Decadence for Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine comes in the form of spaghetti Bolognese from the legendary Los Angeles hotel Chateau Marmont. After touring for a grueling three and a half years behind their smash debut album, Songs About Jane, M5 returned to Los Angeles for a well-deserved rest. “I didn’t have a home,” Levine, 28, says. “So I was living in this hotel and eating Bolognese every five minutes. I wish the happiest man in the world!’ But that got old, and the band began the long process of recording its follow-up, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. Inspired by Quincy Jones’ production on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall as well as by Talking Heads and Prince, the new disc is keyed for the clubs. Per usual, Levine’s lyrics address male-female dynamics, but the first single, “Makes Me Wonder,” also slyly alludes to his dissatisfaction with the president. “This is not nearly as literal as the first record,” he says, calling in a little tipsy after a big meal in Milan. “But whether I’m talking about the state of the world or a family situation or my own romantic situation, I can always equate it to a relationship between two people.”
Speaking of Italian restaurants, I heard that Billy Joel is the only person outside of the band who knows what “Maroon 5” means.
I’m a huge Billy Joel fan. I was having dinner at Nobu, in New York, and I ran into Jay-Z, who I’d just met, and he introduced me to Billy. I had to jusk him, “What do you say in the sax solo in “Still Rock and Roll?” because I thought he said, “All right, Rico!’ He was astonished. He took a second and said [deadpan], “All right, Rico.” Later, he came over and asked, “Where’d you get the name?” It’s the stupidest, shittiest story you’ve ever heard, but I had to tell him.
How can you tell if a song is going to be big?
I have a very young brother and sister, and if you can get a kid singing the words to a song after they heard it for the first time, it’s a hit. They really liked “Little of Your Time” and “Wake Up Call” [from the new album]. Kids have no censor. They’ll say, “This is shitty!” Well, hopefully they’re not foul-mouthed little bastards.
I hear you have a car fetish. What’s your pride and joy?
I never really drive any of my cars, partially because, in this era of ecological insanity, I’m torn. But I can never get rid of my ’71 Mercedes 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet. It’s pale blue with a navy-blue ragtop, and I could just rub it with a diaper for the rest of my life. I want to figure out a way to make it run on trees [laughs].
On top of the drums, “Makes Me Wonder” features a heavy conga groove. Why?
Because I’ve been listening to Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters for four years straight. It’s a percussive record, and I love that sophisticated, polyrhythmic feel. Quincy Jones loves to do stuff like that, and when you add accents like that, it gives the music a lift. We studied Quincy quite a bit over this whole process.
What’s the most embarrassing clip of you guys on YouTube?
I’m sure I’ll have a bitter relative who’ll put my bris on the Internet someday, but now it’s the video for ‘Soap Disco,’ the first video I made with my old band [ Kara’s Flowers], when I was seventeen. We were so young and didn’t have much musical direction.
You also performed that song on Beverly Hills, 90210, back in 1997. Which cast member was your biggest fan?
When I was eleven or twelve, I needed to know what was on 90210, because otherwise I’d never get to talk to a girl, ever. “Did Dylan crash his Corvette?” “Is Donna in rehab?” My duty as a red-blooded young American male was to know the answers to those questions. So when we were on it, I was a bit star-struck. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen thought we were all on cocaine. Tori Spelling was really nice. And there was Brian Austin Green —— he wanted to talk to me about music. I remember him telling me that his new album was coming out. I was enthralled [laughs].
You guys are opening for the Police in Miami. What Police song do you wish you could duet with Sting on?
Oh, wow. That would be intense. I don’t think I want to corrupt the Police. You know what I want to do? I’d really like them to let me plug in my ears [in-ear monitors] to the monitor board, so I can watch from the side of the stage with good sound. Please tell Sting. Sure.
How does weed affect your voice?
I can’t smoke weed socially, or when I’m going to play a show. If I smoked a joint and walked onstage, I’d have an anxiety attack. But it is absolutely necessary in the studio sometimes. It provides a different perspective, almost as if you’re hearing with different ears. It can he a beautiful thing.
You don’t like to fly. What do you listen to during takeoff?
I hate flying. Every time I get on a plane — this is one of my rituals — I always put on What’s Going On and let it play.
Wait, let me guess. Because of the line “Flyin’ high, in the friendly skies”?
Exactly. That line is about ten minutes into the album, so if you hear Marvin crooning that to you, you’re good.