From 'Misery' to Twilight : Conversations With Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Fanfarlo's Simon Balthazar

A Conversation With Maroon 5's Adam Levine

Mike Ragogna: What's up with your new album Hands All Over? Are you still working on it?

Adam Levine: Well, I guess we're done... more or less we've finished it. Hands All Over is our record. We went to Switzerland and made it with "Mutt" Lange, and we had an incredible, inspiring experience that we will never forget. We've never really embarked on anything like this -- leaving L.A. and the comfort of our homes to make a record. It was pretty amazing to be completely undisturbed with creativity.

MR: On June 22, you guys released the single and video for "Misery."

AL: Yeah, it just came out.

MR: The video was directed by Joseph Kahn, and you're being thrown off of a building.

AL: (laughs) I read, like, three lines of the treatment that Joseph wrote on it, and I've always wanted to work with him because he's really talented.

MR: What was the pitch like?

AL: I think the first line was, "Adam is going through something with his girl," so I started rolling my eyes thinking, "Okay, next." But then, I think three sentences in, it said something like, "...she's trying to kill him." I just thought that was awesome. I'd never really seen that before.

MR: And, of course, nothing says "I love you" better in a video than being thrown off a building.

AL: I love music videos, I really do. I think it's kind of sad that it's a dying art form. People aren't paying as much attention to them as they used to, and they're not as culturally relevant as they used to be. But I want to combat that by making fun, good videos that are entertaining for people. I don't think anybody really wants to just see a band performing in a video anymore, that's not what interests people. So, it's nice to have a few little twists, turns, and quirks that draw you to the song in some unique way. I'm really excited about this video because I think it achieves that.

MR: Nice. Now, just to play a little catch-up for the readers, Maroon 5 was begotten from the group Kara's Flowers. What's the story behind that?

AL: Basically the whole thing started in high school, three of the five members have been together since high school. I met our bass player, Mickey, when we were eleven in seventh grade. We met and he started teaching me about classic rock that I didn't know about or wasn't into, like Bowie and Queen. I was raised on The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Rolling Stones, but I never really got into certain things that he was really into. We kind of exchanged tastes. I was really into Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe, and we started listening to all these different types of music and exploring. He started playing the bass because I played guitar, and that's really how it started. It was really organic, just a bunch of kids screwing around in a garage. We knew there was something special going on. I really only became a singer because I was the best singer in the band -- I was never one of these American Idol kids that wanted to be a singer. I just wanted to be in a band, that's really all. I kind of thought to myself, when we were kids, "Okay, well I can sing. So I'll sing." It was very non self-conscious, I was just the guy that was going to be the singer. And that was just how I grew up, being in a band. That was really my goal, to play music with friends.

MR: Then comes Maroon 5.

AL: Ah, Maroon 5. Well, I think our music started changing. We started listening to R&B and hip hop which started effecting the way we wanted to play. I think in the late nineties, once rock 'n' roll was kind of officially dead, things started happening in the R&B and hip-hop world that were really revolutionary. To me, at least, rock 'n' roll bands started just regurgitating the same s**t. Everybody wanted to be Nirvana, everybody wanted to be Pearl Jam, and nobody really paid attention to the fact that The Neptunes and Timberland was all very new sounding, innovative sounding. And I was really drawn to that, even the early Destiny's Child records. I know it sounds weird, but to me at the time, those were the most revolutionary records coming out. I mean Missy Elliott was almost avant-garde. It was so strange and cool and kind of a birth of a completely new genre of music. We loved that, we emulated that. And, I think, in doing that, we alienated ourselves from the rock 'n' roll scene and became a poppier situation.

I love that. I liked not doing what was expected of us. With the first band, we were just a straight up, power pop, rock 'n' roll band. I wanted to do something different, and it all came from those realizations that I had around that time listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, and things that really affected the way I wrote and sang music too.

MR: Back at Live Aid, you got to perform with one of your idols, Stevie Wonder.

AL: Stevie Wonder is just one of those guys that completely delivers everything that you want to be true about Stevie Wonder. He's an amazing human being, and the fairytale exists with that man. He's one of the best people, I think, that exists on the earth.

MR: Favorite Stevie Wonder album?

AL: Ooh, Songs in the Key of Life.

MR: So, Songs About Jane comes out, and you start having hits like "This Love" right out of the box. Also, John Mayer takes you on his '03 tour because he's impressed. Did you feel like these were validations of the innovative approach you intended?

