by: George Varga
With its first new studio album in three years having debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard national sales charts, Maroon 5 is poised to reclaim its position of prominence in pop music. Yet, while lead singer Adam Levine remains this Los Angeles band’s focal point, on stage and on record, he is doing all he can to avoid being in the media spotlight when not performing on the band’s current Palm Trees and Power Lines tour.
“That is absolutely deliberate,” said Levine, who only a few years ago was a mainstay in celebrity magazines and on such scandal-fueled websites as TMZ. “That was never a goal of mine. I’ve never been interested in being that kind of person. … I never wanted to be in all those stupid magazines.”
Asked how he is avoiding the media glare, Levine quipped — “Disguises and jet-packs!” — then grew more serious. “I just retreated a little, because I didn’t want to mess up our career,” he said. “So I scaled back and decided not to be in places I shouldn’t be. I never wanted to think about it or have it be part of my life, but I had to. Being famous is just a very unnatural thing.”
That may be why Maroon 5’s new album, the dozen-song “Hands All Over,” ignores fame to focus on love lost, won and imagined. Speaking from San Francisco, Levine predicted the band will include three or four songs from “Hands” when it performs on tour.
“Misery,” the album’s first single, is already a hit. Not coincidentally, virtually every other track on “Hands” also boasts hit-single potential. Credit for that goes to the band’s listener-friendly brand of blue-eyed soul and the slick, sleek, impeccably polished aural sheen provided by superstar producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (best known for his work with his estranged wife, Shania Twain, and with the bands Def Leppard and AC/DC).
“He’s a really fascinating guy and he definitely pushed us harder than we’ve ever been pushed,” Levine said of Lange, who recorded Maroon 5 at his lakeside studio in Switzerland. “He (was) amazing to work with.”
Make that amazing and challenging.
Lange, who has also collaborated with everyone from The Cars and Bryan Adams to such defunct English cult acts as XTC and the late Kevin Coyne is a notorious taskmaster. After working at length with Def Leppard on the band’s 10 million-selling 1982 breakthrough album, “Pyromania,” he and the group spent six years crafting its follow-up release, the 14 million-selling “Hysteria.”
When it came to working with Maroon 5, Lange didn’t require nearly as much time but was no less exacting in the studio.
“It wasn’t a completely different process from making our previous albums, but more a matter of him getting the most out of us by really pushing us,” Levine said. “He was unafraid to tell us if something wasn’t as good as it could have been. People we’ve worked with in the past tended to walk on egg shells with us, but he was serious about telling us exactly how he felt.”
Did this lead to any ruffled feelings for Maroon 5, whose other members include guitarist James Valentine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and former B-52s/Gavin DeGraw drummer Matt Flynn?
“No, none whatsoever,” Levine replied. “We embraced it. We thought it was a good thing, being criticized while we made the music. Not everything we do is amazing or effortless, and that’s where he came in. We’d work again with Mutt in a heartbeat.”
Levine spoke with enthusiasm about making the band’s new album in Switzerland, with Lake Geneva and the Alps providing an especially inspiring setting for making music. But don’t expect Maroon 5 to be relocating to Switzerland anytime soon.
“It’s too expensive!” Levine said. “You have to be the owner of Nestle or a Russian oligarch to afford to live there. But it was good for us to be out of our comfort zone when we made the album. And it helped the music.”
That music has made Maroon 5’s members wealthy, while also leading to barbs from critics that the band’s music is too safe, calculated and, as the Village Voice put it a few years ago, “clearly designed solely for 14-year-old girls.”
What is also clear, however, is that Maroon 5 is the rare group that not only doesn’t shy away from being called a pop act, but embraces that designation wholeheartedly.
“You’re right, pop music has never been a bad word to any of us,” Levine said. “We’ll continue to embrace it, continue to do it, unapologetically, and just continue on. There is a lot of ‘catchiness’ and ‘pop-iness’ in a lot of our songs, but we’ve worked really hard on every single one of them. We don’t overlook anything.”
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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