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James Valentine

Nov 29, 2019

Born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, guitarist James Valentine spent most of his early career teaching guitar lessons in his hometown. It wasn’t until a coworker entered him and his band, Square, into the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands that his talent started to gain recognition. After winning the competition in 1999, James made the move to Los Angeles where he would eventually join the LA-based band Kara's Flowers, which would soon become Maroon 5. After a successful debut record and three Grammys later, Maroon 5 has gone on to become one of the most successful names in music today. In this episode, we speak to James about his early years with Maroon 5, how the hit show The Voice impacted his career, and much more.

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Transcript

Evan Ball:
Hello, this is Evan Ball. Welcome to striking a chord and Ernie Ball podcast. Today we have James Valentine, guitarist of Maroon 5. I caught up with James at Conway studios in LA where he was working on some new material. We talked a lot about the story of Maroon 5 and their path to becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet. James offers up some advice for aspiring bands. We talked about the impact of The Voice, and even get some brief reflections on playing the Super Bowl. We definitely cover some ground. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, James Valentine. James Valentine, welcome to the podcast.

James Valentine:
Thank you so much for having me.

Evan Ball:
All right, so you have a signature guitar with Ernie Ball Music Man, but there's actually an interesting earlier connection that you have with the company. So, back in the olden days, prior to Maroon 5, you were in a band called Square. And you guys actually won the Ernie Ball battle of the bands. So maybe you could recap that story and tell us how it might have played into your career.

James Valentine:
Yeah, it absolutely played in my career. I joke with Sterling all the time that I owe my career to Ernie Ball back in 1999. I was teaching guitar lessons at a music store in Lincoln, Nebraska called Dietze Music, shout out to Dietze Music, and one of my colleagues at the store, he entered our band into this battle of the bands competition. I probably wouldn't have even done it myself but he said, "Oh, no, you guys have to do this thing." And so we did it and there was a local round and then like a state round, a regional round. We kept on winning, which was amazing. It was a surprise to us.

James Valentine:
So when we made it to the finals, part of making it into the finals was winning airfare out to Los Angeles. And we said don't give us airfare just pay for our moving truck because we're going out there. We had already had plans to try to go out to LA to try and make it, to try to find a record deal.

Evan Ball:
I wasn't sure if this prompted it or if it was already in the works, or maybe it expedited it?

James Valentine:
It expedited it because we did have connection to one Nebraska native named Bob Marlet, who was a producer, who was from Nebraska, but he was living out in Los Angeles and he was starting to do some stuff. He had produced some Black Sabbath, and also the band Saliva. He was known for a lot of heavy stuff, which was not us, but he had heard a demo of ours and he was interested in recording us. So we said, okay, that's what we're going to do. We're going to move to LA. All the bands from Nebraska that you've ever heard of they had followed that trajectory. They moved out to LA like Matthew sweet. If you remember him, great, great songwriter, he actually went to my same high school. And then of course, the band 311, who are from Omaha, they moved out to LA to sort of find their record deal. So that's, what we were trying to do. We're trying to-

Evan Ball:
Real quick on that, I just had a thought. Would it not be easier for a band to stay in a city that's less competitive? Or do you think it is better for them to come out to LA?

James Valentine:
That's a really good question. And immediately after we moved out to LA, we were questioning ourselves because right after we left there was the Saddle Creek Omaha explosion of bands like Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, which we had all come up playing shows with and stuff and we were like later suckers. We're going to LA. And then all those bands blew up as soon as right after we moved out to LA. I think the answer to that question is different in 1999 than it was even in like maybe 2003, 2004 as the internet started coming into play. I think we were still of the very old school mentality of No, you have to go to LA or New York to get noticed. And I think that started to change very soon after we left with the internet.

James Valentine:
And so today, I don't think it really totally matters where you are, I think there still is a benefit to being part of a scene wherever that is. And we came out to LA and I was lucky enough, this is skipping forward in the story, but I was lucky enough to find a scene that happened to be in Los Angeles of like minded musicians, bands like Phantom Planet, Rilo Kiley, Rooney, Simon Dawes, which would become Dawes. And so we found a cool little clique of musicians. Wherever you can find that where you're playing shows, writing songs with other people and sort of mixing that all together. So we moved out to LA. We moved out to what we thought was Los Angeles. We rented a house in Anaheim, which we thought was LA.