AL: I think so. I was never interested in being like every other five piece, regular rock 'n' roll band that ever existed. And you can say what you want about our band, but at the end of the day, there's not another band currently out that sounds the way we do. It's funny because the perception of the band is that we're very poppy, which we are, and we fully embrace that. And that's why there has been some confusion as to what we really are. I don't really know what people think anymore, and I don't particularly care, but it's interesting. We fit such a strange niche that I don't really know where we fit, and I think not fitting is what initially made us stand out.

MR: You're multi-Grammy nominated, even winning a couple. But one of the more interesting nominations you've had was for "If I Never See Your Face Again" with Rihanna.

AL: Yeah, yeah. That was cool because she just came in there and knocked it out. She's really impressive, man. I've been fortunate to be really happy with all of the collaborations we've done. They've all been really great.

MR: With the new album, we've already talked a little bit about one of its tracks, "Misery." It's coming out in September, right?

AL: I'm really excited about it. I think it covers a lot of musical ground, and it experiments with new ideas and new sounds. There's a little bit of Motown, a little bit of country, and a little bit of what you'd expect. I think it's a good, solid record.

MR: "Out of Goodbyes" has Lady Antebellum on it. How did you hook up with them?

AL: They did just an amazing job with helping us fill in the gaps because we're not a country band, obviously. But there were little country elements that we wanted in that song, and her voice blended really well with mine. We needed a feminine touch on that song, and also some things that we weren't capable of doing. It was nice that it came from another artist. Obviously, they're doing really well too, so it was nice to have them involved. I'm very proud to say that I've been able to collaborate with a guy like Kanye, and then a band like Lady Antebellum. I think we have the rare ability to be able to do that.

MR: What is your advice for young artists coming up now?

AL: It's hard to give advice because we've been doing this now for eight years. It's really difficult to give advice in our position because there has been such a revolution in the way this business works since we entered it, basically. We didn't have MySpace, we didn't have outlets like YouTube and all these things that exist now. We didn't have those things when we started, so we actually had to rely on good, old-fashioned hard work.

I know that makes me sound like a curmudgeonly old man. But we had to work, we had to go out on tour and play in front of people. We couldn't advertise things on Twitter and do all these funky little technological things that bands can do now. So, what I would say is do all those things because it's important at this point. But don't be afraid to get dirty and go out and play for people. Go and play and tour. You're going to get s**t on a little bit -- hopefully not too much, but you've got to keep going. It's really not easy. Succeeding in this particular business is extraordinarily difficult, so you just have to develop a thick skin and just go, go, go. We were a band for a long time before we succeeded, which I think was a good thing, sort of a blessing in disguise. I would just say, "Get ready to work."

MR: One more quick question. Are you guys still in contact with John Mayer? Because if you are...

AL: ... haven't spoken to John in a while. He's been speaking to the world, hasn't he?

MR: (laughs) Adam, thank you so much for giving me your time, man.

AL: Awesome. Thank you, dude.

(Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)

...and here's Maroon 5's "Misery" video:


A Conversation With Fanfarlo's Simon Balthazar

Mike Ragogna: Your song "Atlas" is one of the strongest cuts on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack. Let's catch everyone up on how you got involved with the franchise.

Simon Balthazar: These things tend to be a bit of a mystery in terms of what the mechanics are. But this bedroom recording of the song is a demo that made its way to the people putting together the soundtrack. One day, we had an e-mail saying, "We would really like to use this demo of yours in the film." And we were like, well, that's kind of interesting.

I had never seen any of the other films. I like vampire films, so why not. But we figured that their other soundtracks sold in the millions, so it would be a good thing to get those millions of people to hear our song, but we also figured that we didn't want to use a demo. So, we went into the studio and recorded a version of the song. It was just for a day we were in Austin at Mike McCarthy's studio. So we went in and recorded a version, and we ended up on the soundtrack.

MR: Nice. Fanfarlo had a debut album last year on Atlantic.

SB: Yeah, it was on a subsidiary of Atlantic called Canvasback Music. The album was called Reservoir and was a delayed debut in the U.S. We had been releasing home recordings before that, and we'd finally gotten around to actually recording an album when, all of a sudden, we started getting played on college radio a lot in the States and getting invited to play a bunch of shows and stuff. So, at that point that's when we got an American label on board.

MR: Didn't you have a song on the album featured on Grey's Anatomy?

SB: I've never watched Grey's Anatomy, and I know it's a hospital series. We get a lot of questions about it, but I don't really watch TV. It's all good for paying the rent.

MR: Most artists do look at it that way because they mostly aren't involved in choosing the song or any of that. So, what are you working on a new album?

