Maroon 5 make their move

By Lydia Jenkin

Maroon 5's lead singer talks to Lydia Jenkin about being completely fine with his band's new big pop production phase.

Adam Levine (centre) with his Maroon 5 bandmates.  Photo / Supplied
Adam Levine (centre) with his Maroon 5 bandmates. Photo / Supplied

If there's one thing you can definitely say about 33-year-old Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, it's that he's a busy man.

He's been appearing as a guest vocalist with everyone from Slash to Alicia Keys, Kanye West and Gym Class Heroes, and working as a mentor and judge on TV talent show The Voice for three seasons. Plus now he's trying his hand at acting with upcoming roles in TV show American Horror Story and a movie titled Can A Song Save Your Life? with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley.

Levine is also a spokesperson for ADHD awareness, and seems to revel in his almost constant hyperactive state.

"I don't have the proper tools to be an adult, so I'm kind of stuck in a perpetual state of childishness."

But somehow he's channelled that energy into his work, and Maroon 5's new album Overexposed comes less than two years after their previous release.

Hands All Over was their slowest-selling album to date when released in 2010 to mixed reviews (though it went on to sell 1.1 million copies).

So when a new song, 2011 single Moves Like Jagger, proved to be a ridiculous smash hit, and their second No. 1 song in the US, they decided to get a new album out pronto.

"I think we were just in that mode of feeling as though we had this moment where the Jagger tune had gotten so big, and the show [The Voice] had brought us to a new level, and we thought we should capitalise on this moment. We were thinking 'we're really fortunate to be here so let's get a record out'."

Until Overexposed Maroon 5 have always insisted on writing and recording as a classic "band" would. Having formed the band (which was originally called Kara's Flowers) at the age of 16, and found worldwide fame with their debut album Songs For Jane in 2002, the guys seemed to have a winning formula.

But after such great success working with external co-writers on the disco-influenced Moves Like Jagger, it seemed like a path they should continue on.

So they got Swedish super-producer Max Martin (who's written hits for the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink, Adam Lambert ... the list continues) on board as executive producer with additional tracks by Benny Blanco (Katy Perry, Gym Class Heroes) and Ryan Tedder (Beyonce, One Republic).

The radio hit machine was in full swing, but the band weren't worried about losing the sound of Maroon 5 and alienating their fans.

"We have our own strengths as a band, our own identity and our own sound, so we're not gonna sound like anyone other than Maroon 5. We weren't gonna be swayed in any direction we didn't want to be swayed in."

Levine does admit it's their poppiest, most dance-oriented album yet, though he denies this pop hit focus came at any kind of creative cost.

"First and foremost we have to support the idea and the song, and if that's the case, then it's all about veering into what we think would be a good thing for radio. Now we're not making any concessions to that end, we're still doing what we think is creatively viable, we're not sacrificing anything, we're just adjusting our sound to make sure it'll have a huge opportunity on the radio.

"It's not a science, I was never any good at maths or science, but it's more about making things simple and understandable and large-sounding."

Large-sounding is a good description. Overexposed is less an album of guitar-based pop rock, and is instead an anthemic 13-track collection reliant on big pop production full of electronic layers, drum tracks and synths - though Levine's distinctive tenor is still at the forefront, delivering his relationship-focused lyrics.

But unlike Songs For Jane, which was an ode to a college crush, they're not all conventional love songs - Ladykiller is about a woman who leaves her man for another woman, and Tickets is full of barbed observations about a particular type of girl.

"There's this typical Los Angeles girl who walks through life with no responsibility, knocking down people to get to the top. There's just this awful type of girl. Not all girls are like that, but we've just been around so much of it that, even just in their company, you'll sometimes be thinking 'woah, I can't believe she said that', so we wrote a silly song about it."

Moves Like Jagger, which kickstarted this whole album, has been included as a bonus track, and acts as a nice tribute to Mick and the Rolling Stones - who, unsurprisingly, are Levine's favourite band.

"We met Mick before Moves Like Jagger came out, but I have not talked to him since. He seems to have embraced it though" Levine responds when asked if he's spoken to Mick about the song.

"I'm sure one day we'll have a laugh about it. To me he's an international icon of all things cool."

The Rolling Stones (who celebrate their 50th anniversary this year) went through their own phase of reinvigoration - on their 1978 studio album Some Girls they embraced dance and disco inspirations and it became one of their biggest selling albums in the US.

Perhaps Overexposed is Maroon 5 having a Some Girls type moment?

"That is exactly how I would like to look at it" Levine laughs. "That's perfect. It's good to have phases, because those were still great songs - Some Girls was one of their strongest albums. I love that this was that kind of phase for us.

"You amass a catalogue of really cool material - some songs are really emotional, and they're valid, and then there's the upbeat dance songs, and they all make this nice well-rounded show, so we're really happy about it."

Who: Adam Levine, lead singer for California five-piece Maroon 5
What: Fourth studio album Overexposed, out now

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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