Evan Ball:
You wanted to be close to Disneyland.

James Valentine:
We wanted to be clear we were a mile from Disneyland we could see the fireworks from Disneyland every night. But yeah, because we ended up winning the finals that were here in Los Angeles, we won $25,000. So we used that to move out here.

Evan Ball:
So, you'd already moved in when you actually played at the finals and won?

James Valentine:
We were in the process of moving in while we were playing the finals. Yeah, we dropped our stuff off at the house that we found and then went to the finals. Then we won. We took back the oversized check to the living room.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, in Anaheim?

James Valentine:
Yeah. And so that's what got us out, that's what got me out to LA.

Evan Ball:
So, Ernie Ball gave you guys a moving credit basically.

James Valentine:
Yeah. It brought us out here and it was, I mean, it was, that was a magical time. Music is great because it's not a competition. So you rarely get that sort of feeling like it was an Olympic type of moment. Like when we found out we won we didn't think we were going to win. There was like a heavy band from Oklahoma called Lure. And I was sure they were going to win but when the judges announced the name, that was another thing all the judges there. You know it's hosted by Dweezil Zappa, Blues Saraceno and there was Duff McKagan was there, I think C. C.  Deville was there, Paul Gilbert was there. I got to meet Paul Gilbert.

Evan Ball:
Wow, very guitar heavy here.

James Valentine:
It was very guitar heavy. So we were just completely starstruck and it was an awesome night.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah. Okay.

James Valentine:
Thanks to Ernie ball.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that is great to hear. Okay, so you guys move out to Southern California close to LA.

James Valentine:
Yes.

Evan Ball:
And there's a band called Kara's Flowers, which will eventually change its name to Maroon 5. So how did you get to know those guys?

James Valentine:
Well, this comes back to Ernie Ball again because at the finals of the Battle of the Bands competition, they had Reel Big Fish headline the show. So while the judges were deliberating Reel Big Fish came out and they played a set, so I met those guys that night. There was a little bit of serendipity. We ended up moving down to Anaheim. They lived in Orange County too, so I ran into those guys again, it was like, Hey, I'm from Square the band, they're like oh hey, and we became friends. I started hanging out with them, and even played for Reel Big Fish for a moment when Aaron Barrett, the lead singer guitarist broke his hand.

James Valentine:
So, that was one of my first real gigs. It was the first time I'd been in a tour bus or played in front of crowds that actually we're wanting to hear us play. They've got hardcore fans. They still have hardcore fans all over the country all over the world. So Aaron Barrett would always tell me about this band Kara's Flowers, that was his favorite band. Kara's Flowers had gone and opened for Reel Big Fish a couple of years prior. And I went with Aaron Barrett to go see Kara's Flowers play in Pomona, California. And I saw them playing I was just like, Whoa, these guys, A, they can write songs, B Adam's voice is incredible. And they already had a huge presence. They already had a really loyal fan base. I was looking around at the show and everybody was singing along to all these songs that were unreleased. They were just demos that people had been trading CD-Rs of.

James Valentine:
So I could see that there was something really special and I had this weird premonition that night. I've told this story a million times, but I had this weird premonition right there at the show there. I was going to be in the band because there was at that point they were a four piece and I could see that they needed another guitar player because Jesse was switching between guitar and piano. And they were transitioning their sound from a more straight ahead power pop thing into a more RnB influenced funk influence sort of thing, which was totally within my wheelhouse. And I could just see exactly, I mean, I could like hear parts that I wanted to play to the song so that they were doing.

James Valentine:
At the time I probably subconsciously knew that things weren't completely working out with Square. We weren't completely getting along. And so that was tough. But that led to... I eventually met the guys, they heard me play and were right away interested in having me come jam with them just kind of at first just filling in. They knew they needed another guitar player. But when I first started playing with them was the idea that I was just filling in until I could find someone more permanent. But then as we started playing together more and more, it became clear that they wanted me and also I wanted to be in their band. So it was tough but I had to quit Square and to join become Maroon 5.

