One of Lincoln's most successful musicians just can't stop working.
James Valentine, the lead guitarist for the Grammy-winning rock group Maroon 5, is working with his bandmates on writing a third album. They are planning on spending the summer in a Los Angeles recording studio.
Valentine is also working with a side band, JJAMZ, and has done two gigs with them.
The Daily Nebraskan caught up with Valentine, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln advertising major from 1996 to 1999, while he took a break at last weekend's Cochella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.
Daily Nebraskan: What're you guys up to right now?
James Valentine: (Maroon 5 is) writing the material for our next record. We've got a rehearsal space in L.A. that we all just sort of drop into; it's been kind of loose up until now. We were on tour so long that I think we all needed a break from each other. Now we're back into it and we also have a little studio set up at (frontman Adam Levine's) house where we've just been working on ideas.
DN: Do you guys have any target date for this next album?
JV: It's kind of too early to say. We'd like to have it out sooner than later. It's been a couple years since our last one was out. We don't ever want to go away for too long, but at the same time you don't want to break the process.
DN: OK, fair enough. Tell me about your time at UNL and the J-School.
JV: You know, playing music for a living was always my dream, but everybody around me told me I needed to make more practical plans to have a real career. And I had been interested in advertising for some reason.
When I was younger, I think I saw that show "Thirty Something," and there was these guys on the show that were in advertising, and I thought that was cool. I figured that would be a fun career, something creative if I wasn't going to play music.
It was really cool, I had some great teachers there. I kind of got screwed though, because then they got that new building right after I left.
DN: I read that when you were with your last band before Maroon 5, Square, you guys won a battle of the bands contest. Is that how you got out to L.A.?
JV: That's true, yeah. The guys at Dietze Music entered us into the contest.
We won the local round, then the state round and then the semi-finals, and we got into the finals which were in Los Angeles. Making it to the finals, part of the prize was the airfare.
So rather than taking the airfare, we told them we'd use the money towards a rental truck and move out to L.A.
We thought with all the contacts we'd get we'd be able to go out to L.A. and try and get a record deal. Ultimately that never happened with Square, although we did showcase for all the major labels.
During that time, that's when I met the guys from Kara's Flowers, which would become Maroon 5.
DN: Was that a tough break-up for you?
JV: It was really difficult. It had been a really tough year for all of us; it definitely strained on our relationship.
We were in a new place, really broke and working these crap jobs. There was a lot of tension. At the time, too, it wasn't clear what was the best thing for me to do.
I mean, after Maroon 5 sold millions of records, it seems like ‘Oh yeah, clearly.' I had trouble deciding. I really liked what Square was doing; it was really different. I think the whole time, in my gut I knew I was supposed to be with the Maroon 5 guys.
DN: What kind of jobs were you working in L.A. when you were unsigned?
JV: Well, I was a messenger. Briefly, I continued my work with the Gallup Poll, they had an office out in Irvine.
Being a messenger, that was a good job. I just drove around all day up and down Southern California.
And then the last job I had, right before we started making "Songs About Jane," I was working as a copy boy at the copy center at UCLA.
DN: When you went out with Square to L.A., did you anticipate the transition from the Lincoln music scene to the L.A. scene would be as difficult as it was?
JV: I don't think we really had any idea what we were getting into.
That's the great thing about being 20 years old. We were too naïve to be afraid, which was cool.
Thank God that we were. That battle of the bands had given us a false sense of pride; we thought if we won this competition out of 5,000 bands we could definitely make this first step and it would be smooth sailing.
It's a really competitive world, and it's a tough thing to get a band going. You really have to sacrifice a lot to devote your whole life to it. We didn't understand that at first.
DN: When you released "Songs About Jane," what did you think the reception was going to be?
JV: After we got done recording, we knew we had something.
It was a really slow process for us to get that record into people's hands. It took a long time for radio and MTV to believe in us.
