.

Liddell: That's one of my favorites from the album.

Levine: Thank you very much.

Liddell: It's got a very sort of bittersweet quality…

Levine: Yes, sir.

Liddell: … which really suits a lot of your music. Can I just ask you, as a first main question, what do you think is the main difference between Songs for Jane and the new album?

Levine: Songs about Jane was an experiment – I guess every album is an experiment in some way. I'd say the influences are different. When you're a musician and whatever you're listening to at the time really reflects [in] the songwriting and I was listening to a lot of different music and since then have grown and changed and evolved, become a different person. So, I think that this [album] reflects my growth and our growth as people.

Liddell: But musically what do you see as the main differences?

Levine: I think the beats are a lot more 4/4, pounding, on the floor thing. Melodically it's a little more… I think it's catchier than the first album. The first album was a little more of a soul R n' B record. This album is a little more of a pop record.

Liddell: I think it's five years between the two albums.

Levine: Yes.

Liddell: And you come back with a very well–crafted record, very strongly produced, lots of good hooks and everything. I kind of get the feeling that you spotted the famous sophomore slump coming, and that you really wanted to deal with it and blow it away.

Levine: Yeh. The band has always been like we had something to prove. Regardless of how big and successful we had become on that first album, we really wanted to outdo ourselves and at the same time win the respect of some people we missed along the way.

Liddell: Who are you possibly referring to there?

Levine: Nobody in particular, just I think that when you're in a band that becomes successful in a poppy, y'know. We write exceptionable music and we write pop songs and people are kind of lining up to... When you are successful on this level people tend to want to break you down and… It doesn't really bother me very much, but at the same time I don’t think I will be completely fulfilled until I win everybody’s love and admiration, because maybe I'm just completely crazy, but I always feel like people, sometimes people misunderstand us for whatever reason – and I want people to get it straight, so, that’s what keeps me going.

Liddell: Yeh. It sounds like you’re very driven there.

Levine: Yeh, well, I'm not asking that everybody likes us because that's impossible, but I am asking that everybody understands where we're coming from.

Liddell: Yeh. Now because of the first album, people see your songwriting as more directly autobiographical than usual.

Levine: Yeh. I know, that'll always be the case. I only write what I feel. When you're writing lyrics, if you're not writing what you feel you can run into a lot of trouble. I always have to be as honest with myself as possible.

Liddell: Now, with the first album there was a very clear focus with the character of Jane or the idea of Jane.

Levine: Yeh.

Liddell: So, with this album who or what has been your main muse?

Levine: I think that my muse for this album wasn't nearly as specific as the first – you can't really get more specific than that – but I was so astonished and pleased and overwhelmed by the success of our first album that the second album is maybe a reflection. And maybe thinking about the kind of person I was, the kind of person I am now, wrestling with relationships, mostly kind of wrestling with life a little bit. I think that’s the continual theme of the second album.

Liddell: Yeh. Listening to the songs and reading through the lyrics, the kind of picture that emerges, it seems that your life is a series of intense romantic encounters punctuated by a kind of cynicism and there this kind of hard-assed hedonism with occasional bouts of sentimentality. That's the impression I got. Is that reflective of the truth?

Levine: Yeh, exactly, that's right on 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. You have to have concepts [? contrasts], you have to have sadness, and I think that most honestly the saddest moments of my life are the ones that I write about. There was some [?????] to being happy – I'm so fortunate to being happy that I can only really write when I'm feeling down, which is a powerful thing to feel that way, and so you almost have to capitalize on it – and it's almost as if, "Wow I feel like shit! I'd better make use of this, otherwise it'll be a complete waste."

Liddell: That's a very positive philosophy ironically. I'm very interested in the idea of the sublime in music, and a lot of music, it's driven by anger, political ideas, metaphysical ideas, a desire to change the world, things like that, but with your song writing apparently the energy's all psychological relationship energy…

Levine: Yes.

Liddell: …which is a very everyday mundane thing, but at the same time you manage to get a very sublime element to your music, so it seems that there must be something else in there besides just emotional energy from relationships.

Levine: Well, I think it's one of those things where I may sit down and say I have to write a song that's not romantic, I have to write a song that's not about a broken heart, and I don't really think that's the case. I think that you are put on this Earth to do what is natural and what is natural for me using the lyrics that I write or the music that I write with my band as therapy, and it is deeply personal and it is the energy that I'm putting out there. There's only one Bruce Springsteen, there's only one John Lennon, there's only one David Bowie. There's… All these people, every day – there's only one Kurt Cobain – every day goes by and I say why can't I be one of those? Y'know. And I think about that. And what can I do to bec… – and there's only one Bono, y'know – and it's really interesting because I finally realized after many years that I don’t want to be one of those people. And the more you trust like something you're not, the less genuine you are. So I want to embrace who I am and who I'm becoming and who I've already become and it's great I can fill a certain niche and be somebody who actually doesn't exist, that I’m not [?????] their every step. and I think that’s a cool thing, y'know. I think I ought to kind of just follow my heart as far as that's concerned and put my head down and go for it. I think, y'know, that I'm far from there, but I get closer to it all the time.

Liddell: So, it's a case of the older you get, the more you become yourself?