Evan Ball:
I get, back up real quick so, you can see the direction they're going in. You can see they need an extra guitar player and you can see that you're the right fit. Do you actually go up to them at the end of the gig and say, here I am, your missing ingredient. You're welcome. Or is it-

James Valentine:
No [crosstalk 00:10:33] Well, I just knew, I saw them and I could tell Oh, these guys are a part of my tribe, I need to connect with them. I went up and introduced myself to Mickey that first night and I think he just blew me off as you know, they had a lot of fans and groupies down there in Orange County I think I just got blown off. So the first time we really connected with them we got to open up for them. So square actually opened up for Kara's Flowers at a place called The Chain Reaction in Anaheim. And that was the first time they saw me play because they were there for soundcheck and so they heard us warming up and right then Jesse and Adam came up to the front and listened to the soundcheck and were watching me and I could tell right away that they got it.

Evan Ball:
Nice. That's awesome. So obviously an incredibly difficult decision for you to leave the band that you just went all in for, moved to California. Actually, I've heard you talk about this where it wasn't simply changing bands. This is a full on breakup, where you're actually moving out of your house. So where did you go? Did you have like living arrangements set up when you're going to break the news to them?

James Valentine:
Yeah, it was exactly like a breakup because at the time Square we were all living together in this tiny house in Anaheim. So, when I broke the news to them the next morning Jesse came down from LA with a U-Haul truck. And we moved all my shit out of the house with the other two members of the band just sitting on the porch with their arms folded. It was actually pretty heavy.

Evan Ball:
Did you move in with Kara's Flowers?

James Valentine:
Yeah. So then I moved in temporarily with Jesse.

Evan Ball:
Moved right in with the new girlfriend.

James Valentine:
Straight in and then moved into a house with Adam and Sam and a bunch of other people. It was a kind of a crazy party house but-

Evan Ball:
Not Anaheim at this point right?

James Valentine:
No, this was up in Los Angeles, up in Los Feliz, where I've lived ever since. And in that house we started rehearsing. Right when I joined a deal was being discussed with Octone Records. So I joined and then we signed that first record deal. So right away we were about to work on that first record. So we were still writing songs for that record, we were practicing and playing shows around LA playing at the Whiskey, playing at Roxy, playing at the Viper Room, going down to Orange County to play and we were writing songs and in that house in the back studio that we had there we wrote, finished that record.

James Valentine:
She Will Be Loved was written back there. A lot of the songs that we recorded on the first record were already written, but we were just living music all day every day. And I had to still work some jobs to because we weren't making any money. So I was taking the bus, down Sunset Boulevard every day to go make copies at UCLA, which, was my last legitimate job that I held.

Evan Ball:
All right. Hey, originally was Adam, the main guitar player?

James Valentine:
Yeah, well, originally, Jesse and Adam played guitar. And Adam was more of the lead guitarist. He's a great guitar player. I think enough people know that now. I think for a long time people didn't know that. But as we started transitioning the sound he wanted to focus more on vocals. So there was, as the songs sort of vocally became more challenging there was, he couldn't really lay down a lot of those parts. And at the same time Jesse was playing more and more keyboards because the sound was headed that way.

Evan Ball:
But when you come in, it's not automatic? We remove his guitar. He's now a guitarless front man?

James Valentine:
Those early days when there were five of us on stage, usually, maybe about half and half we were both playing guitar.

Evan Ball:
Okay, so sometimes he would remove his guitar and he's just a front man with moves and a mic up front.

James Valentine:
Exactly.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

James Valentine:
Yeah. It was about half and half back then.

Evan Ball:
Okay, so you guys change your name to Maroon 5, because Maroon was everybody's favorite color and there are five of you. And then what happens?

James Valentine:
The origin of the name is a secret. Okay, only the band knows.

Evan Ball:
Fake news.

James Valentine:
Fake news. But yeah, the five was added because it turns out there was another band called Maroon. So, I can divulge that.

Evan Ball:
I think that happened to Blink 182 too.

James Valentine:
Yeah, that's in Matchbox 20, Dinosaur Jr.

Evan Ball:
Common event.

James Valentine:
Band names are hard to come up with.

Evan Ball:
Like usernames. You just got to add numbers at the end.

James Valentine:
Exactly. Yeah. So yeah, that was the beginning of Maroon 5. When I joined we were Kara's Flowers for about two weeks before we actually changed the name. Yeah.

