James Valentine is just "one of the out of focus guys" in Maroon 5, but the 33-year-old guitarist would like to keep it that way.
"Frankly, I’m just glad that I don’t have to deal with all of this s--t that [Adam Levine] has to deal with," Valentine told The Huffington Post. "I can go places and do things that I want to do. The other night, I went to the movies with Adam, and it was a s--t show! People were everywhere! Everyone wanted a photo with him, and it’s insane. That would be very hard for me to deal with."
Maroon 5's fourth studio release -- out Tuesday -- is called Overexposed, and it's symbolic in many ways. In recent years, Levine went from being the frontman of a chart-topping band to being an international superstar, after the success of NBC "The Voice," of which Levine is a celebrity mentor. Not only is Overexposed representative of Levine's fame, but it also marks a progression in Maroon 5's musical process.
This is the band's first full-length collaboration with outside writers and producers, some of which include Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Shellback and Benny Blanco, and some critics claim that Maroon 5 "barely sound like a band at all." However, according to Valentine, it was a necessary next step in the band's evolution.
The Huffington Post recently chatted with the guitarist about the new album, dealing with Levine's fame, the magic behind "She Will Be Loved" and why he feels ownership over Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."
It seemed like you guys were trying out a lot of new sounds on this album, but yet, it also sounded like a typical Maroon 5 album. Was that the intention?
We like to try different things, and that’s what’s exciting to us. If we always made the same sort of songs, that would be so boring. We have to be really interested in what we’re doing, and that usually involves trying something new. But I think you’re right. Even though the album seems eclectic, the through line is Adam’s voice. So a song like “One More Night” somehow makes sense next to a song like “She Will Be Loved” because Adam’s performance style hasn’t changed.
Is there a go-to Maroon 5 formula?
[Laughs] If you look over our entire catalogue -- and we didn’t do it as much on this record because I think we tried to get away from the formula -- there are some similarities. I think the classic Maroon 5 song is minor, and it has some funk, Nile Rodgers-style guitar and the lyrics are probably about getting your heart broken. So minor, funk and heartbreak -- that’s the Maroon 5 formula.
The title of this album is Overexposed. You guys have kind of shrugged it off as a joke, but is there any truth to that title?
We thought it was funny while “Moves Like Jagger” was out, and it was just everywhere. It was insane. Then at the same time that was happening, Adam was promoting “The Voice,” and those billboards were everywhere. Around every corner that I turned in L.A., there was Adam making the peace sign. It was ridiculous!
You couldn’t escape it.
You couldn’t escape it! So that’s where the idea was born. But I also feel like the title works on different levels, like think of overexposure in photography. I think that kind of describes the sound of this record; it’s very rich and blown out. It sounds overexposed to me.
Overexposed can also be overproduced, don’t you think? There are a lot of songs on this album that sound very dancy and produced.
Yeah, and we really went for that on this record. We wanted to explore more of that electropop sound. That was really exciting for us, and, yeah, that is probably the musical equivalent of overexposure. We stacked up these tracks with a lot of synths and every sound that we could think of.
Are you into a lot of electropop music?
I love everything, and in terms of where innovation is happening in music right now, it is in the electronic realm. I think that’s one of the main reasons that we wanted to explore that genre on this record. At the heart of it, we’re a band, and we play guitar, bass and drums, and our records in the past have been more about that, but the guitar hasn’t really changed in the last 60 years. It’s still the same. But where the innovation is happening is with electronic music and the synths and also, the means of production. We have no interest in being a retro act. That’s not exciting. While I think it’s important that certain bands preserve certain ways of making records and certain sounds, I would rather be on the new frontier. We’ll leave that stuff to traditionalists. That’s why dubstep is exciting, although it’s already getting overused in pop music. But it’s new. It sounds like 2012. It doesn’t sound like anything from a previous generation.
Every Maroon 5 record does sound very timely in that way.
