“That sounds huge!” yells Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, rocking a Peter Tosh Legalize It T-shirt. The band is recording its fourth LP, Overexposed (due June 26th), at L.A.’s Conway Studios, and “Doin’ Dirt” – a revved, funky club cut – is blasting from the massive monitors. “It’s very much an old-fashioned disco tune,” Levine says when it ends. “I have a love/hate relationship with it – but mostly I love it.” Adds bassist Mickey Madden, “That’s usually a good sign.”
The love/hate vibe is all over Levine’s recent successes, from NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice to Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” – the shamelessly poppy Number One single with fellow Voice judge Christina Aguilera that became the band’s hugest smash ever. “‘Jagger’ was almost a mistake,” says Levine. “I was scared to release it – but also turned on by that fear. It was the fresh injection we needed. We’ve been together a long time – it’s like a marriage, where we needed to get kinky in the bedroom.” “It actually has spiced up our marriage,” adds guitarist James Valentine. “I love you guys more now!”
Levine’s gig as a judge on The Voice has boosted the band’s profile, but it took a while for the rest of Maroon 5 to get used to Levine’s TV career. “At first, I was hesitant to watch The Voice,” says Valentine. “I didn’t watch the first season at all. I don’t need to turn on the TV to hear Adam’s opinions – that’s not entertainment for me. But when I finally caught it, I got hooked like everyone else. Now, I find myself yelling at the TV, ‘Turn your chair around, Adam! If you don’t, that guy’s kids won’t have health insurance!'”
“Jagger,” co-written by hitmakers Benny Blanco and Shellback, was Maroon 5’s first experience with outside writers. When they returned to the studio last fall, they brought back Blanco and Shellback and hired dance-pop king Max Martin, the man behind hits by Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry, as Overexposed‘s executive producer. “Sometimes a co-writer will write something that’s almost better than what you would do, and it’s like, ‘Shit!'” says Levine. Adds Valentine, “Up to now, we’ve been insulated from the pop-industrial complex. We’ve been like, ‘Fuck you, we’re a band.’ But now, stepping into this new world of songwriters and producers, it feels fun.”
The result is Maroon 5’s most dance-driven album ever, with standout tracks including the pounding house cut “Payphone,” featuring an irresistible Wiz Khalifa verse, and the sexy reggae jam “One More Night.” At Conway Studios, Levine grooves as the track winds down. “In a way, we’ve had a rebirth,” he says. “It’s been 10 years since we started the band, when nobody knew what the hell to do with five white guys trying to sing soul music.
“Now, we thought we should see where this goes – why not? We can’t keep doing the same thing forever. At this point, we want to be a little bit scared.”
This story is from the April 26th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.