Catching Up With Maroon 5's Adam Levine
By Noah Michelson
Last year, Maroon 5 escaped to Switzerland with legendary producer Mutt Lange in tow to record their new album, Hands All Over. We caught up with the band's pretty boy frontman Adam Levine to chat about their particular brand of pop music, Lady Gaga, and buddy Jake Gyllenhaal's sexuality.
Out: Critics have likened the band's sound to everyone from Huey Lewis and the News to Journey. How would you describe Maroon 5's sound?
Adam Levine: We've been a band for so long. You know Maroon 5's sound has always been changing because I think we're not necessarily interested in fitting into a category. We love pop music. I grew up listening to rock 'n' roll music. My parents raised me on the Beatles and the Stones and folk music -- Simon and Garfunkel and Dylan and all this stuff. I was a teenager in the '90s so I got into the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams and the Soundgardens and all these bands and rebelled against pop music and hated it. Then when I was 19 or 20, I started getting into Stevie Wonder and Al Green and Bill Withers and all this other stuff so I treat music the way I treat everything in life, which is there's so much variety in music, it's silly to belong to a specific club and try to sound a certain way. Hence, our sound has changed because we just like everything. It's maybe a little poppier than when we started. It was more R&B in the beginning. I don't know what we are. Journey is funny, though. That's a weird one.
I read your first record was heavily influenced by Stevie Wonder and on the second one you invoked the Police and Prince. Who were you channeling for Hands All Over?
Sometimes you wear your influences on your sleeve and you think Man, I want to be Sting right now, or I want to be Prince, or you want to be something and so you emulate it to a point where you can totally tell what you're doing. And I've done that in the past, especially with Stevie Wonder on that first record, but it's kind of better to try -- it's almost like in the beginning you do that and then you figure out a way to meld what you do into something new and unique. First of all, we're a band, which is really weird that we played R&B-infused music in the beginning. There wasn't really anyone doing that. For this record, I had nothing on my mind that was specifically that. I didn't want to be anyone other than myself on this record, so that came through. I feel like this record -- I mean, I said this about the second record, but I was wrong -- I think that this album is free of any hyper-emulization. And also, I was in Switzerland, so geographically I was really isolated from everything, so I was letting it all go, and I just wanted to see what happened.
Earlier this year you said 'Maroon 5 is the most Mutt Lange-friendly band out there.' How did you end up working with him and were you looking for more Shania Twain-style Mutt Lange or more Def Leppard-style Mutt Lange?
Mutt Lange is one of those guys who's done everything. He's produced AC/DC records, Def Leppard records, Shania Twain records, wrote songs you never would have imagined he had ever written -- he did a lot of stuff with Bryan Adams -- and his thing is that, like us, he's neither here nor there. He doesn't really care what something is or where it comes from. He cares much more about the quality of the music he's making, and that's how we felt too. We've never been genre snobs or anything like that, so it's kind of the best possible idea for collaboration. Because when you think about his track record and our track record, it's kind of similar in that no one really knows where to place us or put us. And he was really good at helping us figure out who we actually were and going with that and not being inhibited by anything, especially being as far from reality as we were. We were in Geneva for four months in like lala land, so I'm surprised we didn't make a record that sounded like fucking Snow White. It was so idyllic.
Now that you're putting out a new album, does your wild success with the earlier albums make it easier, or are you intimidated by trying to achieve that level of success again?
I feel older for sure. It's kind of weird. The band released our first record when we were all 22. That's young. We started succeeding when we were 23, 24, and I'm 31 now. A) It's crazy that we've been around this long and B) I start to feel -- not insecure or self-conscious -- but definitely start to feel slightly more disconnected from that youth-based, kind of pop culture. I'm figuring out how to deal with it because I think we still make really poppy music. You know, once you turn 30 you start tripping about that kind of shit too. I see it as a positive because I'm like, 'Fuck everything. Fuck all you guys' -- not you guys -- but it's like I'm just going to do my own thing now. I'm cool, and I have ownership of who I am and what I do, so what everyone else thinks doesn't matter to me. And that's a cool way of making music too, because I feel totally unself-conscious about it. But it's weird, you're competing with these kids, 19-, 20-year-old kids, where you're like, 'You guys don't even know -- about anything. You're kids!' I don't even know where the music comes from. I was just talking to my manager outside -- I'm so disconnected. If you gave me the top 10 artists right now in the country, I'd be like, 'Who are you?' I'm so dissociated from it. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I see it as a good thing because then you have the potential to bring something new and unaffected by other things in pop culture. I think that's great. I think that's going to make us stand out and live forever in the universe.