Maroon 5, when seen live, are not half bad. There, I said it. Why does it sound like I’ve just come clean to something worthy of a couple of strip searches? Perhaps because, despite the American band’s unbelievable knack for shifting albums (10 million for 2002’s Songs For Jane and already nearly four mill’ for their May 2007 follow-up, the confusingly entitled, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long), they are still the group most music critics want to smack.
But why? Their brand of mainstream rock pop isn’t as lightweight as it could be. After forming in 1994 while at school in LA, lead singer Adam Levine, keyboard player Jesse Carmichael, bass player Mickey Madden and former drummer Ryan Dusick named themselves Kara’s Flowers – admittedly, a name that won’t win over the group’s haters. Nevertheless, they picked up a label, manager and even released a record. Unfortunately, it sold diddly squat.
According to Carmichael, the early failure was ‘one of the best things that could have happened’ to the band. ‘We got rid of the label and everybody who worked with the band. It was just us four guys again.’ This industry detox, combined with a spell at New York music school, resulted in a new name and sound for the boys. ‘Adam got really into Stevie Wonder and that really influenced his singing style,’ explains Carmichael. ‘I was really into jazz and everybody got into contemporary hip hop and R’n’B soul music: Prince, D’Angelo, Outkast, Missy Elliott, and the production of Timbaland especially.’ Not influences typically listed by rock-pop stars.
With the addition of fellow Californian James Valentine on lead guitar, the musical face-lift finally lit the billboard touch paper. Then burned it – very, very slowly. Despite its 2002 release, first single ‘Harder To Breathe’ didn’t peak in the US charts – at number six – for more than two years. What’s more, they toured Songs… globally for more than three years, with everyone from The Rolling Stones, Michelle Branch and John Mayer to The Hives and Counting Crows. You can’t say they didn’t sing for their supper.
But you can say that many music fans soon became totally sick of the sound of them. And their overexposure is something even Levine himself is aware of. ‘We wanted to make an album full of singles; that kind of was the goal,’ he commented recently. ‘Maybe that was a mistake with the first album.’
Yet, let me return to my earlier admission: they are ‘pretty good’ live. Admittedly, I did see them in Philadelphia, during a delicious bout of summer rain – but it would take more than a pleasant setting to admit to something that invites so much abuse. The band emitted a powerful energy on stage, they had a far rougher, rockier edge than they do post- production – largely due to the face of the group, Adam Levine.
Arguably, it is a very pretty face, but that’s not the point. As the other Maroons admit, he provides their main artistic direction. ‘The vast bulk of the creativity comes from Adam,’ Madden said recently. ‘And that’s duly noted in the way we make our decisions.’
It is perhaps Levine’s emotional openness that has garnered the group such a bad name in credible circles. Every lyric in their Grammy Award-winning first album is clouded with passion, bitterness and regret about his ex-girlfriend, Jane. ‘I think it’s empowering to sing personal songs to your fans,’ Levine reflects. ‘You’re sharing your feelings with a group of people who genuinely feel the same way back, which is kind of wonderful. But I do feel slightly vulnerable. Everybody feels vulnerable if you’re human.’
Meet Levine number one: the frighteningly intense artist. The one who’s seriously into yoga: ‘I’m really infatuated by it. It’s really amazing.’ And who no doubt instigates the group’s making-up sessions. ‘When we have arguments,’ explains Carmichael, ‘we sit down in a circle and we say, “What you said affects me in this way and that’s not fair” and we work it out.’ It’s easy to see why the group make such easy prey for cynics.
But then there’s Levine’s other side. The man about town who’s been spotted stepping out with everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Jessica Simpson and is happy to admit that he likes to just muck about. ‘People think I’m cocky but I don’t think I am. I think I’m a confident person and I joke around. It’s important not to take yourself too seriously. It’s fun.’
Which seems to be the side he’s revealing with new album It Won’t Be… ‘We’ve done a lot of one type of song about heartbreak and emotional disasters, but I think this is a little different,’ Levine says of ‘If I Never See Yourself Again’, their recent collaboration with R’n’B star Rihanna. ‘I’m excited to release a different shade of our band.’
Just one mystery remains about the band that everyone loves to hate – the origin of their name, but it’s a secret they’ve taken an oath never to reveal. ‘We put everyone’s ideas as to what they think the name is into a big file cabinet, then digitised the information,’ says Carmichael with a large grin. ‘At the end of the month, a random selected program to cover the most probable scenario goes on our website’.
Our guess? Either a shade of paint or rich, dark blood from five bleeding hearts – but certainly nothing in between.
A minute with Adam Levine
How do you stay in shape?
I’ve been doing yoga. I’m really infatuated with it. It’s really amazing.
What do you find most attractive in a woman?
Confidence. Although that sounds clichéd.
Do you have a personal motto?
Always be clothed… I don’t know.
What do you always put off until tomorrow?
Can you ask me tomorrow [laughs]. Paying the electric bill.
Would you rather see a sun setting or rising?
Set. When I see a sun rising it’s usually not a good thing.
What’s your secret to surviving long flights?
I can sleep anywhere, anytime, any place. I could go to sleep right now. In fact, I’m going to do that – good night. I can sleep with my eyes open.
Maroon 5 play Festival City on December 10. Tickets Dhs235-295, see www.livenation.ae