Grammy Record of the Year nominees are dominated this year by duets and pairings. B.O.B. featuring Bruno Mars for Nothin’ On You, Enimem featuring Rihanna for Love The Way You Lie, and Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys for Empire State Of Mind combined to nab the majority of the nominations. The nomination of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” was also notable as the show’s presenters went out of their way to avoid saying the name of the song-on air (“The song otherwise known as Forget You” was what they ultimately settled on). Lady Antebellum also nabbed a nomination for Need You Now. No guest star on that song, but then again, they’re a trio to begin with. It’s also notable that four of the five Grammy Record of the Year nominations went to solo artists, despite three of them not operating solo on the particular song for which they were nominated.
“There’s no many other fantastic performers and artists that could be in this category,” Katy Perry said when she learned that her new album Teenage Dream had been nominated for Grammy Album of the Year. Lady Gaga, whose The Fame Monster was released late last year, was also nominated. Eminem made the cut for his new album Recovery, Arcade Fire scored for The Suburbs, and another “Lady” also made the nomination list as Lady Antebellum scored for Need You Now.
The pairing of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, two of the biggest female pop stars of their generation, in the same category in the same year is a quirk of the schedule as their sophomore albums were released nearly a year apart.
“We’ve got pictures,” James Valentine offers as evidence that he and his bandmates really did make their new record Hands All Over in Switzerland of all places. But the risks that Maroon 5 took this time around have less to do with the location of the recording and more to do with whom they chose to collaborate. A third record, like a third date, is a crossroads, and so the band put their fate in the hands of legendary rock producer Mutt Lange. “We thought that he’d be the type of guy that could maybe bring it to the next level for us,” says James of Maroon 5’s decision to say yes when Lange came calling and offered his services.
“It was a risk that we were willing to take,” he says of the prospects of meshing the band’s signature genre-blending sound with a producer who has a signature or two of his own. But once the two parties began talking, “it became apparent that he wasn’t going to totally guide us in any direction that we weren’t comfortable with, and that he liked what we had done. He liked the sound that we claimed as our own over the first two records. We definitely do have a certain thing that we do, and he was into further exploring that, and also pushing toward some new directions.”
The resulting album is indeed a mix of new sounds and old. The first song, Misery, sounds exactly like you’d expect Maroon 5 to sound. But it doesn’t take long for Hands All Over to expand the band’s horizons, particularly with the album’s title track.
“That’s a funny song because I think that was written after we already knew that we were doing the record with Mutt,” James says of the song Hands All Over, which was built around a two-bar keyboard loop which permeates the entire song and whose vibe sounds eerily influenced by one of Lange’s former clients. “Adam went and finished the song back in LA, before we had gone out with Mutt, and Mutt wasn’t there, but it was almost like Mutt’s presence was totally there. Adam wrote what he thought his idea of Mutt’s sound, and he wrote that song with Mutt in mind. It sounded very much like that. It’s very much with the gang vocals and stuff, and the shout along chorus, to me it’s very Def Leppard, which is not what I think people expect from us.”
“When it was done, we were like oh shit, did we just do that? Yeah, I guess so.”
Eighties rock is one thing, but the final song on Hands All Over sees Maroon 5 exploring a whole different kind of new territory. “It seems like it would have been some sort of planned strategy,” James muses about Out Of Goodbyes, which is a country-influenced song right down to the point of including vocals from Lady Antebellum. “Jesse and I were strumming the guitars outside on this beautiful Switzerland morning out by the lake, and Mutt was walking into the studio, and he said ‘What’s that you guys are playing?’”
After they went back inside to record it, the vocals were written in a matter of minutes, “and it was like wow, that’s totally a country song. Where did that come from?”
Realizing that the song was best suited for multiple voices, the band reached out to Lady Antebellum, who obliged, but as it turns out did not travel all the way to Switzerland just to lend their voices. As James laughingly points out, “we still haven’t even met them.”
Being in Switzerland, as it turns out, didn’t have as much impact on the making of the record as did the mere fact that Maroon 5 didn’t make the record in their hometown of Los Angeles.
“At the end of the night we couldn’t retreat to our own homes or to any sort of nightlife scene, because it wasn’t there,” he says of being far away from the big city. But nonetheless, “We’re very much an LA band, and it’s a cool tradition to be a part of.”
Being the lead guitarist in a band whose pop leanings don’t generally allow for exposed guitar solos, meaning that James has to get his licks in when he can. “There’s not as much noodling as I would like on the songs,” he says of the studio versions of Maroon 5’s songs. But that changes once the band hits the road.
“I don’t get to do the minute and a half guitar solos on the record, but live we actually do. So that’s always surprising for people. It’s always way more raw, way more unleashed.”
And as it turns out, three records is the charm for the band finally being able to put together the kind of concert setlist it wants. “When we were touring on the first record we really struggled to have a headlining set. We only had one record, and so we’d have to fill it in with cover songs and stuff. And even with the two records out, we had a lot of tunes but now peppering in the new ones with all of the old favorite ones, and then being able to rotate in some of the deeper cuts, it’s really great.”
As to performing Out Of Goodbyes live, James points out that the song was originally written with the intention of Adam singing all the vocals anyway. But he jokes that the band may now be stuck perennially bringing someone along on tour who can cover Hillary Scott’s vocals: “We’ll just have to have a female opener always.”
With so much touring in between each one, Maroon 5’s albums have been released three to five years apart, something the band plans to amend going forward. Even with Hands All Over coming out today, James is willing to talk about the next one which is coming “hopefully sooner than later. We’re gonna try and cut down the gaps in between records. It’s too long.”
Finally, there’s the obligatory question of just whose hands are caressing the woman depicted on the cover of Hands All Over. “They’re definitely Mutt’s hands,” James suggests. “We should start that rumor.”
interview by Bill Palmer
Appearances by established recording artists will run the gamut on American Idol this week, and some of them will be on the stage at the same time. When Shakira takes the Idol stage to perform her new single Gypsy, country trio Rascal Flatts will join her for the performance (the band will also be performing its own hit Unstoppable separately). Also performing during the Shania Twain-themed week will be fellow country artists Lady Antebellum, who recently cleaned up at the Country Music Awards – along with newcomers Sons Of Sylvia, consisting of three brothers who happen to be cousins with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.