Yeah! Certain bands have the attitude of, “Oh, f--k that. This is what we do, and we’re not going to be swayed by popular music.” I don’t know. We’d rather be a part of the conversation, be a part of the evolution. It’s like fans who talk about loving Songs About Jane. Our fans will refer to that as the classic Maroon 5 sound, but at the time, when we made that record, it alienated all of our core fans because that was a progression for us. At that point, we were bringing in the contemporary influences of what was happening in hip-hop. Most of those beats were influenced by Timbaland and The Neptunes. So that pissed off people 10 years ago, but now they refer to that album as classic Maroon 5. Every step of the way, people get upset, but they usually come around.
Speaking of Songs About Jane, how did it feel to re-release it for its 10 year anniversary?
I can’t believe that 10 years have gone by! I really can’t wrap my head around it.
You have a writing credit on what many believe to be your seminal song, “She Will Be Loved.” Do you remember what that experience was like?
It’s really great to think back on those times because there’s a certain innocence that we’ll never get back. I remember when we wrote that song, it was so effortless. It just happened! That probably took a couple of hours, and it just happened -- that song was there. It started as a riff that caught Adam’s ear. If I wouldn’t have played it or if we would have had other plans that night, then maybe that song would have never happened. It took two hours to write that song, and it changed the course of our lives. It’s so trippy!
It only took two hours?
Some of our songs are like Frankenstein monsters, and they go through so many changes, but ["She Will Be Loved"] is one of those magical ones, like Manna from heaven, that just came down and was perfect.
Are you happy that you’re not the frontman? When you think of Maroon 5, a majority of people think of Adam Levine. Are you OK with that?
We always knew that was going to be the case. I think Adam is the only one with a strong enough constitution to really handle the fame. I think we’re all very happy with our roles in the band. Frankly, I’m just glad that I don’t have to deal with all of this s--t that he has to deal with. I can go places and do things that I want to do. The other night, I went to the movies with Adam, and it was a s--t show! People were everywhere! Everyone wanted a photo with him, and it’s insane. That would be very hard for me to deal with. My favorite line from “Almost Famous” is, “I’m just one of the out of focus guys!” I definitely feel like that, and there are times when that gets old. Sometimes when I’m doing interviews with him, it’s clear that they only want to ask him the questions -- and I understand -- but then I’m just kind of sitting there, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I think the reason bands break up is because more than one person wants to be the frontman who gets all of the attention. We don’t have that struggle, so I think that’s allowed us to have a good working relationship for all of these years.
Do you ever tease Adam for it?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. We call him names all of the time. We’ll refer to him as “The Artist,” and we have a different nickname that I probably shouldn’t share. Sometimes we’ll be like, “Time for soundcheck, Superstar!”
Are you going to support him and buy his new fragrance, 222?
I’m sorry. I will publicly apologize to Adam, but I don’t do cologne at all. Any time that I’ve tried to wear cologne, I just can’t do it. I’m not a cologne guy. Maybe he’ll create an amazing scent! He’s actually been working really hard on it. Anytime you come to his house, he’s spraying s--t on people. If he comes up with something, it’s got to be subtle because I’m not a cologne guy.
But is Adam the type to be subtle? He did publicly mock celebrity fragrances a year ago, and now he’s saying that his will be the best ever.
Yeah, well, that’s kind of how he approaches everything. The dude is competitive. If he’s going to make a perfume, it’s going to be the best one.
What’s on your summer playlist? It’s totally fine if you say “Call Me Maybe.” I won’t judge you.
You know what? A friend of mine, who’s a songwriter, played me “Call Me Maybe” months ago, before it really exploded, and we flipped out! We listened to it over and over and over. We were like, “Wow. This is like the most perfectly constructed pop song ever heard.” We were seriously freaking out! Then, it exploded. You know how people feel ownership over indie bands, like, “Oh, I was into them before anyone else was.” I feel ownership over “Call Me Maybe.” I heard it first.
Overexposed is on shelves and available on iTunes now.