Grace, Slick

Glossy sophomore album continues Maroon 5's winning streak

Aug 27, 2008 at 2:06 pm

There are moments in a musician's life when reality becomes so unreal that they know they've finally made it. One might think trading solos with Prince during a late-night jam session at the legendary hitmaker's home might be one of these moments, but for Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and guitarist James Valentine, it's actually when, at the end of that late-night jam session, Prince wants you to stick around for pancakes.

"Believe it or not, they offered," Levine says, "but we were too tired."

This has become the strange and charmed life of Maroon 5: Sell millions of copies of your debut album, Songs About Jane; tour with the Rolling Stones; record your second studio album, It Won't Be Soon Before Long, in Rick Rubin's haunted house; turn down pancakes with Prince. Yep, Maroon 5 has made it.

Interestingly, though, that wasn't how things were supposed to work out. More than a decade ago, Levine and two other members of Maroon 5 (bassist Mickey Madden and keyboardist Jesse Carmichael), along with the band's former drummer Ryan Dusick — all of whom attended the prestigious Brentwood School in Los Angeles together — were better known as Kara's Flowers. The band eventually signed with Reprise Records, which would have been great, except nobody bought their records.

The members of Kara's Flowers unofficially disbanded after that and headed off to college, only to be brought back together when Levine discovered R&B and, in particular, Stevie Wonder. The unnaturally handsome frontman abandoned his grungy singing style in favor of a higher-pitched sound more akin to Wonder's.

Levine started writing about love and relationships and, after recruiting Valentine, re-formed Kara's Flowers as a bastardized child of a one-night-stand between funky R&B and their Rock roots — also know as Maroon 5.

Songs About Jane (2002) went on to sell, like, a bajillion records around the world (rumored to actually be a number somewhere in the vicinity of 10 million copies) and, consequently, the band hit the road for so many years that they a) didn't have time to record anything other than a live album and, b) named the follow-up It Won't Be Soon Before Long because it was, in some inexplicable way, the only way to describe the baptism by pyrotechnics they had endured for so long.

"Somebody said it," Levine says of the title, admitting nobody knows exactly who. "We think it might have been Jesse, but it was just one of these strange, nonsensical things that winds up making a lot of sense in some weird, abstract way. I guess it's the closest thing to what a Ringoism would have been — (like with) the Beatles when he said, 'It's been a hard day's night.' You kind of understand what he's saying, but you don't really at the same time."

"I think a lot of people can relate to that phrase, too, in a weird way because I think a lot of times in life, we're just waiting around for the next thing to happen and sort of forgetting about where you are right now," Valentine adds.

Five years passed between studio releases, with Acoustic (2004) and Live - Friday, the 13th (2005) the only way for fans to satisfy their Maroon 5 appetites in between the long drought outside of all that touring. For five years. That's half a decade. Levine or Valentine could have fathered a kid and sent him off to kindergarten during this period. Even when trying to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, that's a long time for a band that climbed so high so fast — hell, they won two Grammys in the interim.

"I think we've avoided Spin Doctors' territory," Levine says. "We have a lot more to prove. We've always been very hard on ourselves, in a productive way, in a positive way, to keep on and to establish a career. That's what we want. We want a career, we want to be around for a while. We want to not just be a flavor, flavor of the month or flavor of the year."

The sophomore album is a much-leaner one than Songs About Jane, so slick and polished that the AltRock shades that still permeated Jane didn't have anything to stick to and were consequently dropped in favor of a more evolved sound. It Won't Be Soon Before Long is five white guys generating some of the best Funk of the last 25-or-so years, utilizing modern technology to yank a nostalgic sound into the mainstream. Another way to put it — it's the culmination of 40 years of Rock, Pop, R&B, and Soul. Does this mean it's a masterpiece? Hardly. Does this mean Maroon 5 has definitively announced they won't be going anywhere for a long time, even if it takes them a half-decade to record another album? Absolutely.

"We made our first record in 2002," Levine explains. "We were in our early 20s, and then we went through a lot with touring and growing up a little bit. Our musical tastes (have) all kind of shifted a little bit. I think the most important thing with making records is that you reflect exactly where you are at that moment and then that becomes something that you refer back to when you play the songs live as the years go on."

MAROON 5 performs at Riverbend with the Counting Crows Saturday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.