Evan Ball:
All right. Let's take a quick break. Then we'll get back into the Maroon 5 story. Have you heard about Ernie Ball's new slinky sets. Introducing Primo Slinky, Ultra Slinky, Mega Slinky, Burly Slinky and Mammoth Slinky electric guitar strings. Find your perfect gauge. Maybe it's Primo Slinky with a 9.5 on the high E and a 44 on the low E. Or maybe you're a drop tuner, check out Mammoth Slinky. The 12 to 62 set. Ernie Ball's got Slinkys for everybody. Learn more by visiting ernieball.com or your favorite guitar retailer. Get yours today.

Evan Ball:
Alright, so Maroon 5 goes from an aspiring local band to one of the biggest bands on the planet. So that leaves a lot of room for steps in between. Are there any days or memories that stand out where it hit you, you thought, oh my God, this is happening right now -- maybe the first time you heard a song on the radio or hit the charts or any celebratory moments along the path that pop into your head?

James Valentine:
Yeah, I mean, there's a bunch of them. It was such an incremental steady climb. It was a great way for it to happen, because every week, every month there was something that was happening that things were growing. And we started as you say, as a local band signed to an independent label. So at the beginning, we had a tiny budget to make the first record compared to the records that were on the radio. The record wasn't supposed to be as big as it ended up being. They were smart, and then they gave us a small amount of touring support to keep us touring on the road.

James Valentine:
So after we finished that record, we just immediately went out on the road. We had some lucky breaks and getting opening slots. That was really important for us. Michelle Branch, that was the first tour that we opened up. And we went out with a lot of bands that were big regionally in different parts of the country. And then we started to get some bigger opening breaks, like with Matchbox 20 was big. And John Mayer was huge, because John Mayer had just really started to explode.

Evan Ball:
Were you guys pretty much, because I know you guys met, what the summer after high school, at Berklee, did your careers sort of rise in tandem?

James Valentine:
As we were sort of finishing Songs About Jane, he had really started to explode and Room for Squares had started to go. So I told the guys it's, I know him. They're like, well, you need to get us, hook it up, get an opening slot. So I showed up at one of his shows, that was at the House of Blues on Sunset, which was an amazing show. And I had an unmixed copy of Songs About Jane with me. And my mission was to get backstage and give it to him and show him what we were up to. By the time I got backstage, there was a line of dudes that he went to Berklee with, all with their demos, all trying to get backstage.

Evan Ball:
Oh, that's funny.

James Valentine:
And I wouldn't have got backstage had it not been for Hanson, the band Hanson who somehow had gotten ahold of our demos and had become fans of Maroon 5 and in fact, had showed up to a couple of our shows, tiny shows in Los Angeles. I remember playing at the Roxy to about 20 people. And then in the middle of the set seeing the three Hanson brothers walk up to the front of the stage and start singing along to all the words of the song. And so they were on their way backstage to John Mayer they saw me. And so I snuck in with them. And that's how I got backstage to connect with John again. And eventually he did give us that opening slot, which was huge for us. We owe him a lot because it was the perfect moment. And our style, his style it really complemented each other at that point. It worked out great for us.

Evan Ball:
Songs About Jane came out 2001 or two?

James Valentine:
It came out 2002.

Evan Ball:
Like you said it was kind of a, for how big the album got, there were a lot of big singles, but then I think it was 2005 you guys won Best New Artist, right?

James Valentine:
2006.

Evan Ball:
Oh, really?

James Valentine:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay. So you're working off that first album that whole time.

James Valentine:
We were working off that first album that whole time. And that was partly because we were an independent label, but it was essentially set up as a farm team. Clive Davis gave James Dean who was the president of Octone Records basically his own label to develop artists. And we were the first artist signed to that label, it was kind of an experiment, basically being like, we'll give you a small budget to put them out on the road, make their debut album and in a certain point, if the artist is doing well, they'll be up drafted to the major label system and then have all the benefits of the promotion of a major label.

James Valentine:
That's how it worked for us. But those first couple of years we were working in on a more independent grass roots level. And it was working and we were getting people interested, people were coming out, they were hearing about the shows coming out to the shows we were starting to sell a small amount of records in the markets where the song was on the radio -- I hate to call them markets in the cities where the song was on the radio. So it was doing well and then the major label got involved and then sort of put their whole muscle behind it and then it really started to explode.

Evan Ball:
So gradual climb, but do you remember for example, the first time you heard yourself on the radio, or any similar milestones?

