LOS ANGELES — Maroon 5 recently experienced the ultimate rite of passage for a band building a fanbase show by show. They saw their first Maroon 5 tattoo.
"I still don't know if I'm weirded out by it," singer Adam Levine said of the Salt Lake City fan who inked their logo on her lower back. "It is very flattering, but it's kind of a little bizarre."
Bizarre or not, it's that kind of diehard fandom that has kept the popularity of Maroon 5 ballooning more than a year after the release of their debut, Songs About Jane. And thanks to floods of requests, the first single, "Harder to Breathe," continues to pick up steam at radio and video outlets, a rarity in a world where programmers often decide the fate of a song after a few spins.
"There's so many bands out there these days that don't have fans," Levine said on the set of their next video. "They're just somehow immediately famous and successful and you don't really know where they came from. You go to their shows and it's just a strange scene. And I think that we have real fans, legitimate people that love to see us play live, which is so nice to have."
Included among Maroon 5's fans are John Mayer, the Counting Crows, Michelle Branch, Matchbox Twenty, Sugar Ray and Guster, all acts who have brought the Los Angeles band on the road. At a recent hometown show, Adam Duritz introduced them and Mayer came out and jammed on a song.
"When Rolling Stone finally decided to review our record, at the top it said, 'John Mayer's favorite funky soul band,' " Levine said, acknowledging the strength of the singer/songwriter's endorsement. "He exposed us to his audience. It's good sh--."
It's fitting that Maroon 5's path to success has been a unique one, given the band's one-of-a-kind sound, which blends elements of soul, R&B and rock (think Justin Timberlake backed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers).
"I'm actually happy that it's hard to define," Levine said. "When we started out making the record, I really wanted to make an R&B record straight up. And then it kind of evolved and everyone's opinions kind of factored in and we came up with this kind of weird hybrid."
Fortunately for the young band, the head of their record company, veteran Clive Davis, knew how to handle their unconventional style.
"We're in a very unique situation in that we have a record label that gave us a whole year to sort of develop on our own, rather than follow the major-label mentality these days, which is to just throw everything up on the wall and see what sticks," said guitarist James Valentine, a Nebraska native who joined four Los Angeles friends (and former Kara's Flowers members) to form Maroon 5 in 1999 (see "Maroon 5 Aspire To Inspire Sexuality, Crying").
The second life of "Harder to Breathe" has allowed Maroon 5 to follow it up with another video, for "This Love." Sophie Muller, the woman behind Pink's "Family Portrait" and Coldplay's "In My Place," among many others, is directing the clip, which will combine performance footage at what appears to be a courtyard in Mexico (but is actually a soundstage) and scenes of Levine parting ways with a woman representing his muse on the album, Jane.
"This song was just written in the most emotionally trying time in my life," Levine said of the tune, which is surprisingly upbeat. "I was in a relationship that was ending, but I was really excited on the other end because the band was about to go make the record and I was ecstatic to go in the studio. She was literally leaving town within days of me writing the lyrics to 'This Love,' so I was in prime emotional condition to write a song with that kind of conflict."
Once the video shoot wraps, Maroon 5 will head to the U.K. and Germany for a tour with Matchbox Twenty. Afterward, the band will launch its first major headlining trek, which begins September 24 in Modesto, California, and crosses the country before wrapping November 26 in Las Vegas.