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

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

During live performances you often blend the Matchless Independence 35 head and the Divided by 13 FTR 37 head, why is that?

First off, they’re really great amps in their own regards, but when they work together they complement each other in a very dynamic way. Generally, I have them both on—running through their own matching 2x12 extension cabs—and I have their channel switchers next to each other on my pedalboard so that I can switch them both to their dirty channels for a huge, stadium-rock overdriven sound or I can keep one clean and one dirty. I like keeping each amp different—one set to clean and the other dirty—because you get this really big, stereo effect where each amp’s tone is independent, but when they’re combined in this setup you can cover so much more ground tonally. Plus, it just sounds huge!

To me, the Divided FTR 37’s tone has a vintage vibe, while the Matchless Independence head is more modern sounding… [laughs] it’s not nearly as modern as lets say my Boogie Mark Five, but it tends to break up earlier and has a drastically different tonal vocabulary than the Divided. It took me a number of years and experimentations with several amp combinations before I reached my current rig. Just recently, I’ve been getting a lot of compliments and questions about my tone during the Hands All Over tour. A lot of that credit goes to my guitar tech Mike Buffa who has helped me really dial in my setup and overall stage sound because the four heads [each head has a backup] sit offstage with him and he controls the amps’ volumes and blends them directly offstage with an Ernie Ball Volume pedal. It’s nice having him offstage with my amps because if something sounds off or happens he can adjust things on the fly.

What’s currently on your pedalboard for the Hands All Over Tour?

Mike wired up my pedalboard and we experimented with the order of the signal path to avoid too much tone sucking. It has a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, a Boss FV-500H Volume Pedal, a Dunlop Rotovibe, a Fulltone Full-Drive 2, a Dunlop Zakk Wylde Signature wah, a Fulltone Octvafuzz, a Keeley Katana Clean Boost, a Keeley True Bypass Looper, Providence Anadime Chorus 2, an EHX Micro POG 2 (both the chorus and the POG 2 are in a separate effects loop for the intro and main riff on “Give A Little More”), a Z.Vez Effects Octane 3, a Fulltone OCD, a Menatone Blue Collar Overdrive (the Fulltone works as my ballsy, over-the-top gritty soaring solo tone, while the Blue Collar colors my tone for the crunchy rhythm parts), and a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor.

Working in Maroon 5 you’re the lead guitarist, but when you worked with John Mayer on Continuum's "Stop This Train" and "In Repair," how did the working dynamic change when you were with another chop-heavy guitarist?

Working with John can be super intimidating because he’s just so good. I was really honored when he had asked me to come play on the record. It reminds me that even though some dudes have crazy chops, everyone has their own unique style that they can bring—we really are all special little snowflakes. That being said, sometimes when I hear John play, or someone like Blake Mills, I do have to fight the urge to not go throw my guitar into the LA river [laughs]. I usually just try not to embarrass myself and try to learn as much as I can those situations.

Most of your time is devoted to Maroon 5 and the pop/rock riffs in your songs, what type of music do you enjoy playing? And what type of music would you like to explore outside the realm of Maroon 5?

My favorite guitarist is probably Nels Cline. I love all the work he’s done as a sideman and as a bandleader. When I’m sitting at home I’m often emulating him. One of my other big favorites is Bill Frisell. I spend time playing through his compositions as well. I'd like to perhaps someday work on some instrumental music in that sort of vein. I really dig Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkel, too, I would love to be able to play like them… [laughs] maybe in fifty or sixty years.

What about practicing and learning the craft of guitar playing?

Recently I started to get together with a great teacher in LA named Jean Marc Belkadi to work on a lot of different things: technique, harmony, chord melody, and different styles I hadn't really been exposed to. I record all of our lessons so in hotel rooms I can play along to certain routines. A lot of what I have been working on is very rudimentary—getting my picking and strumming really together, working with a metronome, and doing melodic sequences. I’ve been working lately on getting the melodic minor under my fingers. I try to keep on learning jazz tunes and on this tour I was working on “Stella by Starlight.” I’ve been going through the Beatles catalog trying to learn all their tunes, I figure that's not a bad way to study song craft.

There are some great books that I keep in my backpack that can always spawn ideas of things I could work on. A great guitarist, Dave Rawlings, gave me The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick—that alone could keep me busy for the rest of my life [laughs]. The last time we were in Boston I picked a book on hybrid picking that I have spent a lot of time with, too.

My obsession with learning this stuff might seem manic to some—they’re not totally wrong. I just feel so privileged to be able to play guitar for a living, so I want to make sure that I continue to get better. A lot of players might have an innate talent that doesn’t require them to think of these things… [laughs] I am not one of these people—I need to work at it.

What is some advice for guitarists who are trying to make guitar-playing their career?

That's tough—it’s not a sensible career. You don't get into this because you are career minded. You come into this because you are so obsessed that you can’t or don’t want to do anything else. I’d suggest developing a personality that will compel others to want to be around you—it can make the difference of getting the gig or not just because you appear to be easy to hang with. Networking is something that helped me directly because I was lead into Maroon 5 by a series of seemingly unconnected events, so put yourself out there, but don't be annoying about it [laughs]. With laptops and their abilities, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be good at recording yourself. Also, when I started out I just wanted to play guitar so I really focused on my playing and not enough on the craft of writing songs. You really should challenge yourself to write a little bit every day—write a song a day, or a song a week. And if you are having trouble with creative blocks check out the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. And lastly, just listen… to everything. The key is to really actively listen. You don’t know where ideas will come from.

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