James Valentine:
Yeah. Well, I mean, there was a lot of milestones along the way. I mean, it was so cool to look at the time of the sound scan numbers. This is before streaming and all that illegal downloading of mp3 was happening on college campuses. But it was still based on record sales. And so we could see every week in sound scans like, Oh, we sold 11 CDs in Chicago. And then the next week is like, we sold 14 CDs in Chicago, next week like 20. So, that was really cool to watch. And then yeah, Harder To Breathe, started to really connect on alternative radio-

Evan Ball:
That was the first single.

James Valentine:
That was the first single and it and it did well enough on alternative radio that they took it over to top 40 and then so that was the first time we've probably heard it on the radio. I do have a vague recollection of hearing it on Kiss FM for the first time driving back here when we were home in Los Angeles and that that was so cool. And then it just snowballed. By the time we released This Love then we had our first appearance on Saturday Night Live. That was a real milestone for us that was just like, Whoa, we've really made it. And you know, doing Letterman for the first time.

James Valentine:
There was there's a funny thing that happened. My parents still lived back in Lincoln at that time. And so when I would go to visit them, I'd go see the dentist because I didn't have a dentist down in Los Angeles like, you still have your parents' dentist. So I went back and the dentist knew that I was out in LA pursuing music, but I don't think he really knew that things were actually going well for. So he joked, he's like, well, hope the music's going well, maybe one day, we'll see you on Letterman. I said, Oh, yeah in two weeks, we're going to be on Letterman. And he was... I was like, no literally, no, we're actually going to be on Letterman in two weeks.

Evan Ball:
All right. You guys have had some mega hits. Have there been certain songs where when you're in the midst of them, writing recording them, that you have a strong feeling okay, we're nailing this one. This one's going big.

James Valentine:
Yeah, having been involved in that process now a few times we have many hits. I don't. I've been as many times wrong as again, right. So, I think the first time we all felt it was after we had written She Will Be Loved. We felt like okay, if this doesn't work as a song on the radio, then we don't know what was and that turned out to be true. And then over the years I think we've got a pretty good idea because I think we've we've got a pretty good track record. So we have some sort of idea, but then there's songs that I've heard where I've been like eh, and Girls Like You, which is-

Evan Ball:
Definitely huge.

James Valentine:
One of our biggest songs ever. I thought Oh, that's great. That's really cool, but I didn't see that coming. But Sugar I heard that and was like, okay, that one's going for sure. So, I never really know this. Our current single right now, Memories, I heard that and I said, Okay, this one's special. And that's we're still in the process of seeing exactly where that's going to go. But it's doing really well. That's connecting with people.

Evan Ball:
So Moves Like Jagger, as I understand, that's the first time you guys brought in some outside collaboration?

James Valentine:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
What does that song or at least the original idea or song, the version of it, what does that look like? Was it specifically written for Maroon 5?

James Valentine:
No. It was written. So that yeah, that was up until that point, we prided ourselves on we wrote every note within the band. And Moves Like Jagger came in it was originally written, I believe, for I know that at one point maybe Janelle Monae was going to do it. I think at one point, it was pitched to Gwen Stefani.

Evan Ball:
Really?

James Valentine:
Yeah. And I think they both turned it down.

Evan Ball:
Did it have that guitar line already in it?

James Valentine:
It had the guitar line. It had the whistle and it had the hook. But I don't think the verse lyrics were written. There was an early... Sometimes with demos, they'll just be nonsense sort of lyrics attached to melodies. There was some version of it that just had nonsense words. And it was at a time, it was our third record we put out a couple singles that hadn't done that well. And so we knew that we needed to do something different. And Adam had recently gone in and sung on a collaboration with Gym Class Heroes. That was produced by Benny Blanco, who also worked on Moves Like Jagger. And so in that session, Benny played Adam Moves Like Jagger. And it was one of those times where he said, well, this is crazy enough to maybe work. It was definitely a 180 for us in terms of our sound. We hadn't really gone into that electro pop sort of top 40 glossy sound.

Evan Ball:
The guitar line still sounds like it could be yours though.

James Valentine:
But the guitar line yeah, that was one of the through lines. I don't think, I don't know if we would have been able to make that transition if it didn't really have that element. Because I think if you talk about stylistically what makes something Maroon 5 because all the time I hear things, Oh, it sounds like Maroon 5. I'm always curious as to what that means. And I think one of the things that you could say is like that clean funky-

Evan Ball:
I think of your guitar parts a lot.

