Maroon 5’s James Valentine (right) and Adam Levine.WITH
A VINTAGE STEINWAY IN HIS LIVING
room, a view of downtown Los Angeles, a veritable
Noah’s Ark of music gear in his home studio, and
his band, Maroon 5, enjoying multi-platinum album
sales, James Valentine is living many a guitarist’s
Hollywood dream. But all this success didn’t just
happen for Valentine. Beneath his humble, happy-
go-lucky demeanor is a guy more “alpha dog” than
meets the eye.
“As much as I hide it, there’s a lot of ambition
inside me,” says Valentine, who credits his parents
for instilling in him a tireless work ethic, laser-like
focus, and the ability to set clear goals. “And if you
want to make music work, it goes beyond a relationship with your guitar. You also have to figure
out how to network, how to market your music to
the right people, and how to use all this new technology to get good sounds.”
Not surprisingly, Valentine isn’t coasting on the
success of Maroon 5’s latest release, Overexposed
[A&M/Octone]. In fact, while the band’s front-
man Adam Levine was taping some segments of
The Voice—where he serves as a celebrity judge—
Valentine tracked, released, and toured in support
of Suicide Pact [Dangerbird], the debut album from
his new rock band, JJAMZ.
Maroon 5’s debut, Songs About Jane, was released
a couple of years before it blew up on radio. You
guys must have slugged it out doing van tours for
quite awhile until it all paid off.
Van tours are definitely not for the weak,
and we did a ton of them before the second
single, “This Love,” exploded in 2004. Eventually, we “upgraded” to an RV, but that
turned out to be a nightmare, because the
thing was built for Grandma and Grandpa
go to Tahoe for the weekend—not to keep up
with a rigorous rock and roll tour. It always
broke down and it always smelled like piss,
so we went back to the van. Of all the barom-
eters of success we’ve known, I think the
biggest game changer was getting our first
tour bus, because it meant we could cover
hundreds of miles after shows and still get
a full night’s rest.
“Moves Like Jagger” is still played often. Is it
a thrill to hear your funky guitar intro each time
it comes on?
Yeah, but most of the credit should go to [producer] Shellback. He put that track
together for us in advance, played the scratch
guitar part, sampled it, and chopped it up.
Then I re-did the part my way, and it was
chopped up again. You put a lot of trust in
the producer, because music has become
more of a producer-driven medium. For years,
Maroon 5 would just get in a room, jam, and
put together every song on our own. Now,
it’s a different ballgame.
What are some of the things pop producers
are doing to guitars these days?
I used to be so interested in getting the
biggest, roundest guitar tone—and I still am
when I play live—but in the studio it often
gets squashed down. Radio has changed,
and big walls of guitars are not often what
they’re looking for now. Clever use of plug-ins
such as FilterFreak or CamelPhat can make a
guitar fit the mix in a new way by crushing
it and f**king it up so it’s a completely different thing. You can play guitar chords into
CamelPhat, and it splits things up and adds
overtones, and, all of a sudden, you’ve created a cool sound that never existed before.
One recurring thing in dance music—a sound
that is on the verge of being overused—is to
build tension using a gradual filter sweep in a
lo-fi way, like on the verse guitar of “Jagger.”
Another thing pop guys are doing is recording guitars straight into the board, which is
an old Nile Rodgers funk technique. One of
[Overexposed executive producer] Max Mar-
tin’s favorite techniques is to push a channel strip on the Neve 88R console at Conway
Recording Studios and get distortion from
that. That’s also an old-school approach.
What’s your go-to studio amp?
It’s a Divided By 13 FTR 37—which has
kind of become the “L.A. guitar guy” amp.
It has plenty of vintage vibe, yet it breaks up
in this modern-sounding way. I originally
bought the amp as a gift for John Mayer,
who had given me a couple of Two-Rock
heads after we did a tour together. I even
had a plaque put on the back of it for John that says, “Thanks for the memories! Have
a kick-ass summer.” But the amp happened
to be delivered to the studio while we were
recording, so I plugged it in. It sounded so
amazing that I never gave it to John. I’m such
a dick [laughs].
How about your onstage rig?
Live, I play Fender Telecasters and
Fano guitars—often their Alt de Facto JM6
model—into an FTR 37 run in parallel with
a Matchless Independence. I keep the amps’
footswitches side-by-side so I can switch to
both dirty channels with one stomp. I also
use a semi-hollow Collings I-35 Deluxe and
a Martin Performer Series acoustic with an
onboard Fishman preamp. If I have to rent
backline amps, I get Mesa/Boogie Lone
Stars. I have been using Ernie Ball strings
forever—but not just because they’re great
strings. Square, my band from Nebraska, won
the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands in 1999,
which brought me out to L.A. I’ll be forever
thankful for that.
Adam Levine plays a fair amount of guitar
He’s an amazing guitar player—our secret
weapon. Luckily, he writes ambitious vocal
melodies, and he doesn’t want to be held
back by the guitar, or else I might not have
this gig [laughs].
JJAMZ has a hypnotic, Blondie-meets-MGMT
sound that is strikingly different from Maroon 5.
I definitely do a different sort of guitar
thing in that band. I’m often cranking up ’60s
Fender combos, because spring reverb is such
an important part of the JJAMZ sonic land-
scape. JJAMZ came together totally organi-
cally. We’re all best friends.
There are some great fuzz guitar tones on
Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet is
the other guitarist in JJAMZ, and [Suicide Pact
engineer] Shawn Everett did a cool thing to
his fuzz solo on “Heartbeat.” He threw the
solo into Melodyne, which he used to analyze
the notes and create a MIDI file. Then, he used the MIDI file to have a synth double the
solo. The fuzz solo on “LAX” was the Boost
channel of my Fulltone Full-Drive kicked in
through a Vibrolux.
Who is your favorite pop guitar player around
Blake Mills. He’s incredible. I would say
he’s an inspiration, but what he inspires
me to do is throw all my guitars into the
L.A. River. While I may never be able to
play like him, it’s always immensely fun to
learn a new lick or voicing and incorporate
it into my onstage vocabulary. Whenever I
can, I take a guitar lesson from Jean-Marc
Belkadi or other guys around town—not
just to learn new things, but because lessons keep me playing guitar. I went to a
Berklee summer session right after high
school in 1996, just to learn more guitar.
That’s where I met John Mayer. He won
the big scholarship prize—the son of a
bitch. That’s why I didn’t give him that
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