Maroon 5's James Valentine
James ValentineWords Paul Watson | Photographs Terry Richardson
The tech-savvy Maroon 5 lead guitarist tells Headliner about the band’s extraordinary 20-year musical evolution, and how 12 years of solid touring is a walk in the park when you’ve got a couple of mind-readers behind the consoles...
You joined Maroon 5 in 2001; how has your stage setup altered over the years?
The big change for us in recent years is going onto in-ears; it’s only Mickey [Madden, bassist] who has stayed on wedges, and that’s mostly because he doesn’t do any vocals, so it’s less important for him to get a finer tuned mix. In the early days, our original drummer, Ryan Dusick, would sing the third part [harmony], and when he left, I took over that harmony part. It was at that point that we switched to the in-ears.
Were you apprehensive about the switch?
Yes! [laughs] I definitely resisted for a little bit, just because you do lose some vibe. The wedges are great, and personally as a guitar player I love to hear the sound of the room. You can feel quite detached from that when you’ve got the in-ear monitors in, but Kevin [Glendinning, monitor engineer] does a really good job of blending in some of the room sound so it doesn’t feel completely isolated. And of course, what I end up doing – and this is kind of a bad habit, which I’ve tried at different points to break – is take one ear out at some point during the show, just because of the hearing damage that I think it could cause. I always feel when we’re a few songs in that I want to hear the room; I love those nice long reverb tails that are coming off of my guitar solos, so I take one ear out – but certainly one of the big reasons for making the switch was hearing protection. It’s really easy to get blasted from the sidefills and the wedges, but with the in-ears, you can turn it down, to a certain extent; and you always know where you are.
How do you find the right balance of tonal clarity and overall ‘feel’ with the in-ears? And as the band now has a more ‘produced’ sound, has that affected how the shows are mixed?
Oh, we’re really lucky, because our sound guys have the ability to read minds, which is important! We’ve been touring very steadily for 12 years now, but the guys that we now have on the crew will be with us as long as we tour - as long as they want to, that is [smiles]. It took a few years to find the right guys that you gel with, because it’s true, it’s not just that they’re good at their jobs, you’re spending a lot of time with these people, so you have to like them too. We’ve had a lot of great techs that we personally liked very much that have moved onto different gigs for different reasons, but Jim [Ebdon, FOH] and Kevin have been brilliant to have onboard; they both have a great sense of humour, too, which is a bonus.
When Adam [Levine] first tried out the JH Audio in-ears, he wasn’t a fan, as they sounded ‘too good’. Did you have a similar reaction, and how long did the transition take?
Oh, it took a long time. You just get used to certain things, and in the case of Adam, it was really funny; once he could hear everything unbelievably clearly, which we now all can, all the details and all those frequencies totally threw him, as it was just not what he was used to hearing. The band had got used to a compressed, mashed up sound, in the same sort of bandwidth; and like anything else, it just took some time to adjust to it. There were a lot of times where I just thought, ‘oh, fuck this’, and I’d throw them off. I had this kind of training wheel period, where I still had the wedges in front of me, so I could take my ears out, but eventually, I got used to it. For vocals especially, it was a really big thing, because you can really hear yourself, and as I started to get more serious about singing, and singing in tune [laughs], the in-ears was just the only way to go.
What’s the one bit of kit you absolutely couldn’t be without?
I’ve been travelling around with my little Martin acoustic, which I love, and it’s always great to have on hand. The other guys are always curious as to why I lug this thing around everywhere through airports, but you know, even if I just get five minutes on it when we have some time to kill, it makes it worth it [smiles].