James Valentine:
That's a minory sort of funk guitar riff. I think that's what makes a Maroon song sound like Maroon. So yeah, it's it seemed like a good risk to take at that point and it definitely paid off.

Evan Ball:
Was the impetus to to have it released was that the first season of The Voice?

James Valentine:
It was the first season of The Voice. The timing of all that also came together to benefit the band really, because when Adam signed up for The Voice, we didn't know that it was going to be the success that it was either. For a while, I was thinking, Oh, this is the end of the band, he's going on American Idol show like it seemed the idea at the beginning seemed so corny to me-

Evan Ball:
It sounded more detrimental to the band then upside.

James Valentine:
Yeah, I don't think anybody really understood what it was going to be. And it was just like, Well, yeah, go do it. I mean, it's a good paycheck, but it's certainly not going to help the band. It just didn't seem, who would have known.

Evan Ball:
It's time consuming. You got to tour and record.

James Valentine:
Yeah. And we're going to be able to tour less but it was just exactly the opposite. I think it allowed people to connect. At that point, we had a lot of radio songs, a lot of songs that were out there, but I don't think people connected the singer with the song. I think the songs were more popular than the band itself. So I think without him being out there beamed into everybody's living rooms every night. They connected his personality with the songs that they already knew. And then it just created demand for more songs. And that coupled with the timing of Moves Like Jagger, which was this new sound for us. We played that song for the first time on The Voice. It just created this whole second wave of success for us which was great.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome. Do you watch The Voice?

James Valentine:
No. I watched, I did watch the second season. And I got into it. And I was okay, I understand. I get this. But my job is to, to listen to Adams opinions, so I don't need to seek that out for entertainment.

Evan Ball:
When you did watch it, and since you've known him for so long and lived with him and toured with him forever, could you predict who he's gonna pick or what he was going to say or what bands he'd like, or singers?

James Valentine:
Not really. No. But I did come away with not necessarily while I was watching it, but at one point, I was called in to be a guest mentor, I got the call the night before they were taping it. So I'm sure that someone more famous or appropriate, they got canceled at the last minute. So they needed someone there, Oh, well, I can get my band mate. But through that process, I came away with a respect for what he does there and actually guiding the young talent. And being in the room and seeing him do it and seeing the things that he could come up with that would help them improve their performances. It was, Okay, let's see, you can actually do this. You're actually getting pretty good at this. Because I went in there and I was like, you guys are all great. I don't know what to say. That was amazing. I couldn't do that. That's awesome.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, he's got I don't know how many seasons under his belt, all of them until now. How else has the band changed since The Voice?

James Valentine:
The shows got bigger. We were able to play less shows, but they were all bigger. But we were able to keep up a pretty steady pace of touring and making records during it. But I'm looking forward now that it's finally ended. I mean, at the beginning, I don't think anybody expected him to do 16 seasons. Yeah, like that's insane. So I'm looking forward to seeing, I think we're going to be able to tour a little more extensively, which is great. I mean, it was also nice. Up until The Voice we just said yes to everything. And we were so busy and constantly on the road and during those times when he was taping it was a complete break for us or mostly. So that was nice it added some balance to all of our lives.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. All right now for the real juicy stuff. What kind of guitar do you play?

James Valentine:
B.C. Rich.

Evan Ball:
I can't really picture that actually.

James Valentine:
No. So I've been straight up Music Man now for I don't, what year did we start that? It feels three years ago?

Speaker 3:
Four years.

James Valentine:
Four years ago. Yeah for four years. Yeah it was such a cool process to design this guitar and it's really four years later it really it's the only guitar I've used live since we designed it because I think we ticked all the boxes so I haven't needed anything else.

Evan Ball:
It gets you through your entire live show then?

James Valentine:
It gets me through the entire live show. I mean, I really have four guitars that I travel with. And the only reason I have four is because we have some songs we play an E flat and some we play an E. So I've got the E main and the backup and E the flat main and the back up.

Evan Ball:
I think I've seen you with that trans buttermilk the most. Is that your main guitar?

James Valentine:
That's the main one. Yeah, that's the main standard tuning guitar. So, that's the one that I play most often. I have those other ones as backups but I don't really make it to them because the guitars are so well made I never...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, you play in that middle pickup position mostly?

James Valentine:
Yeah, I think the middle pickup is probably my main sound. Lately I've been leaning more towards the neck pickup on the coil tap.

