According to the press, and summed up by Walter Tunis of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Maroon 5 was "one of the hottest new pop rock bands in the land." In February 2005 the music industry added its approval to the statement by presenting Maroon 5 with a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Ironically, although considered new on the music scene, the band actually had been performing together for ten years. In addition, their success in 2005 was built around an album, Songs about Jane, that was three years old. Since the album's 2002 release Maroon 5 toured almost nonstop, and thanks to word of mouth, their fan base slowly grew. As a result several singles, including "This Love" and "She Will Be Loved," began receiving constant airplay on radio and MTV, and finally settled comfortably at the top of the U.S. song charts.
Maroon 5 is composed of five members: lead singer Adam Levine (March 18, 1979); keyboardist Jesse Carmichael; bass player Mickey Madden; lead guitarist James Valentine (October 5, 1978); and drummer Ryan Dusick. Except for Valentine, who was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the band members all hail from Los Angeles, California. Dusick and Levine had known each other since they were kids and in high school they joined forces with Madden and Carmichael to form an alternative-rock band called Kara's Flowers.
"We were really young," Levine commented to Larry Katz of the Boston Herald. "We were into Green Day, Weezer, and Beatles-inspired weirdness." In 1995, the foursome played their first official gig at the famous Los Angeles club the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. Shortly afterward they signed a record deal with the Warner Brothers' label Reprise Records. Such early success left little time for academics. As Levine explained to Katz, "We went to this prep school called Brentwood, where I was doing really badly because I was spending my time writing music instead of doing homework.... I miraculously graduated because I could say, 'Sorry, I didn't do that paper because I was in the studio'."
Although they did not excel academically at Brentwood, the boys did become quite the school stars, picking up a loyal following in and around L.A. As Kara's Flowers they released their first and only album, called The Fourth World, in mid-1997. Levine, Carmichael, and Madden were seniors in high school, and Dusick, who is slightly older, was a sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles. They toured briefly and shot one video for MTV for the single "Soap Disco." The album, however, never really took off. In 1999 Reprise Records released them from their contract, and Kara's Flowers disbanded.
"I don't think we ever thought we would be this big. It's very humbling."
The foursome separated when Madden decided to attend UCLA with Dusick, and Levine and Carmichael headed to New York to attend Five Towns College, a small liberal arts school on Long Island. The experience was a major turning point for the transplanted Californians. As Levine explained to David Hiltbrand of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "We had never lived anywhere but L.A. It was a different world, a really cool experience." Living in the dorms introduced Levine and Carmichael to a variety of music styles, from hip-hop to gospel music to rhythm and blues—styles that would eventually influence their future sound. Levine was inspired by one artist in particular. "My singing style changed so much," he told Hiltbrand. "All I knew when I was younger was Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Listening to Stevie Wonder changed everything."
Less than two years into their college experience, Levine and Carmichael returned to L.A. with renewed energy. They called their friends Dusick and Madden and began playing as a band again. Carmichael, however, had switched from guitar to playing keyboards, so a fifth member, James Valentine (formerly of the band Square), was brought on board in 2001 to round out the group. With a fresh sound and a new band mate, the group decided to change their name first to Maroon, eventually settling on Maroon 5. The reason for the name remains a bit of a mystery: According to some, it was inspired by a fictional band called Yellow 5, which is featured on the Web-based comic Pokey the Penguin.
Levine and Valentine became Maroon 5's primary song-writers, and with new songs in hand the band began playing gigs in New York and Los Angeles. They were soon signed by a small New York label called Octone Records, which is part of J Records and BMG, one of the largest companies in the music industry. In 2002 the band entered the studio and recorded their first album as Maroon 5. Called Songs about Jane, the majority of the tracks were written by Levine, who had just gone through a difficult break up with his girlfriend.
Even before the album was released in June 2002, Maroon 5's record company booked the band on a constant touring schedule, which meant opening for a number of established performers, including Matchbox Twenty, Sheryl Crow (1963–), and John Mayer (1977–). At the same time, the album's first single, "Harder to Breathe," was slowly climbing up the charts thanks to a loyal fan base built by nonstop touring. (By mid-2003 Maroon 5 had performed more than two hundred live shows across the United States.) In October 2003, after sixteen months on the music charts, "Harder to Breathe" finally broke into the top twenty on Billboard's Hot 100. According to Levine, who spoke with Edna Gundersen of USA Today, the song caught on for three reasons: "It's a very radio-friendly track, the band does great live shows, and we're not bad-looking either."
Because Maroon 5 was on the road so often, critics had ample opportunity to review their shows. The responses were mixed. Some critics, like Jon Pareles of the New York Times , commented on the band's craftsmanship, comparing Levine's vocals to Michael Jackson's (1958–) and their guitar rhythms to the 1980s band The Police, whose lead singer was Sting (1951–). Others were less kind. For example, Darryl Morden of the Hollywood Reporter called the band's music bland and tame, and went on to write, "Maroon 5 may understand the blueprints to create the machinery, but the results are shrill, clunky and obvious."
