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Maroon 5: Breathe Easy


Fighting over snowboards, sexing your girlfriend on TV, and watching The Office on the bus.

by C. Bottomley

Adam Levine has a way of playing out his affairs in public. The signs first appeared when the singer began writing songs for Maroon 5's debut. Inspired by a break-up with his girlfriend, his lyrics wallowed in anguish and frustration. Appropriately,
the group called their first album Songs About Jane.

No one knows what Jane thought of it all. But America fell in love with the disc's lead single "Harder to Breathe." The song was a vicious kiss-off to an old flame. It was also the sound of the one-time California indie rockers feeling the blue-eyed funk - and feeling it brilliantly. So while Levine snarled threats like "I have the tendency of getting very physical," fans were busy dancing.

With the band's new single "This Love," Levine again plays the exhibitionist, only he's doing it in the middle of a video. Half-naked on a bed, he cavorts provocatively with his girlfriend Kelly McGee. Others might reconsider making such a spectacle of their private life, but this is a man whose friends call him "Zen Master" - he's basically unconcerned with what you think.

Levine's a pro at keeping his cool. These are heady times for Maroon 5. Songs About Jane has sold nearly half-a-million copies and counting, and their fans range from Pharrell Williams to John Mayer, an old pal who's invited them out on tour this winter. Through it all, though, these high school buds haven't changed. They're still a gang who can joke with each other and get excited about how much they can get away with.

VH1 caught up with the singer, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, guitarist James Valentine, bassist Mickey Madden, and drummer Ryan Dusick to talk about life in the spotlight.

VH1: You watch the "This Love" video, and realize the lead singer has all the fun.

Jesse Carmichael: In the next video, the keyboard player gets to roll around with the girl.

Adam Levine: Well, I wrote the lyrics to the song, and the video has a lot to do with what the song means.

VH1: But was it really a good idea to cast your girlfriend in the video? After all, you've already written about your ex in Songs About Jane.

Ryan Dusick: I tried to express these things to Adam, and he didn't really care…

Mickey Madden: Adam is really not one to dwell on anything. He moves on instantly. [Laughs]

Jesse: I have a lot of respect for Adam's detachment from reality. He's a Zen master. [Laughs]

Adam: I have this weird thing where I don't really care about losing things. I'm really forgetful, but I've come to terms with it, so I could lose things and don't really give a sh*t. I don't own anything. I'm into clothes, and that's basically it. I'm a "You can't take it with you" kind of guy. If you gave me a million dollars right now, the first thing I would do is take all of my friends out to dinner.

VH1: Do you ever think you're in dangerous territory by involving these women so closely with your art?

Adam: I think that every good artist has always done that, although I hate to call myself an artist. We're just a band. That's what really drives all good artists - conflict, the battle of the sexes, all that good sh*t. I'm into making myself vulnerable.

VH1: Rolling around buck naked with your girlfriend in the video really puts you out there.

Adam: We're not going to do nude stuff unless we can fully go for it, and it can be racy and fun and sexual. If we used some person like a model or actress, it would probably be a lot more difficult for me to go out and go too far, because I have a girlfriend. But because I was with my girlfriend, we were comfortable. If you have the resources to do that, then do it.

VH1: It can't be easy to dry hump and sing at the same time.

Adam: It was funny, ‘cause it was very un-sexual. Every once in a while [the director Sophie Muller] wanted to sculpt us in whatever [position] she wanted. It was fun, because it was totally different. It wasn't like we got caught up in the moment and made everybody leave. It was totally straightforward.

VH1: You're off on tour with John Mayer. How did you become pals with him?

James Valentine: Right after high school I went out and signed up for a summer session at Berklee, which was essentially like guitar camp. I didn't know a soul when I got there, but met this jazz guitarist from Seattle, and then John. He was 17, and this sorta Stevie Ray Vaughan protégé. At the time he wasn't singing or writing songs. He was just interested in shredding, like the rest of us.

