Interview: Adam Levine
I was much more into the Beatles than barmitzvahs
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine: “My father asked me if I wanted a barmitzvah, and I said no”
Maroon 5's poppy brand of funk, or perhaps funky brand of pop, has served them well. The American band - who sound like a tougher, rockier Jamiroquai, or a less heavy Red Hot Chili Peppers - have sold 15 million albums in under 10 years, and topped singles charts all over the world.
But they undoubtedly would never have become so successful without Adam Levine, their charismatic frontman with the soulful vocals, whose photogenic looks have seen him linked with numerous A-list beauties, including Jessica Simpson and Natalie Portman.
And yet, strangely, the singer, who was born in Los Angeles in 1979, does not consider himself a natural showman.
"I'm not an extrovert," he says on the phone from LA where, he reveals, he is driving his hybrid Mercedes to his favourite health-food restaurant with his girlfriend, Russian swimwear model Anne Vyalitsyna. "I started off extremely nervous and uncomfortable being on stage. It took me a long time to adjust to it."
He was, he says, "terribly shy as a young child", growing up in California, but he was lucky to have the "guidance of a very supportive family". After his parents' divorce, his time was split between his mother's house during the week and his father's at weekends.
"My mum was a pushover," he laughs, "and my dad used to scare me a little bit to make sure I bathed and stuff like that. But he and I had a great relationship."
Levine's father and grandfather on his mother's side were both Jewish. "Dad spiked in a little Judaism," he says of his religious upbringing. "But it wasn't the kind of thing he wanted to force on me."
Levine might be covered in tattoos and have a reputation for being a lothario, but he is a serious-minded individual whose religious convictions reach back to his early teens.
"Religion is a very long, complicated conversation that we're not going to have right now," he asserts. He believes that "you have to let kids figure out what they want to do for themselves." Is that what happened to him? "Well, my father did ask me whether I wanted a barmitzvah, and I said no."
Levine with his fellow band members. They have sold 15 million albums
He was surrounded by Jewish boys marking their transition to manhood, and yet he worried that they were doing it for the wrong reasons. "I felt as though a lot of kids were trying to cash in," he says. "They were trying to make a bunch of money, and that's fine. I just don't think it's the most respectful way to deal with God and beliefs and years and years and years of cultural heritage."
Like a lot of Jewish musicians, Levine has rejected formal religious practice for a more generalised, spiritual way of life. It was inevitable, really: in a way, the Bible and its characters were supplanted at a young age in his imagination by the heroes of pop.
"The Beatles were a massive part of who I became," he says. "My mother lived and breathed The Beatles, and
they were a huge part of my upbringing. Every time we went on a long car trip it would be The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel or Fleetwood Mac playing on the stereo. That seeped into my consciousness and shaped my musical style."
Bouts of singing along to classic rock in the car led to Levine forming a band called Kara's Flowers with some of the future members of Maroon 5 while still at Brentwood School in LA.
"I still revere my heroes," he admits. "I've met a few of them and it's a huge part of who I am: idolising and appreciating these people for what they did."
Is it strange for his band to now be on a level, commercially if not artistically, with these giants of rock? Levine allows himself a moment of immodesty.
"I don't think I'll ever be arrogant enough to view them as my peers," he says, then pauses for comic effect. "But we've come pretty close."
Maroon 5's album 'Hands All Over' is out now on A&M