Adam Levine is having an Entourage moment. The Maroon 5 singer is the center of attention at pricey Beverly Hills eatery the Lodge Steakhouse, the kind of dark, leather-filled, Zone-friendly spot to which Hollywood hipsters flock (tonight Taryn Manning is two tables away). In a tone that's half-whiny, half-charming, Levine announces that he's craving a superior steak as well as a certain bottle of wine that he recently enjoyed here with Jimmy Buffett. ''I want to say it's Creek something,'' he tells the waiter. ''It's definitely American. There was a wheel or a mill [on the label]. I don't want wine that badly, but if it was this one bottle...s--! I'll send a text and find out.''
Like Entourage's central character, Vincent Chase, Levine is the sun in Maroon 5's universe. The 28-year-old sex symbol lives high in the Hollywood Hills and likes his cars fast, his girls hot (or ''beautiful,'' as he later corrects), and his friends loyal. Also like Vince's crew, Levine and his bandmates go way back two to junior high, in fact. ''It's frightening [how] our lives are [like] that show,'' Levine says. ''Watching it, we just look at each other and say, 'Oh, man.' The things they do, the places they go...''
But as much as Levine enjoys the good life, he complains that it comes at a price. True, the band's soulful 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, snagged two Grammys, spent most of 2003 through 2005 on the charts, sold more than 10 million copies globally, and spawned four hit singles, including the ubiquitous ''This Love.'' Yet Levine craves the kind of cred Vince got from his Sundance-screened Queens Blvd. and he's hoping to get some with the band's new CD, It Won't Be Soon Before Long.
''We want people to remember that we're a band, and I'm not a celebrity,'' Levine declares. ''That's gotten skewed over the past couple of years, so we want to correct things.... We don't walk on red carpets, we don't act in movies, and we don't date other celebrities.''
Problem is, Levine & Co. have cultivated their Hollywood It Band status since the late '90s, when they appeared on Beverly Hills, 90210 under their former name, Kara's Flowers. In 2001, the group which also consisted of bassist Mickey Madden, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, and drummer Ryan Dusick added guitarist James Valentine, and changed its name to Maroon 5. Two years later, they were a TRL staple and cozying up to famous fans like Jessica Simpson, who was spotted at shows and, sometimes, at Levine's hotel.
''Maroon 5 remind me of Hall & Oates...in the early '80s,'' notes radio personality Roy Trakin, who hosts a music-business show on L.A.'s KLSX. ''They were a band that seized the pop-radio zeitgeist and didn't receive much critical respect, mainly due to Daryl Hall's good looks, something that probably plagues Levine, too.''
But Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, must have seen more than just a buzz band with a sexy frontman. This past February, Iovine orchestrated a reported $35 million buyout of the group's original label, Octone Records, from its joint venture with Sony BMG, no doubt in the hope of creating a commercially viable career act.
While some experts speculated that price tag was too high for a small label that had only a one-album wonder to its name, the first-week sales of almost 430,000 units of It Won't Be Soon... helped justify the deal. ''They are built for the masses and to saturate the airwaves,'' Trakin says. Indeed, on May 29, Maroon 5 also claimed the No. 1 spot with the single ''Makes Me Wonder.''
Ievine learned that ''Makes Me Wonder'' is a verifiable radio hit hours before pulling up to the Lodge in his Mercedes-Benz S550. The guy is glowing with childlike glee. Still, the accomplishment is bittersweet: When it's noted that this is Maroon 5's first CD without Dusick's drumming, the conversation turns somber. Dusick had been Levine's bandmate since high school, but by 2004, relentless promoting and touring for Songs About Jane caused irreparable damage to the drummer's right arm. Like an injured athlete, Dusick continued to travel with the band, attending practically every concert and TV gig for almost two years, all the while watching fill-in Matt Flynn warm his seat. ''It started to become the elephant in the room,'' says Dusick, ''the kind of thing that was on everyone's minds but we didn't speak about it.'' Finally, in September 2006, after what Levine describes as ''yearlong deliberations,'' Dusick and the others agreed that Flynn would become the permanent drummer.
''It was the most difficult thing [we've ever had to face],'' says Levine. ''He was our brother. We played music in his garage. Me, Mickey, Ryan, and Jesse would sleep on his bedroom floor and dream about how we were going to be the biggest band in the world someday.'' For a group that used to joke about not having enough drama to warrant an episode of Behind the Music, it was an emotional fracture that, according to Levine, is just ''starting to heal.''
After Dusick's departure, Levine became more and more occupied with embracing his inner Vince Chase. ''Every band has to have a strong center, a personality, an attention whore,'' he says. Not much of a stretch for a guy who claims he was ''kind of the Ferris Bueller'' of L.A.'s prestigious Brentwood School. Fortunately, much like Drama, Turtle, and E, the other Maroon guys prefer taking a backseat. At a photo shoot earlier that day, Madden sees four fluffy chairs and a stool in the center and jokes, ''I know that stool's not for me,'' before taking a position in the back. Later Levine says, ''I don't think anybody wants to be on that f--in' stool except me. I'm in the foreground, but I have to do things [that are] extra. It's fine with me. I don't mind the work.''
One thing he does mind: ''cheap shots'' from the press. Today it's a dig from the New York Daily News, which described It Won't Be Soon... as '''80s pop hackery of a band like Mr. Mister crossed with Wang Chung.'' Levine freely admits to reading the band's reviews, confessing that ''sometimes little grains of truth sneak into your consciousness and you think, 'You're probably right about that.''' Continues Levine: ''I'm not asking to be showered with praise, but I don't understand nasty, mean-spirited s--.''
A sore point for the entire band: being lumped in with pop's sea of solo artists and their perfectly choreographed performances. Take Maroon 5's recent appearance at Zootopia, a concert showcasing New York radio station Z100's most popular artists. Wedged between sets by Rihanna, Hilary Duff, and Fergie, the band felt that their Police- and Prince-inspired retro-flavored songs didn't exactly jibe with the rest of the bill. ''We feel this strange kind of isolation,'' Levine explains. ''It frustrates me when we're playing a concert and [few] of them are actually bands. We're kind of one of the last ones standing.''
A few weeks later, at Maroon 5's album-release party (attended by Hollywood scenesters like Adam Brody and Seth Green), the band, outfitted in its new signature suit-and-scarf look, were back to basking in the attention of photographers, family members, and countless well-wishers. Especially the dashing Levine. ''In six days, I've done Saturday Night Live, American Idol, Ellen DeGeneres, and [The Tonight Show With Jay Leno],'' he says. ''My brain is scambled eggs right now, but I like being scrambled eggs sometimes.'' Shawn Tellez, the band's full-time assistant, asks Adam if he wants to ''go be alone'' in a cordoned-off VIP area. ''No, I hate being alone,'' Levine scoffs. Just like Vincent Chase.
One of Levine's oldest friends, his parents' house in Malibu was the site of their first jams.
Like Carmichael, he was a member of Kara's Flowers. The devout vegan is the driving force behind the band's support of environmental causes.
After stints with ska band Reel Big Fish and jazz-rock trio Square, the Omaha native joined the band just before they were rechristened Maroon 5.
When asked to fill in for injured stickman Ryan Dusick in 2004, the Palo Alto, Calif., native had only two nights to learn the Songs About Jane disc before his first gig.