Maroon 5

Adam Levine and James Valentine introduce the new JBL EON 615

Few bands in recent years have experienced the massive success of maroon 5. From their initial splash with songs about jane in 2002 to the worldwide top 10 success of overexposed and a building buzz over their upcoming fifth, as yet untitled, album, they have continued to blend rock and r&b to make pop music as provocative as it is compelling.

From their earliest incarnation as Kara’s Flowers, a Britpop-influenced four-piece signed to Reprise Records in 1994 when they were just out of high school, to the present day, Maroon 5 has always been predominantly a self-contained unit, writing and playing their own music rather than relying on outside songwriters and session players. This fact is something they have always been quick to point out. “I’ve been writing songs since I was 11 or 12,” says singer Adam Levine. “I can remember the first ones I wrote, too. They’re really bad.”

Two of the key components of their success have been singer/guitarist Levine and guitarist James Valentine. A perfect example of “Hollywood meets the Heartland,” the camaraderie between the two is evident from the moment they walk in the room.

Even though Valentine, from Nebraska, didn’t join the band until 2001, he and L.A.-native Levine share many of the same experiences and musical sensibilities. When Valentine says, “I was forced to take piano lessons when I was 8, and I hated it,” Levine is quick to chime in, “So was I.” Valentine continues, “But then, when I was 13, they finally gave in and got me a guitar—and then, I was obsessed.” Levine echoes the same story. “It was kinda the same for me. My parents made me take piano lessons. I hated it. I regret not keeping it up, because now it’s the one thing I kinda can’t play. But I picked up a guitar when I was 10, and that was it. I [thought], ‘This is the coolest thing ever,’ and then I stopped doing everything else, like homework and being a normal person. I just played guitar all day and all night —for the rest of my life. I still do.”

For Valentine, the timing of that first guitar couldn’t have been any better. “The same week that I got my first guitar, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came out,” he says, “Nirvana, Pearl Jam—all those bands had a huge impact.” Levine nods agreement and adds. “We were children of that era. I was 9 or 10, getting way into music and guitar, and I remember being into Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses and all those cool bands. Then Kurt Cobain just buried all that [stuff], and it all happened when we were young and impressionable. It was kinda the last time there was this awesome musical shift, really. I don’t think that since then there’s been anything as profound, especially for a young musician. It was an exciting time.”

Many other young musicians who experienced that sea change in music jumped on the grunge bandwagon, but the musicians that were to become Maroon 5 took away a different lesson. “I started thinking, ‘What really comes naturally to me as a singer and as a writer?’” says Levine, “and I started listening to the records I grew up with—Michael Jackson, Prince—stuff that I kinda blew off in the early ’90s. I came back to listening to those old pop records that we all love, that were kind of painfully uncool during that time, and I got way into pop music. I wanted to be a pop version of the R&B records that we loved, which was kind of weird and nobody thought was very cool at the time.”

Valentine on the other hand, had jumped into the world of jazz and fusion. “I got into jazz pretty soon after I picked up the guitar because it just goes so deep. It’s such a rich language, I really got into trying to figure out how to [understand] that. That helped me get into this band, because these guys were getting into that around the same time and they could hear that I had some of that under my fingers.”

Pulling those varied musical influences together has made for an interesting ride. “We’ve had a strange trajectory as a band,” says Levine. “We grew up in a very different music climate, and I think what we all realized was, trying to chase some weird dragon of being a band like that just wasn’t in our DNA. We’ve gone way over to the pop side, and I love just trying to push ourselves to make songs that are hugely successful and big and popular so we can have more fun at our concerts and connect with an audience on that kind of international scale that we’ve somehow managed to propel ourselves to. Pushing ourselves to make songs that connect with people even more and do better every time. That’s what inspires me.”

Having fun at their concerts, and making those concerts fun for their fans has been a driving force for Maroon 5, and their sold-out tours and ever-increasing audience indicate that people are having fun. A big part of that is their concern with the quality of their live sound, which is why they use JBL’s Vertec Line Arrays for their touring system. “We work so hard in the studio,” says Valentine, “perfecting every little sonic detail, we want to make sure that comes through live. I’ve been to shows where I’ve been disappointed with the sound, and it’s a bummer. You want to give the fans the total experience, so having great sound is the most important thing.” Levine nods, adding, “JBL’s really serious about the sound—that’s their primary focus. At the end of the day, they don’t want anything that they make to sound like crap. JBL tries their best to make it sound great, which is very important to us.”

Great sound helps make the show exciting for the audience, and for the band, as well, helping them keep in touch with the feeling of connection and inspiration that goes hand-in-hand with making music. Valentine smiles, “No matter how bad I’m feeling throughout the day, as soon as the lights go down and we hear the crowd go up for the first time—I wish I could bottle that, because it’s the best feeling in the world.”

“It’s the journey we’ve been on with our audiences,” says Levine, “because our audiences were big, then they weren’t as big, and now they’re so big—they’ve grown with us. The feverish pitch of the shows has gotten more intense. Now when they scream, they scream louder than they did 10 years ago, and it’s just such a rewarding, exciting, exhilarating feeling for us. We’re lucky, because we’ve got a lot of new fans, so it’s really crazy energy now, a really frantic energy when we play and it’s very infectious. And I think our shows have gotten better as
a result.”

With a new album in the works and a tour scheduled, Maroon 5 is excited about the current state of music. “You know what’s cool?” asks Levine. “I think music is more prevalent in the culture now than it’s ever been. More people like more stuff. People’s musical taste is more eclectic. There are fewer scenes. I hated scenes where everybody was like, ‘Oh, I only like this …’ Now everybody likes everything. That’s another reason why our band has thrived, I think, because we’ve never cared about fitting into any scene, and that’s what the modern day music appreciator likes.”

Written by George Van Wagner / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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