Hands All Over
Little did he know it then, but a performance of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” at a kids’ birthday party in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley in 1989 would become a foreshadowing event in Maroon 5 singer-guitarist-lyricist Adam Levine’s life. Levine, 10 years old, was attending a friend’s birthday fete at one of those places where the kids dress up in rock’n’roll gear and lip sync their favorite songs for an adoring crowd of pint-sized buddies. Levine — resplendent in a hair-band wig, oversized sunglasses, and a leather jacket — chose the Def Leppard classic because he idolized singer Joe Elliott.
“I knew I could sing because my music teacher told me I had a voice, but I had never really performed before,” Levine says. “I grabbed the mic and just went for it and that’s what got the whole ball rolling. I saw all my little girlfriends out there screaming and I was like, ‘Let me get this straight. I get up here and sing and jump around and all the girls go crazy and want to talk to me afterward? And I get to sing my favorite song? I’ve got to do this for the rest of my life.’”
The riff-tacular “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was, of course, famously produced by veteran studio wizard Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC, Foreigner, The Cars), who, 20 years later, would call Maroon 5 to express interest in producing the Los Angeles-based quintet’s third album, Hands All Over, which will be released by A&M/Octone Records this summer. “If that’s not a full 360, I don’t know what is,” Levine says. “It doesn’t get more circular than that.”
After winding down from a world tour in support of Maroon 5’s double-platinum 2007 album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, Levine began writing the songs that appear on Hands All Over — a killer hybrid of rock, pop, funk, and R&B, that showcases the band’s considerable strengths: buoyant, unforgettable melodies, sleek, stylish grooves, charged lyrics about turbulent relationships, and crisp, dynamic performances, all anchored by Levine’s sexy, soulful voice. A few months later, the famously private Lange invited the members of Maroon 5 — Levine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden, guitarist James Valentine, and drummer Matt Flynn — to come to his studio in Switzerland to record. “We didn’t even talk to any other producers,” Levine says. “It was like, ‘What, we’re going to make a bad record with this guy? It’s not possible.’ Mutt is undeniably one of the most successful producers who’s ever lived. Plus we thought, ‘What have we got to lose? It’s not like we’re going to prison, we’re going to Switzerland!’”
In July 2009, the members of Maroon 5 decamped to Vevey, a town on the north shore of Lake Geneva where they worked distraction-free with the Swiss Alps looming in the distance. “Just being near those majestic mountains and lakes was so inspiring,” says Jesse Carmichael. “Waking up and seeing these giant snow-capped peaks, it set the tone for the record and made the whole thing feel like some sort of magical summer camp experience.”
Sure, if summer camp means spending hour upon hour in the presence of a relentless perfectionist producer who insisted that everyone give 110 percent at all times. Often that meant tearing down entire songs and starting from scratch, something Levine had never experienced before. “The greatest thing about working with Mutt was that, as successful as our band has been thus far, Mutt has been more successful,” Levine says with a laugh. “So Maroon 5 having sold 15 million records is a monumental achievement, but not in his eyes. When we first met with him, he was like, ‘You guys have been off to a great start.’ And I was like, ‘Great start? We’ve been together for 17 years! We’ve had Number One hits, man. I thought we were doing really well.’ And we are doing very well, but comparatively speaking, the guy’s sold…I think if ‘gazillion’ were a number, it would be how many records he’s sold.”
Unmoved by their protestations, Lange drove Maroon 5 to be better than ever, enacting what was essentially a songwriting and performance boot camp that meant playing a part over and over until he was satisfied. “I was down for it,” says James Valentine. “Doing something repeatedly, you discover totally new things in the songs. Some of the coolest stuff on the album came out of that process.” Adds Carmichael: “Mutt really helped us play to the best of our ability. We got into this subtle mindset where we thought, ‘Okay, he’s worked on so many big records, so since he’s working on this one, this could be a big record, we better play like it’s a big record.’ And it brought out the best in us.”
“Big” is a good way to describe Hands All Over, starting with the slinky, hard-rocking title track that is heavier than anything Maroon 5 has ever done. “That’s the wildcard right there,” Levine says. Adds Valentine: “It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done so far.” Another stylistic departure is “Out of Goodbyes,” a stunning country ballad that features musical and vocal contributions from Nashville chart-toppers Lady Antebellum. “We’ve always loved country music,” Levine says, “and they brought that necessary twang to it with the lap steels, ambient guitar, and Hillary Scott’s pretty country voice.” Other highlights include the deeply groovy, Motown-esque “Don’t Know Much About That,” the propulsive “Stutter” (“a great showcase for Adam’s voice,” Valentine says), and the first single “Misery,” which will thrill long-time Maroon 5 fans with its funky guitars and high-stepping melody. “’Misery’ is a great way to introduce people to this record, because it definitely sounds like us, and no one else,” Carmichael says. “And it’s different enough from our previous stuff that people will hear it as a step forward, but also immediately recognize it as our band.”
Maroon 5 first hit it big in 2002 with their debut album Songs About Jane, which went quadruple platinum and spawned four hit singles: the blockbuster Top 40 No. 1 “This Love,” the Top 5 “She Will Be Loved,” as well as “Harder to Breathe” and “Sunday Morning.” Its success cemented their status as a world-class rock band and led to a 2005 Grammy Award win for “Best New Artist.” They followed up Songs About Jane with Acoustic (2004), a collection of unplugged songs, and Live — Friday the 13th (2005), which earned them a second Grammy for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal” for the 2006 live recording of “This Love.” In May 2007, Maroon 5 released It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, selling nearly half a million copies its first week of release. The Grammy-nominated album featured several hits, including “If I Never See Your Face Again” and “Makes Me Wonder,” which earned Maroon 5 their third Grammy, once again for “Best Pop Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocals.” In 2009, they released Call & Response: The Remix Album, an 18-track “mixtape” that featured Pharrell Williams, Mark Ronson, Swizz Beatz, Paul Oakenfold, and many others, putting a new twist on the band’s biggest hits. Maroon 5 also collaborated with Rihanna on a Grammy-nominated new version of “If I Never See Your Face Again,” which appeared on the re-release of the Barbados-born pop star’s 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad.
Along the way, Maroon 5 toured the world, including a sold-out headlining tour of the U.S., during which they partnered with environmental action organization Reverb to reduce their carbon footprint. Known for their commitment to the environment, Maroon 5 also became members of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council and performed at Al Gore’s Inaugural Green Ball. They were honored at the 2006 Environmental Media Awards and have pledged both time and energy toward Global Cool, an initiative launched to fight global warming by motivating a billion people worldwide to reduce their personal energy use.
Big albums mean big tours and it won’t be any different in 2010 when Maroon 5 release Hands All Over, which is as accessible and broadly appealing as anything the band has ever done, including their breakthrough smash Songs About Jane. “Every record should be like our first, that’s the way we think about it,” Levine says. “We feel like we have something to prove, the way we did when our first record came out. We don’t ever want to rest on our laurels or get too cozy. We always want to keep aspiring to do our best — and this album captures that.”