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Interview: James Valentine (Maroon 5) - Hands All Over

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Interview: James Valentine (Maroon 5) - Hands All Over


Valentine onstage with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine

What about the track’s numerous guitar fills and leads?

Adam actually did the various lead fills in the post-chorus spots with one of his various First Act Custom Shop guitars and I improvised the solos in the verses by doing this David Gilmour-thing where you’re sliding up a triad minor [makes chord noise… laughs].

What kind of gear did you use when recording “Hands All Over?”

Ironically enough, for this track I mainly used one of Mutt’s guitars—a model from Saint Blues Guitars, which was a gift from Def Leppard’s guitarist Phil Collen—that went through one of his high-gain, ballsy rock amps like the Mesa/Boogie. I generally don’t go to the modern, high-gain territories too often because I like keeping things a little bit more controlled [laughs], but doing that was fun.

“Get Out of My Life” has these two opposite jangly guitar riffs—each one panned in a separate direction—that work together in an unusual way for a Maroon 5 setting. How did the idea for recording the guitar tracks for this song come about?

That one is interesting because Adam’s demo featured a clean, chorused guitar part that sounded really cool, but it still sounded empty. We tried a whole bunch of riffs and filler chords and finally Jesse [Carmichael, Maroon 5 keyboardist/guitarist] suggested I do a Keith Richards thing, so that’s how I came up with main riff that sounds like the Stones’ “Miss You.” And again, Mutt worked his magic with this song because a lot of these parts—on their own—sounded like shit and didn’t seem to fit, but he would just EQ everything so they sit in the right pocket and didn’t overwhelm each other.

Adam has been playing more and more guitar live and on recordings over the years, how does his development as a guitarist change or affect your duties as the band’s lead guitarist?

More than any of our previous records, Adam came in with the songs and song ideas more fully formed in terms of lyrics and basic song structures. For instance, he’ll make a demo with one guitar part or a riff and it’s my job to either take those parts and flesh them out or simply fill in the space of the song’s spectrum. The classic Maroon 5 setup is like with “Misery,” where you have a guitar playing a repeated funk chord progression on top and then a crunchier, thicker guitar that’s doubling the bass line. On Hands All Over, each song was a totally different package and Adam’s demos had a lot of room to fill in, so in that sense, I work with Jesse because we need to find out where the keyboards and guitars are going to coexist in a song.

Does working within a song skeleton or box become frustrating as a guitarist?

It can be frustrating sometimes because you hear Adam’s lyrics and idea and just say “Well, what the hell am I supposed to put in there?” but that’s my role within the band. My job is to find where I can logically weave my guitar parts around the dancing keyboards and rolling bass lines so that it helps and complements the song rather than take away from it because I’m the guitarist. I take those situations, when they occur, as a challenge more than a negative thing. But that dynamic of the band and our creative process makes us unique because we avoid the obvious arrangements and setups.


One of Valentine's Fano Alt de Facto JM6 guitars
Let’s talk gear. In the past you’ve been a big user of the Fender Telecaster Deluxe. Why was that?

That black Tele Deluxe was actually Jesse’s and the headstock cracked all the way down to the neck… [laughs] It was an old guitar and I’ve been looking for a good Deluxe since we retired that one from the road. I just really like the Deluxe because it has the best of both worlds—it cuts through the mix and it is so warm. But lately the guitars I’ve been playing are these old, original ’70s Teles with single-coils and these new handbuilt guitars loaded with Lindy Fralin custom-wound P-90s.

Those must be the distressed guitars built by Dennis Fano. How did you come across his guitars?

My friend from back in Nebraska, Mike Mogis [multi-instrumentalist for Bright Eyes], was using one and I really dug the guitar’s vibe and feel when I was messing around with it. After that, I was in New York City at 30th Street Guitars to buy the Jazzmaster-esque model [Alt de Facto JM6], but all they had at the time was the Telecaster-esque model so my first one was the TC6, which became one of my favorite go-to guitars. A few months had passed since I bought my first one, and I got into contact with Dennis and we talked a bit—he ended up building me a JM6… [laughs] but I had to wait anxiously for a few months because he builds everything himself.

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