Fab 5 find success after slow start

Maroon 5 to play at Merriweather on Saturday


In Concert CDs

April 14, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

They had to reinvent themselves to taste real success: multi-platinum sales and a Grammy Award. It took nearly 10 years, but the guys of Maroon 5 have finally arrived. The pop band's album Songs About Jane hit the streets in June 2002. But you probably didn't hear it then because the record really didn't take off until early last year, spurred by the sudden success of the singles "Harder to Breathe" and "This Love."

"We did 250 shows a year before the album exploded," says lead singer-guitarist Adam Levine, who's calling from Los Angeles. Maroon 5 will play Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday night.

"We got better at playing the songs. We were challenged to be better musicians. Now, it's more effortless to play the music, because it's such a part of us."

The constant touring, including an opening slot on John Mayer's 2003 national tour, certainly helped to spread the word. But the music -- glossy, R&B-inflected rock steeped with Stevie Wonder-inspired melodies and Beatles-style chord changes -- is instant radio candy. The cuts on Songs About Jane are undeniably catchy, the kind of lovesick tunes that reside in your head whether you like them or not. And there is much to like about Maroon 5's energetic, bleached funk sound. It was just a matter of time until radio caught on to it.

"I thought the record was a little too slick for my taste," says Levine, 25. "The production could have been thicker, I think."

As it stands, Songs About Jane, which has sold 3 million copies, is emblematic of the group's shift in focus, a fine showcase for the L.A. band's reinvented sound. Before becoming pop-radio darlings, Maroon 5 -- which also includes guitarist James Valentine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick -- was a '90s alternative rock outfit called Kara's Flowers. (Actually, Valentine didn't join the lineup until about 2000.) Named after a girl the band had a collective crush on, the group at the time was heavily influenced by System of a Down. It released its debut, The Fourth World, on Reprise Records in 1997. The album bombed.

"It was forced," Levine says, almost dismissively. "We were signed at 17 and failures at 18."

The band was released from its contract in 1999. In the interim, the band did some intense woodshedding, playing small dives around the City of Angels, studying the music of Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Missy Elliott and Aaliyah. The group fattened its grooves and wrote more accessible melodies. The music overall took on an R&B edge but with a heavy pop gloss. Levine's singing style folded in a few elastic Wonder-isms. And the concoction gradually gelled. The group renamed itself Maroon 5 and signed a deal with Octane / J Records in 2001.

Fast forward four years, and the band is one of the biggest in pop right now with such lively hits as "She Will Be Loved." Ironically, the veteran act picked up a Grammy for best new artist a few months back.

"It's like it doesn't mean anything, but it means everything," Levine says of the award. "A lot of bands don't work as hard as we do. We worked for everything. We didn't stop for anything."

Levine and the guys are working on their next album.

"We'll work to get closer to a thicker sound," the singer-songwriter says. "It's good that we have that anticipation built up and people want to hear what we do next."

In concert

Who: Maroon 5, with The Thrills

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia

When: Saturday night at 7:30

Tickets: $25-$40. Available at Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster .com

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