When Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael and Mickey Madden started jamming in their basements during the early ‘90s, I’m sure none of them realized just where they might wind up with their evolutionary pop sound. Musical growth came fast for Maroon 5, who actually started out as a grunge group called Kara’s Flowers. Influenced by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other bands of the period, Maroon 5 wasted no time in searching their creative brains for their final destination, ditching their grungy rock influences for a pop, dance and soul directive.
Between the time that Maroon 5 started making Songs About Jane in 2001 and the time the album reached the crest of its success in 2004, they went from being starving musicians to riding a wave of success beyond their wildest expectations. Successive releases only yielded bigger and better results, seeing the band attain Billboard success and multiple Grammy and MTV awards. By the time Hands All Over was released on September 21, 2010, the band had secured its place in world of pop culture and musical history. Maroon 5 keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Jesse Carmichael took a few minutes out of a rehearsal to answer some questions about band life, their process and the mystique surrounding Maroon 5.
Maroon 5 seems to have a cult-like following of major proportions. There are tons of fan blogs, message boards and fan-generated sites about the band. To me, it’s a type of following that might be better associated with the Grateful Dead or Phish… not a typical thing for a pop or soul group. What is the insider secret that keeps packing venues and selling records?
That’s a really great description. I can’t really answer that in a direct way, as it’s more complicated than just sorting out different intricacies of fans and the way they support us. I just focus on doing the best I can as a musician and person in the band and we just keep putting out music that we love. We feel really lucky and grateful that things have progressed this way with what we are doing and whatever the reasons people keep picking up on it, we’re completely happy that they’re with us.
I hate using terms that get thrown around by writers; terms like “Neo-Soul” are all over the Internet. What would best describe the sound and style of the band?
I don’t know. It’s just a mixture of everything that we love and absorb. I don’t even want to try and put a label on it, but I think that our band can be whatever anybody thinks we are. We have all grown through individual influences and there’s a little bit of something for each individual listener out there.
It’s interesting to note that you pay homage to the old school rock and roll king Mick Jagger on the band’s latest single, “Moves Like Jagger,” featuring Christina Aguilera. Did Adam and Christina get along during the recording? I mean, I’ve seen The View.
(Laughs) Yeah, I think they get along just fine. I mean, I don’t see wedding bells in the future but it’s all friendly and full of love.
What was Mick Jagger’s reaction to the single?
I heard that he really liked it and we are about to see a cut of the video very soon that should have some really cool, old Stones footage in it, which Mick allowed us to use and which we felt was a great honor.
What was the reasoning behind recording Hands All Over in Switzerland with Mutt Lange?
The idea is that we wanted to go big. This [is] our third record and Mutt is a legendary producer. We were big fans of his AC/DC and Def Leppard stuff and we just knew that he would push us in the right direction. It was also nice to get away from L.A. and get into some beautiful nature for a change because we had been touring big cities a lot before that recording. I just loved the overall vibe and atmosphere. It was a real growing experience for us as individuals and as a band.
It’s great to see that as busy as Maroon 5 is, the band still has time to help out with humanity-based causes. I’ve heard that through Twitter you are currently donating funds to aid the refugee crisis that’s going on in Kenya.
Yeah. Just check on our web site, there should be links on our pages and there’s a great App out right now called One that Adam was helping to promote. So people should go search that as a means to stay involved on their phone and also just check in with any of those awesome agencies like The Red Cross and UNICEF to get involved on a more personal level. We feel that if there’s any way we can give back, that’s where we want to be
Maroon 5 reminds me of O.A.R. in that, like them, you have been together since high school. That goes for at least three of you. How do you stay in a relationship like that for so long without strangling each other?
It’s just like any other long-term relationship. It’s like a marriage, except that in our case there’s no sex involved. (Laughs) But seriously, we just really respect each other and have learned over the years to accept each other for exactly who we are and keep each other in check. We let each other be or we step in and dialogue if it seems necessary and it’s just continued to be a very fluid partnership since the beginning.
I heard John Mayer was one of the first to take notice of the band’s potential—especially with the single, “This Love,” and put you on a high visibility tour. Do you think his early assistance was influential in putting the record into Billboard’s Top 20?
Absolutely! It was crucial and we are so grateful for the shows that he gave us. Those were the first big shows we ever played and it was just super exciting to be in front of 10,000 people. I remember the first show we played opening for John and it was what I could only describe as mind-blowing. It really opened our eyes as to what it was we were involved with.
Maroon 5 has won or been nominated for eight Grammys to date. Do the accolades and public scrutiny ever get in the way when you’re trying to concentrate on the real job of performance and writing?
I must say they probably do. The last year and a half now, James and I have been writing music on the side, like a daily exercise that we kept doing and we wrote a little piece of music everyday for a year and the purity of that experience made me realize that yeah, there is a lot of stuff tied up with the whole aspect of the band and the expectations from the public or the critics and it’s kind of a slippery slope. But I think that there’s no way to get around it. You just have to navigate it skillfully and while we want to be acceptable, we also want to be ourselves. So, I think it’s crucial to be able to strike that balance with those two areas of what we do.
I had asked a couple of fans to submit questions and here is what they came up with:
What were your favorite selections and/or collaborations off of Call And Response: The Remix Album?
Good Question! I really liked Deer Hoof and Of Montreal. And I really liked Swiss Beatz. John Bryan did one too, I’m not sure it even made it to the record but he did one for “Back At Your Door,” that was really cool to hear for me.
What was the inspiration or meaning for the song “Kiwi” off of It Won’t Be Soon Before Long?
Sorry, guys. That’s a secret inspiration that I’m not allowed to talk about (laughs).
Songs About Jane had a much grittier, almost Brit-pop feel. More so than the lush production of It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. Was this just a natural departure from the leftover days of Kara’s Flowers, or were there definitive, evolutionary influences involved for that recording?
I’m sure there was lots of hangover from Kara’s Flowers as we were transitioning into the first Maroon 5 record. I think on the second record we were searching a little bit more because of the fact that there was already this new brand and feel with the record, unlike the first one where we recorded it for ourselves. I think finally on the third record we started to get back into the feeling of just making music in a very pure, spontaneous way for ourselves and on this next record that we will be making, it’s gonna be even more of that. I’m very excited to see what happens next in the studio for us.
Everyone tells me that the only way I’m going to figure out what the band name means is by asking Billy Joel, and even then I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna get an answer. So, just for laughs, what’s the secret behind the name?
I gotta say, you shouldn’t give up on the idea that you could talk to Billy Joel about it. (Laughs) I mean anything can happen there, you know? That’s my answer to that.
Maroon 5 will be performing at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, with Train and Gavin DeGraw on Aug. 26. For more information, maroon5.com.