Evan Ball:
Okay, yeah, when you hit the tone knob on that then it splits the neck humbucker.

James Valentine:
Yeah. I've been going a little bit more, I don't know for some reason that one for like, say Moves Like Jagger. For that clean, funky sort of Nile Rodgers. It's almost like a fourth position strat type of sound to me. It's different, but I love that sound. I'll go the bridge pickup for the riffs like on harder to breathe or something like that.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, you got that like tele sound that really cuts through.

James Valentine:
It's like a Tele style bridge pickup. But yeah, the middle like we were talking about the Maroon 5 sound, is that the middle position.

Evan Ball:
Totally it's got so much optionality, just really cool.

James Valentine:
Yeah and that's that's some of the feedback that I get back from it that it can do everything I love. I'll look around on Instagram and look at people who tag me. Anytime you tag me on Instagram with your Valentine guitar you'll see me pop up in your comments.[crosstalk 00:33:39] So I'll go around and see what people are doing with it. It's been cool you know I see it in there's a lot of worship bands that use it who I think need to do a lot of different styles within-

Evan Ball:
the versatility.

James Valentine:
Yeah. So I like seeing it in that or even with cover bands, because as cover band gig you could use that guitar for everything. And to see country guys use it and stuff too, because it obviously has its tele roots that's really cool. I love seeing it out in the wild it's awesome.

Evan Ball:
All right. Super Bowl about as big a gig as you could get. It seems from the outside that it required inflicting a decent amount of pain on yourselves.

James Valentine:
Yes.

Evan Ball:
Was it worth doing?

James Valentine:
Sure. Yeah, I mean, it was a lot. At the end of the day, we played the Super Bowl. We can say we played the Super Bowl. We've been so blessed lucky in our careers had so many great opportunities and that was like one of the last things that we hadn't done so we've done it now but let's just say I'm glad it's over. That was a lot but it was great. It got me off of Instagram and Twitter, it got me off of social media for a while and which was great. It was a well needed break, I would recommend to anyone, just take a break, just put it down for a while, change your passwords, and then give them to a friend. And then don't let that friend, that's what I did. Because I find myself going on there all the time. I still, I just recently got back on and my life has not improved at all. Then you just get into the cycle and stuff.

Evan Ball:
How do you, how do you deal with that? I mean, I guess, can you just open Spotify and say okay, yeah, we got billions of streams, we're good? Clearly we have lots of fans I don't need to worry about this.

James Valentine:
Yeah, that's that's one way to deal with it. I think just with anything else, you just have to manage it and the type of success that we've had doesn't come without a lot of criticism, let's say and I think we've always been pretty realistic about that and you see that whether it's in movies, if you're at this center of pop culture, you're going to take some licks, and that's okay.

Evan Ball:
Even on lower levels. Anytime you put something out to the public, you kind of have to be ready.

James Valentine:
You have to be ready-

Evan Ball:
For whatever.

James Valentine:
Exactly. And you just have to Yeah. And that's okay. Our lives are so blessed that it really it doesn't, it can't affect us that much. We're doing fine.

Evan Ball:
Right. What are you up to these days?

James Valentine:
We just released a new single. So we've just started to go out and promote that and we're trying to work on a record that that single will be a part of. So we've been here in Conway studios where we're coming to you today live where we've finished this first round of recording. We've tracked a few songs, but we still have a lot of work to do on this record. So we'll still be continuing to write songs, compile songs, work on the songs we have. The record making process today is so much more piecemeal than it used to be back in the day like in Songs About Jane just like we moved into a studio for four months. And we made the record. We came out when the record was done now it's its more like we'll record a song here record a song there, maybe a song's in progress and they'll send it to me and I'll record a guitar part in my house. So it's like technology allows us to do all that.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. How do you guys feel about releasing singles versus albums?

James Valentine:
Well, we still have a traditional record deal and I love albums. I love collections of songs, but in the streaming world, it really incentivizes just releasing singles. Those are the only songs that end up... For us in our 90 minute Live Set at this point, we only have time to really played the single so album tracks really won't even make it into our live show. So I think it's really changing. I think the collection of songs as an album is still a great way to deliver songs. But I think for most artists, just releasing singles as they come along might be more beneficial. It's just staying in the public consciousness. It'll be interesting to see what we do going forward, after we fulfill our album deal and which is we owe them three more albums. I wonder if we'll shift to a model where we're just releasing one song at a time.