During that time, we were touring and we were opening up for a lot of people, getting good breaks opening for better-known artists. Every week, things were getting better for us. We were picking up some airplay or selling a few more tickets to the shows.
It was always pointing upwards, and we were always pretty optimistic that good things were coming.
DN: You guys lost your first drummer, Ryan Dusick, in September 2006 when his tendonitis problems forced him to quit. How did you deal with that?
JV: We still deal with that; it was really difficult. It was just a real bummer.
It got to a certain point when he couldn't physically play anymore, and it happened to be at the worst time possible when we were really starting to get out there in the world.
We had to keep on going. It's still probably the most tragic thing that's ever happened to the band, knock on wood. He lives in the same neighborhood we do. He's producing and writing with another band.
DN: It seemed like you guys took a long break between "Songs About Jane" and "It Won't Be Soon Before Long." Why was that?
JV: We ended up touring off of "Songs About Jane" for nearly four years, so we needed a little bit of a break to regain our composure.
We didn't really break for that long, we just toured so heavily that by the time we got down to it, it had been a pretty long gap.
DN: You guys picked up this label of a pop band with "Songs About Jane." Do you feel like you guys tried to change that at all in your second album?
JV: No, I think we've always unabashedly embraced pop music. Of all the band's main influences are all very interested in the craft of a pop song. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Police … we're interested in that craft.
Pop can be used as a pejorative term, but we don't really see it that way.
DN: What do you think people don't understand about Maroon 5 as a band?
JV: Well, you know, I think sometimes, as with any band, when there's a charismatic, good-looking front man, they forget that there's a band and not just a solo project.
But I think over the years people understand us more and more. Hopefully in this third level we'll continue to make clear who we are.
DN: How many songs have you written for the new album at this point?
JV: Man, that's top secret (laughs). There's a lot of stuff. It's tough to put a number on because we've got so many fragments.
DN: Any goal for when you start getting into the studio and working it out?
JV: Essentially, we'll be in there probably all summer. Maybe longer, we just don't know. It's weird making records, you don't really know how it's going to go until you just jump into it.
DN: You yourself have worked with John Mayer on "Continuum," and with Jenny Lewis. Who are some more people you want to work with?
JV: Well, I've been really having a lot of fun working with this side project called JJAMZ. It stands for James, Jason, Alex, Michael and Z.
Jason (Boesel) plays drums right now with Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band and has played with Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis. Michael Runion is a singer-songwriter on his own. Alex (Greenwald) was the lead singer in Phantom Planet, and Z (Berg) is the lead singer of a band called The Like.
We're just friends who all hang out all the time, so we started this project and played two shows so far, and it's been really fun.
Maroon 5 hasn't left any room to do anything else, so being off the road for the first time, it's been fun to get in and bounce some ideas off some other people.
I love my band, but it's good to mix it up creatively and work with some fresh blood.
DN: What kind of style of music is that?
JV: I don't really know. In a very loose sense, rock music? You've got a male and a female singer who split off and sing with each other … I don't know.
DN: When did JJAMZ first get together?
JV: A couple years ago. We've all been really good friends for many years.
We were out one night, and we decided to go back to my house. And we realized that the instrumentation was right to actually be a band. We ended up writing a song that night and had so much fun we got together again the next night and wrote another one.
So then we just kept on going, and there was a couple years between that and actually playing a show because we were all so busy.
DN: Have you thought about going back to school and getting the rest of your credits taken care of?
JV: Yeah, I'm really dying to go back to school. Maybe back at Nebraska.
Now, there's some sort of seven-year statute where my credits wouldn't apply to a new program or something … I think I kind of got screwed credit-wise.
But I would really like to go back to school and study music. I wish I would have learned more composition in college, and I'd also like to get into philosophy and psychology.
I don't know, I don't regret the time I spent in the advertising program; I learned a lot. I could have spent a little more time for what I was actually going to be doing (laughs).