“I KNEW RIGHT AWAY WHEN I SAW THEM THAT I COULD
be the guitar player this band needed,” says James Valentine.
After moving to Los Angeles in the wake of his band Square
winning the 2000 Ernie Ball/Vans Warped Tour Battle of the
Bands, Valentine jumped ship to play the with the musicians
that became Maroon 5. Kara’s Flowers singer/guitarist Adam
Levine and keyboardist/guitarist Jesse Carmichael were
onto something—but they needed a versatile player who
could shoulder the bulk of the guitar parts and flesh out
the sonic signature for their clever pop-rock songs. Valentine’s
background—playing everything from Jobim to
Michael Jackson to Pearl Jam—made him the right man to
bring Maroon 5 to fruition.
In a decade dominated by pop and
often short on guitar rock, Maroon 5
found its niche with a pop-heavy blend
of both. On mainstream awards shows
such as the Grammys, they were often
one of a handful of acts that actually still
played guitars onstage. Hits such as “This
Love” and “She Will Be Loved” had such
unavoidable hooks, and the Maroon 5
crew had such a fresh sound and look,
that they were a welcome spike in the
pop party punchbowl. Maroon 5 took
home the Grammy for Best New Artist
Maroon 5’s third studio release, Hands
All Over [A&M/Octone], was pristinely
produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, whose credits include artists ranging from
Def Leppard to Shania Twain. On “Misery,”
Valentine chunks away at good, clean funk
parts that support what has to be the happiest
vocal melody ever matched to a
depressed lyric. “Give a Little More” brings
Thriller-era Michael Jackson to mind. Valentine
laces “Never Gonna Leave This Bed”
with atmospheric touches. Whatever the
context, Valentine always seems to have the
right color crayon to complete the picture.
How would you describe the way you work within
Maroon 5’s creative dynamic?
My role is to come up with guitar parts
of all kinds. Adam might have an idea for
how the main riff should be played or how
the chords are voiced, but sometimes not,
and I help figure out those kinds of things.
In the studio, I also work out the ear candy,
and track whatever needs to be laid down.
Adam’s mind moves so fast in the studio
that I’ll wind up developing one idea into a
full take while he bounces on to the next.
Adam writes all the lyrics and melodies, so
we’re always feeding him chord progressions
and riffs that will spark ideas. “She Will Be
Loved,” from our first record, was born when
Adam started hearing melodies over a Jobiminspired
bossa nova riff I was plucking. We
straightened out the rhythm for the record.
You play a lot of funky guitar parts within a
pop-rock context. Where’d you get your funk?
Nile Rodgers is the best at that style, and
he was a big influence. Maceo Parker’s live
record with Rodney Jones on guitar, Life on
Planet Groove, was also pretty big for me. Ultimately,
that style suits these songs. We ended
up exploring a lot of plucked, muted parts—
the kind Dean Parks would play on a Michael
Jackson session. That’s a huge influence.
“Give A Little More” reminds me of “Beat It.”
That intro is a good example of what I’m
talking about, and it’s is a big part of our
sound. In order to get that muted, almost
metallic sound, I pick aggressively but evenly,
and involve left-hand muting to make it more
staccato. There’s a heavy, syrupy chorus as
well as an octave effect on that part. We actually
recorded it with the Pro Tools HD system
we set up in Adam’s garage. We did demos
there, and flew a lot of those tracks into the
sessions with Mutt over in Switzerland. The
best ones made the final cut.
What was your main signal path in the home
studio, and what did you bring to Switzerland?
I used various guitars. The main signal
path I used on the line for “Give A Little
More” was a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster
Relic through a ’65 Fender Deluxe,
close miked with either a Shure SM57
dynamic or a Royer R-121 ribbon mic. We
used the Deluxe for practically everything.
At Mutt’s studio in Switzerland, we usually
ended up using my ’70s Telecaster, or
my Fano JM6, which I frequently use onstage.
It’s got P-90 pickups, and is capable of producing
a wide range of sounds. We miked
up a few different amps to choose from, and
we’d always run a direct signal that we could
re-amp with Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig
in case we wanted to complement the amp
track with something else. In the end, we
often wound up using the same amps that I
use onstage—a Divided By 13 FTR 37 head with a Divided By 13 2x12 cabinet, and a
Matchless Independent head with a Matchless
2x12 cabinet. We had the heads in the control
room and the speakers isolated.
How do you use your amps in conjunction with
one another, and what makes them a good combination?
I place them side-by-side, and I have the
ability to run either of them clean or dirty,
although most of the time they are both clean
or both dirty. They are split up in stereo in
my in-ear monitors, which makes it really
nice when playing along. The Matchless has
a sharper, more aggressive, slightly more
modern sound. The Divided By 13 has more
of a Neil Young-type of sound that breaks
up like a Fender. The sharper sound combined
with the more vintage sound creates
a nice sonic picture.
What are your key effects?
I use a Fulltone OCD for leads, a Line 6
DL4 Delay Modeler for delays, and a Dunlop
Rotovibe for swirling sounds.
How did you create the cool sounds for the
verses on “Never Going to Leave This Bed?”
Mutt put together the sonic landscapes
on that tune. He created them from a lot of
different guitar takes using various delays.
It’s an amalgamation of ideas.
There’s an apparent harmonic signature on
“This Love” and some of the newer songs. Is it a
Diminished chords are an important part
of the Maroon 5 sound. We use them in the
verse and in the bridge on “This Love.” The
diminished and half-diminished chords that
we use in our songs add so much tension
that by the time the chord progression
resolves there is a sense of relief. That sort
of harmonic movement is fun to solo over
because there are a lot of possibilities. It’s
informed by a jazz sensibility.
It’s not so apparent from listening to the
records that you have an extensive background
playing jazz. How is your playing different when
you’re at home compared to what you bring to
It’s definitely different, but I try to bring
as much as I can into the Maroon 5 show.
At home, I find myself leaning towards a Bill
Frisell way of playing. He’s been my favorite
for a while. The longer I play, the more I play
in that kind of style. As soon as he starts
playing—you’re in his universe—and it’s so
elegantly simple. He just has a vibe that keeps
me coming back. It sounds like he’s tapped
into some kind of spiritual undercurrent that
makes you want to ride on it with him. I
wish I had more time to play jazz.
There aren’t any guitar solos on the tracks I
had access to from the new record. Do you ever
say, “Hey fellas, we’re rock band—let me rip for a
Yes. That’s an ongoing dialogue within
the band. We take the time to explore
things such as guitar solos in the live setting,
and I would love to do more of that
in the studio. But at the same time we
ultimately decided to treat the records differently.
The idea is to present the songs
in a classic way, and trim any excess. Unfortunately,
guitar solos usually wind up falling
into that category. I’m always fighting for
more guitar solos, so maybe on the next
record. We’ll see.