By Chris Willman
Updated March 05, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Maroon 5 — whose debut album, ”Songs for Jane,” recently went platinum — rose like a phoenix from the ashes of another major-label band, Kara’s Flowers. A very sluggish phoenix, mind you. After those alt-rock also-rans got dropped by Reprise following a nonstarter album, several members discovered ’70s soul music and reconstituted as a renamed Maroon 5. But getting re-signed was another thing: ”We got signed at 17 and were failures at 18,” says frontman Adam Levine, now 22, ”so people were going ‘Ahh, didn’t we already check you out? Didn’t you have your turn?’That was a blessing in disguise, because then we had a couple years to get our s— together.” The only label ready to take on these washed-up sub-drinking-age rockers was J Records’ ”farm team,” Octone. Even then, it took months — and months, and months — for their pop-funk, Chili-Peppers-meet-matchbox-twenty single, ”Harder to Breathe,” to cross over from modern-rock radio to Top 40.

”We’ve been promoting ‘Harder to Breathe’ for a year and a half,” points out Levine, veritably waiting to exhale. ”We’re gonna release four singles on this record, probably. And the fact that we’re just starting the second one [the even poppier ‘This Love,’ now in heavy rotation on MTV] is terrifying — in a good way. I feel like at the end of this album, we will have gone through what a normal band goes through their entire career.”

Levine is pale enough that as he sports a new buzz cut on a blazingly bright L.A. winter day, you worry he might actually turn maroon. He looks the rocker part enough that casual observers might be surprised to find fanboard comparisons leaning toward Terence Trent D’Arby. Did the band ever worry, in transforming themselves into a far funkier five, about being accused of affecting blackness? ”I don’t affect blackness — I am blackness,” Levine proclaims, affecting some ironic hubris. ”No, I’m a white boy. Yes, Stevie’s my vocal hero, but so is Sting. But the biggest compliment I ever got: We had just played the House of Blues, and this very large black security guard came up and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Man, take off your mask.’ And I was like, I have arrived.”