VH1: Sounds kind of geeky, like you're all there at the world's biggest cutting contest.

James: Me and John and Ryan, this guitarist from Seattle, instantly clicked and were obsessed with playing. When we weren't taking classes during the day, we'd go and jam, and we wrote all these songs for three guitars, that were really funny, like these weird instrumental fusion sort of pieces. I kept in touch with John over the next couple of years, and went to one of his early shows at the House of Blues, right as we were still in the studio, I think. I handed him the Maroon 5 songs. He dug it, and eventually we got out on the road with him. He talked about us a lot, and really raised our visibility… which was important for our band.

VH1: You have seen him go from nobody to star. Has he stayed down to earth?

James: Yeah, it's been really surreal to see that.

Mickey: I'm really grateful to be in a band, as opposed to being a solo artist, because you have four other people to keep you in check. The guys in John's band are such good dudes, but it's a weird thing being out on your own and totally in the spotlight by yourself. It takes a very particular type to keep sane in that environment. For us, we have serious bullshit detectors for each other, and it's really good, man.

VH1: When you guys go out on tour, what is the one thing you have to have with you?

Mickey: Because you're living in such close proximity to a lot of other people, anything that can sort of create an air of privacy. That's something that an iPod is created for, because you can shut out the noise - and also just having a lot of books for me, having a lot of reading material.

Jesse: We're also big into movies.

Mickey: The big ones for us were the Mr. Show DVDs, The Family Guy and The Office. TV shows on DVD are great for tours, ‘cause it is like a lot of bang for your buck.

James: I particularly like the Lord of the Rings DVDs.

VH1: What character from Lord of the Rings do you most identify with?

Adam: I wish I identified with Viggo Mortensen's character, but I don't, because I'm not that manly. Probably Frodo, because I would be strong-willed enough to do it, but I'd be a meek little bitch in doing it. I would need a lot of help. I may need like two or three other hobbits to help me, as opposed to just one!

VH1: Being in a band, can you relate to the situation like that in The Office?

Mickey: Those kind of people are everywhere in every echelon of life in one form or the other. There's obviously people to whom The Office probably rings much truer then it does for us, but it's so undeniably real, it's so frighteningly authentic, that it doesn't matter. You just can't not believe in it.

VH1: How do you know when you have been on tour too long?

Ryan: About three quarters into the tour - whether it's two weeks or eight weeks long - is usually the time when people start to lose their minds. You just can't take the thought of getting up the next day and doing all the same things as before.

VH1: What was the last thing the band had an argument about?

Ryan: There was an argument about James taking a snowboard that was left in Los Angeles, to New York for his ex-girlfriend. Somehow he and Adam managed to have an argument about that.

Adam: James dated this girl and they broke up, and then she asked him if he would take her snowboard across country. I thought it was inappropriate for her to ask him to schlep her snowboard all the way around the country, especially because she had her other ex-boyfriend drop the snowboard off at our hotel. It's manipulative, and I don't like that. I think once you break you break up.

VH1: Was there a moment last year when you thought, "Wow, we've really made it"?

Adam: If there ever was a day like that, it was probably the day when we played live on TRL this year. I didn't know doing TRL was going to be as intense an experience as it was. Then we played this party, and Pharrell Williams, who's such a huge hero of ours, introduced us. He was dancing and really dug what we were doing. That was so big. He's as big a hero to me as Stevie Wonder.

VH1: In your slow and steady rise to fame, what's the oddest TV program you've appeared on?

Jesse: Local morning shows are always bizarre.

James: There's always some guy interviewing you who's not a music guy necessarily …

Mickey: … but he thinks of himself as a rock ‘n' roll guy.

Jesse: Fred Willard would be the perfect choice to play those morning anchors.

James: He's like, "Hey, I'm a little hip. I wore my green suit today. So what's it like being a rock star, huh?" On one show, they were cutting back and forth between a cooking program and us playing!

VH1: When you guys finally got that first big royalty check for "Harder to Breathe," did you run out and buy some coveted gizmo?