Evan Ball:
Gotcha. Another trend that seems very prevalent. Well, you guys with Moves Like Jagger collaborated with Christina Aguilera. I feel like since then, there's been so many mega collaborations. Is that a trend that you think will continue?

James Valentine:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Just across popular music in general.

James Valentine:
Yeah, I think that does. I think you'll continue to see a lot of that. I think everybody is competing for attention. And that's a great way to get attention right away. And I think the rap verse in a lot of ways replaced the guitar solo.

Evan Ball:
That's true.

James Valentine:
As the sort of break I think people really like those collaborations and they really work. They are a lot of fun too. I mean, it's fun to be like, Hey, you know, here's Maroon 5 and then boom, here's a completely different thing, break before we come back. And yeah, they work really well. So I think there'll be lots more of those.

Evan Ball:
What are the best and worst parts of your job?

James Valentine:
I feel so privileged to be able to play music for a living. That was my goal when I moved out to Los Angeles. It's really hard to really speak negatively about any aspect of it. I really have a dream job so everything's the best. If there's one thing about touring at different points of our career, touring can be tough being away from your friends and family. And just for long amounts of time. And the older I get, it's also rough, like international travels can be like rough. Yeah, like, jet lag is real and there's no way to avoid it. That's the only negative thing that I can really think of.

Evan Ball:
All right, that's pretty good.

James Valentine:
It's all great. I will not complain.

Evan Ball:
Any advice for aspiring bands today that want to make it in the industry?

James Valentine:
Yeah, well, the advice that I always tell young bands, artists, guitarists, singers is write every day. I think, for me, I came into music, I think my main goal, I was picturing more of a career as a session guitarist and I really love playing guitar, coming up with parts. And when I joined the band with Adam and Jesse and Mickey, they were really focused on songwriting and really sort of pulled me more in the direction of that's the most important part of what we do. And so I'm always just telling younger artists, like just write all the time, because the process of writing bad songs is how you get to learn how to write good songs. So I always challenge people, it's write a song every day. That's how you learn how to do it is by doing it and I think there's a lot of fear around that process in the beginning. So anything you can do to sort of turn off your editing mind while you're creating and just allow yourself to create. I think that's the biggest benefit anyone's musicianship.

Evan Ball:
What do you think were the keys to Maroon 5 making it?

James Valentine:
I think, at the heart of everything, there were always great songs. So, that really resonated with people. And that's number one.

Evan Ball:
Work ethic too? Or do you think-

James Valentine:
Yeah, work ethic, absolutely all that other stuff. But there's a lot of musicians I know that are my friends that have worked really hard and had the songs and done everything else. So, luck is a part of it too. And as much as I'd love to just, and we'd love to just take credit for everything that's happened. There's luck. Luck helps too, because there's a lot of great musicians out there. There's a lot of great talent out there and there's just who knows. It's some people just get some breaks.

Evan Ball:
What are some of your other interests apart from music?

James Valentine:
Up until I was about 30. I really didn't have any other hobbies outside of music, but then I started playing tennis. I love tennis. I take two tennis lessons every week.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome.

James Valentine:
I play in the league at my club. I just won the 4.5 men's doubles championship last weekend for the second year in a row.

Evan Ball:
Wow. Did they know you only started when you were 30?

James Valentine:
Oh, yeah, I remind them all the time. So I love that, but I'm also interested in meditation and doing Vipassana meditation retreats and working on that daily practice. Found that really beneficial. I'd recommend that to anyone.

Evan Ball:
James Valentine, thanks for being on the podcast.

James Valentine:
Thanks for having me.

Evan Ball:
Thanks again for tuning into Striking A Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. If you're not a subscriber, why not subscribe and stay apprised of new episodes. If you'd like to contact us email strikingachord@ernieball.com.

James Valentine:
You know, for a while I wanted to just play jazz when I was a teenager.

Evan Ball:
So you had one foot in the grunge rock scene and another in a more jazzy scene?

James Valentine:
Yeah. So I was kind of really a rock guitar player who knew some jazz licks, which kind of made me stand out in Lincoln because there was one other jazz guitar player in town.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, well, hey, the combination worked out for you.

James Valentine:
Yeah. So it ended up working out.

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