When Maroon5 won the Grammy last month for best new artist of 2004, the L.A. pop band bested a field that included critics' darlings, notably hip-hop auteur Kanye West and the archly ironic Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand. It's no exaggeration to say there was awkward disbelief in the Staples Center aisles after the envelope was opened.
"It was a shock, a total shock," said one musician who was in the audience that night. "I was embarrassed," said another. A third remembers wondering "if there was a mistake made or something."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 12, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Grammy nominees -- An article in Friday's Calendar section about the rock band Maroon5 said that Scottish group Franz Ferdinand was among Maroon5's competitors in the Grammy Award nominations for best new artist of 2004. It wasn't; the other nominees were Kanye West, Los Lonely Boys, Joss Stone and Gretchen Wilson.
And that's just the guys in Maroon5.
It's not that the band is self-loathing -- far from it, the five musicians collectively have the relaxed gait of a fifth-year college senior in flip-flops. It's just that they know who they are and how they are viewed: an act that gets much love at record stores but usually braces for the worst when critics pull out their pens.
When the band started a decade ago, its members were middle-school kids who bowed north to Seattle; the lead singer, Adam Levine, wore flannel onstage and whipped his long hair just like his hero, Eddie Vedder. Now, the reed-thin Levine is a pop star who vamps in music videos and last year found his band sharing a bill with Jessica Simpson, "American Idol" singer William Hung and other Top 40 froth at Wango Tango, the super-sized pop show at the Coliseum.
Upon retiring the flannel, Maroon5 became a pop venture with just enough funk to call itself blue-eyed soul and far more in common with Hall & Oates than Alice in Chains.
Its creative compass has been recalibrated from Kurt Cobain to Stevie Wonder and its debut album, "Songs About Jane," has sold 3.7 million copies in the U.S., with lots of help from the ubiquitous radio hits "This Love" and "Harder to Breathe." Tonight and Sunday it plays the Universal Amphitheatre in a homecoming for Grammy-anointed local heroes.
About that Grammy -- some in the media jeered it as the latest trophy injustice in a category that in 1978 infamously snubbed Elvis Costello in favor of the quickly forgotten A Taste of Honey. Levine and his bandmates were thrilled to get the hardware but also wince at the extra ammo it gives the band's foes -- not just music critics, but legions of haughty rock fans who mock the band the way they once mocked Creed and the Spin Doctors.
"People hated Creed," Levine said. "They don't hate us. At worst, they just don't really like us. Creed ... had that attitude, they pontificated about how great they were, they had a horribly generic band. They were easy to hate and we're just, you know, easy to disregard. But we want to make it harder to disregard us."
Standing in line at Starbucks not far from the Sunset Strip, Levine, 25, paused and chewed on the idea of respect and credibility. "The drive to be successful," he said, "is not a crime."
Maroon5 is guitarist James Valentine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, bassist Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick. Oh, yes, there's Levine, the lead singer and guitarist who has become, with no doubt, the Gwen Stefani of this outfit -- the telegenic face, and abs, of a band that plays to largely female cheers.
Valentine joined the band in 2001 when the band became known as Maroon5. Before that they went by the airy name of Kara's Flowers, the choice of the four childhood friends who knew from the start of high school that they wanted to be a band. Kara was a girl they shared a crush on and the habit of name-checking real romantic figures in their lives would hold on through the years; "Songs About Jane" is for an ex-girlfriend of Levine's.
On a recent Friday afternoon, the band members gathered at the Viper Room to play a private show for pop radio powers in the L.A. market, the same sort of careful loyalty gesture that put them on stage at Wango Tango and has them well aware of the call letters of supportive stations across the country.
Before the Viper Room show, the band set aside time for a shared trip to the past -- they all piled into two cars to visit the Brentwood childhood home of Dusick, whose parents long ago gave up their musty garage to band gear of Kara's Flowers.
Standing in the garage, the band members chatted warmly, teased one another and dusted off old stories and gear, recalling how in the late 1990s it seemed as if their music career would be mothballed too.
Kara's Flowers released the CD "The Fourth World" on Reprise Records in 1997. Noted rock producer Rob Cavallo was on board, and even before the band members were old enough to vote, their tours of duty in L.A. clubs seemed to prime them for a big ramping up. Their sound by then had moved from grunge to a 1960s vibe, but none of it clicked at record stores, so they split.
Levine and Carmichael headed to college in New York, where they found their West Coast guitar sensibilities suddenly sampling R&B and other urban influences. That would be the sea change when they came back and relaunched as Maroon5.