Maroon 5

“Because of our chart success and high profile on MTV, people are quick to write Maroon 5 off as this fluffy pop entity,” says guitarist James Valentine, conveying far more bemusement than bitterness. “It’s understandable, because we exist in a format where there are very few other bands like us who write their own songs and play their own instruments. But I hope listeners get past preconceived notions, recognize the craft behind what we do, and appreciate the fact we work really hard at it.”

So don’t hate on Maroon 5 because they’re pop darlings. Certainly, the band’s seamless merger of heavy-handed riffing and West Coast R&B made its 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, stand out within an overly formulaic pop panorama. And sure, amid chart-topping singles such as “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved,” multiple Grammy awards, heavy-rotation videos, and gossip-rag speculation over who band members were shagging, Maroon 5’s merit as a crafty, tightly knit ensemble got lost in the mix. This is a situation Valentine feels the quintet’s long-awaited sophomore effort, It Won’t be Soon Before Long [A&M/ Octone], will remedy.

“Whenever bands have the kind of success we’ve been fortunate to enjoy, there’s an inevitable backlash, and we’re okay with that,” he says. “The longer we stick around, though, the more I feel people will see us for what we really are: a group of musicians who enjoy playing together, and who try to craft their influences—funk, jazz, hip-hop, power pop, or rock—into something that’s our own.”

Your songs often have one guitar playing a high-gain, syncopated, low-end riff, while the other lays down a scratchy, two- or three-note chord voicing on top. Who generally plays what?
There’s no hard and fast rule as to who’s playing what when. It’s based on who came up with a part, and what Adam [Levine, vocalist and co-guitarist] can comfortably play while he’s singing.

When you first joined the band, Maroon 5 were a quartet known as Kara’s Flowers, playing mostly power pop. How did you help to move the music in a different direction?
For starters, having a second guitarist in the lineup gave us a lot more power—especially live. One of the first songs we collaborated on was “Not Coming Home,” which wound up on the first record. They had the tune basically worked out, with Adam’s scratchy wah part on top, and Mickey Madden’s bass riff underneath. I just doubled the bass riff up an octave, and, all of a sudden, everything sounded ten times bigger. That’s really the Maroon 5 guitar formula—the funky line dancing on top, and the lower riff that’s either doubling, or closely working around, the bass line. Bands like Steely Dan did similar things, but usually not with a heavily distorted guitar sound for the doubled parts.

Speaking of Steely Dan, you’ve had the opportunity to jam with Jay Graydon—who played the guitar solo on “Peg”—as well as other great funk guitarists such as Nile Rodgers. Did you experience any “aha” moments while grooving alongside the masters?
Jay got me into those pointy, muted single-note lines. I’ve become really intrigued by them lately, and they show up all over our new record—particularly in the riff to “Makes Me Wonder.” Nile came to a rehearsal of ours when there was talk he might produce our first record. Before we even said two words to each other, he got out his guitar, plugged in, and jammed with us for a half-hour straight—which was incredibly inspiring to both me and Adam. One thing I copped from him was the way he used open strings in his single-note lines, such as bouncing notes off the G or D strings. I’d heard that sound on records before, but it was something else to actually see how he does it.

Do you have a favorite riff on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long?
I like the way the chorus line of “Can’t Stop” snakes around in an unexpected way. When I first showed the riff to the band, they found the feel a bit confusing. But when Adam got his vocal melody in place, it made a lot more sense.

Is the guitar riff usually the first component in place when you write a song?
Not always, but songs such as “If I Never See Your Face Again,” “Wake Up Call,” and “Can’t Stop” originated that way. Adam usually presents ballad-type songs—such as “Nothing Lasts Forever”—as essentially complete ideas, whereas “Makes Me Wonder” was built from [keyboardist] Jesse Carmichael’s chord sequence.

The opening riff to “If I Never See Your Face Again” is a really catchy way to kick off a CD.
I had that riff floating around for a while, and I was always messing with it during soundchecks and rehearsals. One day, Mickey looked over at me, and said, “Whoa, do that again. That’s cool! We’ve got to do something with that.” It’s totally me trying to do my best Nile Rodgers imitation, and it’s based around an Am9 voicing on the top four strings that a lot of jazz guys use. Your pinky plays the 3 of the chord on the 10th fret of the D string, your 3rd finger plays the 5 on the 9th fret of the G string, your 2nd finger plays the 7 on the 8th fret of the B string, and your 1st finger plays the 9 on the 7th fret of the high E. I break it up into two-note fragments, and then slide my 2nd and 3rd fingers up to play the 3 and 5 of an implied D chord.

Are you ever inspired by musical elements outside the funk, rock, and R&B realms?
Sure. “Wake Up Call” started as a jam on a Im-V7 progression in the key of E minor [Em to B7], and, for some reason, it reminded me of an arrangement of “Hava Nagila” that I’d played in concert band back in grade school. I started aiming for riffs and melodies that had the moody, expressive sound of Jewish klezmer music, and though we wound up giving the song a much heavier backbeat, if you sped the track up, you could probably dance the Horah to it!

What’s your current rig?
We had a whole array of vintage gear available to us in the studio, but we wound up coming back to Divided By 13 amps over and over again. Their dynamic response is amazing, and they seem to capture all the vibe of old Fender, Marshall, and Vox classics. We haven’t done a full-scale tour yet, but for all the TV and promotional stuff, my truncated rig is based around the Divided By 13 FTR 37 two-channel head. As for guitars, I use a Gibson Les Paul or a mid-’70s Fender Telecaster Deluxe for the chunky stuff, and one of several mid-’70s Teles for those chink-a-chink-y funk rhythm things. Adam played Les Pauls for a long time, but now he has got several custom guitars by First Act. They’ve still got that heavy Gibson sound, which complements my Telecasters nicely.