Adam Levine has an uneasy feeling about the world. That slight angst is audible throughout Maroon 5’s sophomore album “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.”
“I don’t know politics, so I’m not going to claim to know what the hell I’m talking about. I’m just concerned like everybody else is,” says the band’s charismatic front man, sitting in a Los Angeles restaurant across from CBS Television City, where the group will appear on “American Idol” later in the day.
“There’s just the general feeling that I tend to have sometimes, especially recently, of discomfort. The truth is not everything is okay all the time, so I like to draw a lot of inspiration from when I’m not feeling perfect or completely happy.”
He stays serious a beat longer before he tosses his most charming smile and adds that while he draws often veiled lyrical inspiration from the body politic, most of his lyrics are simply about the body.
“I’ve not very shy and never have been. I never treated sex as a taboo thing. I was brought up to be, I guess, relatively gentlemanly about it.” And there’s that slight smile again: “Not too gentlemanly, it’s boring to be gentlemanly.”
So, yes, as the first single “Makes Me Wonder” demonstrates, there is often a salacious element to Maroon 5’s lyrics. Up until the last minute, Fox censors weren’t sure kids watching Idol should be exposed to that kind of language, but they relented before show time. Such thinking drives Levine crazy.
“You go overseas, France and England, there’s a more open attitude there about everything, especially sex. Yet in every hotel in America, there’s the filthiest porn in your life, but a Bible next to your bed so you can apologize afterward. It doesn’t connect.”
The same can be said of Maroon 5’s songs: bitter, heartbroken lyrics are often cloaked in the sweetest and bounciest of melodies.
But make no mistake; these boys are here to entertain. And they are unapologetic about that fact.
“We set out to make a slick record, we embraced that,” says guitarist James Valentine. “A lot of critics use slick as a pejorative term, but that was the sound we wanted to get: the Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson records.”
“Off the Wall”-era Jackson and “Controversy”-era Prince leave fingerprints all over “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.” (The title comes from an unintentionally nonsensical phrase said by one of the band members on the road). While many of the tracks are downright funky in their propulsive dance beats, there are plenty of mid-tempo tunes and soft ballads.
Maroon 5 excels in blending rock instrumentation with technology, says producer Mike Elizondo: “You have the essence of the live energy of what they do, but (they pair) it with the contemporary elements of R&B.”
Those R&B elements were what drew the band to Elizondo, who has worked with artists ranging from Dr. Dre and Eminem to Fiona Apple, instead of returning to “Songs about Jane” producer Matt Wallace. That 2002 album took two years to break, but it eventually catapulted the band into superstardom, selling more than 4 million copies in the United States alone. It sold another six million worldwide bolstered by such hits as the palpitating “Harder to Breathe,” the catchy “This Love” and sensitive ballad “She Will Be Loved.”
If there were any question that Maroon 5’s fans were eagerly awaiting their return after such a long absence, it was quickly answered when “Makes Me Wonder” jumped 63 spaces to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, setting a record for the biggest leap. That supersonic rocket to the top eased nerves the band, which also includes keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Matt Flynn, didn’t even know needed soothing.
“When we started to get that feedback that the single was doing well, there was a sense of relief. I was like, ’Oh, maybe I was feeling the pressure deep down inside,’ Valentine says.
“It definitely takes this huge edge off,” agrees Levine.
But the recording process didn’t come easily. The band holed up in Harry Houdini’s mansion in Los Angeles to write the album, a residence that Valentine swears was haunted after he mistook a ghost for his then-girlfriend one night.
“If there were spirits there, they were benevolent and we came out with some good songs, so they must have helped us out,” he reasons.
Then after spending eight months with Elizondo and Spike Stent in two Los Angeles studios, the band worked with producers Mark Endert and Eric Valentine over an additional five months.
“We had to hedge our bets,” admits Levine, given the high stakes.
In person, Levine is refreshingly candid and often hilariously profane, but his salty language can’t hide his decent core. At the end of the interview, he apologizes for slightly poking fun at “Idol” contestant Blake Lewis, whom the band has known for years, during the interview; as if the notion he may have said something demeaning has been weighing on him the whole time. Or maybe he’s just afraid that his innocent comment will be taken the wrong way.
Regardless, he and Valentine say they gave up worrying what other people think a long time ago, whether it is about the band’s music or about Levine’s alleged trysts with everyone from Jessica Simpson to Kirsten Dunst to Lindsay Lohan. Levine jokes that he only has to shake hands with an attractive woman for tabloids to assume they are getting horizontal. He finds the whole thing quite amusing and slightly flattering.
“The one thing I take issue with is sometimes they call me a floozy,” he says. “They think I’m an idiot, that I’m just whoring myself out for whatever reasons, and that’s hurtful. But what are you going to do? You put yourself out there; I can’t let it control me.”