SB: Well, we have had a studio set-up in my bedroom, so we do record and write at the same time a lot. There are a lot people getting into recording now with it being cheaper and more possible for everyone. I think a lot of people do that these days, and it's something we have always done. But at the moment, we are recording and writing, and we get together in a rehearsal space down the road from my house and try to write new songs for a new record that, hopefully, we are going to record soon. We have been living out of our suitcases since October, and it's kind of winding down now a bit. We tend to sort of shoot off every weekend to do a festival in Spain or France, and then the rest of the time, we try and write and catch-up with our normal lives back in London.

MR: Simon, are their any other franchises that interest you?

SB: You know, I am not really a blockbuster type of guy. So no, not really. I have a huge interest in film, and I find the way that movies are produced at the moment to be pretty depressing. You know, the endless remakes. I just don't agree with the concept of a remake at all. I mean, there might be a few exceptions to the rule, but the current film climate is really atrocious, I think. I suppose people complain about the music climate, but it's the movie climate right now that is amazing. Music has been democratized. But it's weird, the same thing just hasn't happened to the film industry, and I find it kind of odd and kind of sad.

MR: People are gathering fan bases in different ways than they have before, obviously, because of the Internet. It's been essential as the music industry has had to reinvent itself.

SB: Yes. But I think that there are pathways for music. Just look at that we had a pretty shoddy home recording, and it somehow found on its way to the big screen. There seem to be pathways for home recordings and for more cheaply done recordings. Things that are just more real coming from real bands and artists who aren't produced in any way, and that you really benefit from it just being so available now. There are pathways for real interesting music.

MR: And in the film world?

SB: I think that indie documentaries have really made their way in. With mainstream companies, they are only prepared to play what is real safe, and just go with blockbusters and remakes. There is a kind of weird void there.

MR: Be it an indie or major studio, ultimately, you'd hope it would always be about which track helps support a movie's scene or message.

SB: Oh, certainly, my music has sort of made its way, but that's almost symptomatic of how a lot of the major labels are until very recently, making the same mistakes as the very big film companies. Really playing it safe and just going for the popcorn hits. I think the indie music community has managed to side step that in their own way, and sometimes the major labels have no choice but to get on board.

MR: So, you don't watch TV...

SB: Yeah. I don't watch TV or listen to commercial radio at all. I grew up in Sweden where there wasn't even commercial radio until recently. But people are so good at finding their own way, and that has really been democratized and made available to everyone, which I think is great at the end of the day.

MR: Simon, who are your musical influences?

SB: For me, as a band, we have a pretty eclectic span of influences. I listened to a lot of folky stuff stylistically, and at the moment, I am listening to post punk kind of stuff. In our band, we have a pretty bizarre range. We have a drummer who mainly listens to soundtrack music, and a bassist who listens mainly to black metal.

MR: What advice would you give to an up-and-coming act, indie or otherwise?

SB: It's bizarre because, at least here in London, it doesn't seem like anybody really needs any advice. When we first started, we didn't have a game plan. I was just writing songs for the fun of it, and we were playing shows because we had friends booking us at clubs. It seems like everyone is so terrifyingly clued-up on what they're supposed to be doing because before they even play their first gig or release their first demo, there is already a pack of labels hunting them because they have already cleverly planned everything out beforehand. It's is a little bit unfortunate because, I think, here in the UK, everyone was constantly looking for the new thing, and there is this one-upmanship between the blogs and labels trying to find the new thing, and I think bands are pretty clever playing that out. But I am not sure if it's the healthiest music climate.

MR: This is going to be a very interesting period as the music business transits into its next incarnation. It seems like a whole new paradigm could be introduced.

SB: A lot of countries in Europe -- certainly in Scandinavia -- and in Australia and New Zealand, they have government funding for that sort of thing. They support their musicians. If you can't afford to tour but you have something going, you get funding to do that. The reason we can go and play small indie clubs in Norway is because they have government support to make those things happen. But, in no way, would it otherwise happen -- except for major label bands that have that level of cash.

We were touring with this band Lawrence of Arabia from Auckland, New Zealand. Same thing with them. They have a great thing going, but there is no way they would be able to afford to come over here unless they got a grant.

MR: Imagine if, in the U.S., the government gave grants for musicians and songwriters to support their art. I bet that would overhaul this country's music community...

(Transcribed by Erika Richards)


1. I'm a Pilot
2. Ghosts
3. Luna
4. Comets
5. Fire Escape
6. These Walls Are Coming Down
7. Drowning Men
8. If It Is Growing
9. Harold T. Wilkins, Or How to Wait for a Very Long Time
10. Finish Line
11. Good Morning Midnight