Two things, however, remained constant in the majority of reviews. First, critics had a difficult time categorizing the band. Since Maroon 5 borrowed from so many different types of music, most writers used multi-hyphenated terms in their descriptions. For example, Larry Katz of the Boston Herald called them a "funk-soul-pop-rock" outfit. Members of the band were delighted that they did not fit neatly into one category. As Levine told Katz, "It's so much more fun to come in and have people not know what it is you're doing."
The other observation that ran through reviews was that lead singer Adam Levine, with his dark good looks, seemed to be the undisputed leader of the group. In many interviews he served as Maroon 5's spokesman, and it was Levine who ruled the spotlight during performances. According to Christopher Blagg of the Boston Herald, "Levine stalks the stage with a cocky strut, preening for the adoring coeds in the front row."
Impressed by the band's growing popularity, J Records launched an all-out promotional campaign for Songs about Jane. Maroon 5 went back out on the road, but this time they headlined their own tour. Two more singles were also released: the bouncy pop tune "This Love" and the softer ballad "She Will Be Loved." Videos were shot for the two songs, and both became staples on MTV throughout 2003 and 2004.
By the end of 2004, although they loved performing live, the members of Maroon 5 were starting to become weary.
On February 6, 2004, Maroon 5 celebrated their ten-year anniversary; that same day Songs about Jane went platinum, meaning at least one million copies were sold in the United States. A year later, in 2005, the CD reached triple-platinum sales, and it was still climbing the charts even though it had debuted more than three years earlier. In February 2005, however, the quintet received their biggest payoff when they were nominated for two Grammy Awards: Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "She Will Be Loved" and Best New Artist. Grammy Awards are given annually to honor the top recording artists in over 105 music categories.
Producer and rapper Kanye West (1977–; see entry) was the favorite to win the Best New Artist award, but in a surprising twist the prize went to Maroon 5. "It was genuinely shocking," Levine told Larry Katz. "I really didn't think it was going to happen." John Soeder of the Plain Dealer called the award "the cherry on a sweet victory sundae nearly three years in the making."
Winning a Grammy may have been sweet victory, but members of Maroon 5 were not ready to rest yet. In mid-2005 Levine and Valentine were hard at work putting the finishing touches on songs for their sophomore album, slated to be released in 2006. And, of course, they were still touring, this time opening for the Rolling Stones on their 2005 North American tour. The band continued playing favorites from Songs about Jane, but they were also trying out new material for fans—material with a harder, more gritty sound.
In interviews the band mates did not seem worried about turning off fans who were used to their more soft-rock sound. "We started off with a clean slate," Levine explained to Larry Katz, "and we can only dirty it up on the next record. We're ready to do that. We're ready to change things a bit so people won't have the same perceptions of us. It will definitely be different, I can tell you that." In addition, after ten years of playing together the band seemed unconcerned about reviewers who, according to Katz, dismissed them as a "lightweight band of L.A. pretty boys." "We ARE lightweight L.A. pretty boys," Levine laughingly responded, "We're skinny dudes, we're attractive, we make pop music. It's a no-brainer. We're the easiest targets imaginable."
Blagg, Christopher. "Maroon 5 Looking a Little Green." Boston Herald (April 4, 2005): p. 040.
Gunderson, Edna. "Slow-building Single Keeps Maroon 5's Star Rising." USA Today (October 13, 2003): p. 01D.
Hiltbrand, David. "Marooned on the Road: Singer-Strummer Talks About Life with Eclectic Band." Philadelphia Inquirer (October 30, 2003).
Katz, Larry. "Maroon Shot: Best New Band Heads for New Arena." Boston Herald (April 1, 2005).
Katz, Larry. "Stranded Maroon 5 Finally Breaks Through the 'Harder' Way." Boston Herald (October 29, 2003): p. 052.
Laban, Linda. "Maroon 5 Singer Wants to Go Out on Top." Boston Herald (August 19, 2004): p. 061.
Macdonald, Patrick. "These Are Red-Letter Days for Colorful Maroon 5." Seattle Times (April 29, 2005): p. 14.
Morden, Darryl. "Maroon 5: Concert Review." Hollywood Reporter (September 30, 2003): p. 20.
Pareles, Jon. "Macho Rock on the Surface, with Wimpiness Underneath." New York Times (April 8, 2005): p. E4L.
Soeder, John. "Maroon 5 Singer Levine Says Group Plans 'Amazing' Album." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) (April 15, 2005): p. 6.
Tunis, Walter. "Maroon 5 Band Mates Break Through on Second Shot at Fame." Lexington Herald-Leader (October 23, 2003).
Maroon 5 Web Site. http://www.maroon5.com/main_site/main.html (accessed on July 27, 2005).