Levine: Exactly, and the less ashamed you are of that, and I like where I am. I like the part that I play in my life. I’m gonna continue to go with that instinct. I'm not going to fight it because I want, y'know, because I want a better review, or because I want this person to like me, y'know. I’m going to basically keep doing what I'm doing because the truth is we've got an amazing thing going and things are happening at our shows that we play together, are truly magical, and I don't want that to change, because we decide to do something that goes over our fans' heads for some reason or too clever or too, y'know, too on the nose or too political or too anything just for that matter. I just want to do what I do.

Liddell: But, of course, at the same time, when you become a band as big as you have become, the image thing can take over a bit and I mean you have a very kind of slick, suave, sophisticated image. Em, how trying can that be? Because I'm thinking about, y'know, everyday life can't be like that. I mean things like picking your nose and scratching your bum, for example. I mean…

Levine: No, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t effect me and even my songwriting at times. To be honest with you, I've been thinking a lot about that lately, and I don't regret anything we've done, but at the same time you always have to be changing. I'm trying to shed that image right now and be as honest with myself as possible, as organic with myself as possible, because that's where I came from and that's what I know best. I can't pretend to be, y'know… I can't pretend to be something I'm not, like I said before, so I’m really in the business right now of being as genuine and sincere as possible because that's what brought us to where we are.

Liddell: Mmm.

Levine: Not over earnest! I mean no one likes that, including myself, but just, y'know, following my instincts has always worked out. It's hard because if you get 20 people in the room that wanna do things differently, but that's not what got us here. I mean I still have people I listen to, the other members of my band…

Liddell: With the latest album you did bring in quite a few different producers. What was the thinking behind that?

Levine: Well, I think they all have different things to offer. Y'know, 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. I mean all of them had amazing attributes. One was a great mixer and a great ideas person. I think that it's any band's dream to hopefully – it's our dream I guess – to have as many talented people involved with the process that will help the process along as possible, so, y'know, we lucked out in our opinion because you've gotta have… Music's a very fragile delicate thing, y'know. 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.

Liddell: Yeh, but this sort of fits in with the idea that you didn't want to give people any ammunition for the second album. You wanted to have a very strong second album so you're sort of really thinking ahead here.

Levine: Well, one successful album is… Happens…y'know. There's a lot of luck involved. Timing, y'know. Lightning strikes at the right moment. We definitely take all that into account. But two successful albums is something of a miracle. The fact that this is happening is giving us so much confidence and, going into our third record, who knows what we can accomplish, who knows what we can do. [?????] I think we're all genuinely really thrilled to see what we can do next. But that's too far ahead. At the same time, we're still smack in the middle of this process now, so you've got to be in the moment.

Liddell: Sometimes your music's accused of being a bit sexist, and videos and so on and the image kind of reinforces that…

Levine: [?????]

Liddell: Did you catch that?

Levine: [?????]

Liddell: I'm saying sometimes your music is maybe accused, or, on the other hand, praised, for being a bit sexist, y'know.

Levine: What's this…

Liddell: Like the lyric content, the videos, et cetra. Sexist. And …

Levine: That's just really ridiculous because if a girl was writing these songs they wouldn't be sexist.

Liddell: Aha.

Levine: They would be empowering.

Liddell: Yeh, that's what I wanna focus on. The idea of…

Levine: That's completely insane. I mean Wake Up Call… The video for Wake Up Call is definitely controversial and I understand that, but you have to understand at the same time it's a video. It's obviously fictional. The song is about double murder and I'm not a violent person. I'm simply telling a story and if you can't differentiate between what is real and what is fiction then you don't deserve my attention anyway, so I don’t really give a shit, but, y'know, it's just fake, it's pretend and entertainment exists and, if it was, like I said, if I was a woman in a video where I was killing a man everybody would be cheering, but that's not the case and I don't really care about what they say.

Liddell: Well, I see it a bit differently too. I think you're portraying women in a certain way, but it's not necessarily… I don't think it's demeaning, cuz women are, in your songs and in your videos… Women, y'know, are basically using their assets. They're breaking hearts. They're in some sort of position of power.

Levine: Well, and also in the video for Wake Up Call the main character, y'know, my character, gets killed, gets the chair.

Liddell: Yeh.

Levine: Totally [?????]. He's not exactly winning. He's obviously a prick.

Liddell: It's just funny how things get taken up and become political points when they're obviously not intended in that way. It's a very political environment sometimes the music industry, isn't it?

Levine: Yeh, y'know, and like [garbled] it's better to offend people than to fit in perfectly.

Liddell: Yeh.

Levine: And I think that was one of the problems, one of the reactions. Making that video was a direct reaction to how we were treated in the culture which was, "Oh look, this safe band, and bring your kids because they never say the F-word and they're so sweet and look how cute they are," and all that. We didn't want that anymore, y'know, [?????] yes, we do want that but we don't want to be the safe go-to Mickey Mouse Disney band that they portray us as for the first album, so we wanted to mix it up a little bit, so I'm glad we offended people.

Liddell: Yeh, so you grew a few rough edges. That makes you feel a bit more comfortable with yourself.

Levine: Exactly. A bit more like myself, and I’m obviously flawed. I'm not perfect.

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