James: The last one that I purchased was this headphone amp. It simulates all these guitar amplifiers through your headphones, so when I am in hotel rooms I can play [my guitar] at full volume. Then I can plug my iPod into it, and jam along to all the songs on my play list. It's called the Chord Pandora. It's completely geeky, but totally practical.

VH1: What's your ultimate dream scenario for the next album?

Adam: I would love to do a track with Pharrell, a track with Chad [Hugo], a track with whoever. I think the era of using the same producer for the whole record could be over. It makes bands sound a little too neat and tidy. I like there to be a bit of a mess sometimes, like, "I can't believe these two songs are together on the same record." I just can't wait to explore music more. I'm excited, I really am. Especially now, ‘cause we know how the business works: If you make a successful record then you're going to make another one. No matter what happens, from this point on, we're going to make another record.

 

Adam Levine of Maroon 5

Published: June 23, 2004 01:19 PM
Good things come to those who wait. Maroon 5's debut album, "Songs About Jane," was released way back in June of 2002. Its first single, "Harder To Breathe," began catching on at radio a year later.

And in April of this year, the band's follow-up single, "This Love," became the most-played song on U.S. radio.
In the last two years Maroon 5--vocalist/guitarist Adam Levine, guitarist James Valentine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick--has served opening stints for Sheryl Crow, Jason Mraz, and Counting Crows. The group is touring with singer/songwriter John Mayer.

Levine, Carmichael, Madden and Dusick originally formed in the mid-'90s as Kara's Flowers, and released "The Fourth World" on Reprise in 1997. They parted ways with Reprise a couple years later and added another guitarist, Valentine, into their lineup.

Minutes before a sound check, 25-year-old vocalist Levine spoke with liveDaily about the long road to success.

liveDaily: I saw you guys on Saturday Night Live and wrote your name down because I liked "This Love" so much.

Adam Levine: Thanks, man. That was an amazing experience, one of the best we've ever had.

Then I felt like an idiot when I found out the album's been out for two years.

[laughs] Right, the album came out in June of 2002. It's been quite a long road. This whole thing has been a whirlwind of emotions, really insane.

You guys were playing a lot of club gigs when the album came out. Was there any moment where it seemed like you finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel?

There wasn't really one moment in time that broke everything open. I just think our work ethic was really strong from the beginning of this, and we just thought, "Let's work our asses off and play 250 shows this year and make a name for ourselves by being a good live band." And that's what's happened, and we're really happy about it.

You've opened for lots of royalty, but who was the first big-name act that approached you and really took you under their wing?

To be honest, John Mayer was the first real avid supporter of the band that was a big name. He genuinely loved the music, and walked into our dressing room like a year and a half ago and said, "I love your record." I think he was the first person to really jump on board.

And now it's karma, you guys are back together.

Oh yeah, we're really stoked about playing with him again.

Did you start out playing guitar, or singing, or both?

I grew up playing guitar, and could always kind of carry a tune, so I assumed the position as a singer. It was natural. I took one vocal lesson and just ran with it. [The teacher] gave me some helpful tips, but I naturally kind of honed my skills over time.

Who were some of your early influences?

I was a huge Beatles fan. The Stones, Dylan. Later on, I got into Stevie Wonder, and Bill Withers--he's one of my heroes. Al Green, too.

What is it that drew you to Stevie Wonder?

I think there's a stigma attached to Stevie Wonder, as far as him being the guy that wrote "I Just Called To Say I Love You." Being a child of the '80s--or late '80s--that's all I had really thought of him. I didn't really know he had all these classic records, and when I started listening to song like "Sir Duke," "I Wish" and "I Believe," it really just changed my whole life as a singer, songwriter and musician.

Oh damn, I'm going to have to go. Sound check. Sorry, man. [laughs]

How are you enjoying this? Being dragged in 20 different directions?

It's a push and pull, but, in the end, these are good problems to have.


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