Following their lethal music video for “Misery” and visual private party “Give A Little More,” Maroon 5 released their third album Hands All Over this week. And this time around the Los Angeles pop-rockers not only found them collaborating with country hitmakers Lady Antebellum, they also jetted off to Switzerland to make musical magic with legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. “He was tough on me, which was great because no one’s ever really been tough on me as far as cutting down ideas and saying, I don’t like this and I don’t like that,” M5 frontman Adam Levine tells us. “He was just a really sweet taskmaster.”
Head below, where Adam explains why people have got it all wrong about Maroon 5, and how they needed to reestablish themselves with this record.
IDOLATOR: What was the recording experience like with “Mutt” Lange?
ADAM LEVINE: He was a really good person to work with because he wasn’t one of these guys who was lining up to produce one of our records because they thought maybe they could make a book or it’d be a good thing to be attached to. “Mutt” doesn’t have an agenda. He has millions of dollars and lives in a fantasy land in Switzerland. He’s not exactly the kind of guy who really gives a shit about what you can do for him. He’s done it all already, so you know his intentions are pure. He was tough on me, which was great because no one’s ever really been tough on me as far as cutting down ideas and saying, I don’t like this and I don’t like that. He was just a really sweet taskmaster.
Was it intimidating to go into the sessions with such an iconic producer?
AL: No. I don’t really get intimated. There are people I’ve worked with before where I’ve been like, Wow, this person’s amazing. But I don’t know—being intimidated almost seems like a waste of time. But it was really exciting. And there were some really dumb, premature early cock fights that ended quickly. It was like, Aargh, I do things this way! And he was like, I do things my way! We were like, I hate you, and then like, Oh, I love you.
Bromantic! How did reaching compromises with him make you a better band?
AL: “Mutt,” he’s a songwriter. The dude writes hit after hit after hit. But I said to him, “Listen, man—in order for this to really be Maroon 5, it has to be written by us.” And he was respectful of that. He could easily help us [with the writing]. There’s no doubt. And it took a lot to be able to admit that he probably could help us a lot, but that we probably shouldn’t take the help because we really needed to do this on our own. He really did respect it. That’s why he pushed me even harder, because he had one of his creative hands tied behind his back, basically. So in a weird way, I’m glad he was taking it out on me and forcing me to come up with it.
There’s a new track on Hands All Over called “Don’t Know Much” that sounds like it was ripped right out of the Motown songbook.
AL: There was a certain period of time when all the best songs were coming out of Motown. All the best singers, all the best musicians—[James] Jamerson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey. That was pretty much everybody I worshiped. Always. Especially Stevie, who I have a special love for. [Referencing Motown] was more kind of a model for good songwriting. I think that was the goal, too—”Mutt” was really interested in, okay, it doesn’t really matter what style it is. Because we used to be hellbent on creating a style, a cohesiveness. But [with Hands All Over] the cohesiveness kind of came with the writing. It didn’t come with the stylistic choices we made. Whatever it may be, we felt that the thread that was going to tie everything together was going to be the songwriting.
Now that the album is finally out, how do you feel about this new attention to songwriting within the band?
AL: When you think about it, that’s kind of the best way to be. Because then we have 12 great songs instead of 12 really stylish, pretty good songs that all fit together perfectly. There are definitely songs on this record that don’t fit together. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, and that’s kind of what we are. As much as our music is popular—like pop music—it doesn’t really sound like any other band.
In your mind, are there misconceptions about Maroon 5 because you do pop music?
AL: I think that was a source of confusion for some people and still kind of is in a weird way. People don’t quite understand that everything that’s written and performed and put together pretty much comes from us. I just think people would be surprised to know that we’re a self-contained unit. We’re a band that does their own thing. There’s no puppet master.
“Misery” definitely sounds “very Maroon 5.” But then, as you say, the album hops around a bit in styles. Did you kind of view “Misery” as the bridge from, let’s say, the old Maroon 5 to the new Maroon 5?
AL: It’s funny—”Misery,” we’re not putting a flag anywhere with that song. But it’s a good song, and it’s very representative of who we are. I do feel like on the last record we kind of missed out on putting our stamp down and saying, “This is us! Remember?” Reestablishing ourselves again gives us the freedom to veer off in any direction we want to. And that’s very important, I think.