James Valentine is the guitarist for mega-selling rock band Maroon 5. Here's his story in his own words:
So this is my biography. You’re probably wondering how I got here. Me too. Let’s investigate …
My older brother Christopher had a band in high school. I used to sit at the top of the basement stairs and listen to them rehearse for hours. I would wait for them to leave and make noise on all their instruments. I was initially attracted to the drums. So was my best friend, Shannon. His mom bought him a drum kit before my parents would. So he became a drummer in the band we had started to conceptualize. That was OK, though.
My brother had been playing me a lot of tapes—specifically Moving Pictures by Rush—that had gotten me excited about playing the guitar. I took an eight-week crash course from the music store at the mall (I never told you where this was all taking place—I'm from Lincoln, Neb., which is a really nice place).
I became obsessed right away. I started practicing all of the time and trying to acquire any information I could. I continued taking lessons with some great teachers and continually annoyed any musician I came in contact with. In order to be able to play guitar in school, I joined the jazz band. Mr. Olmsted had to tell me to turn down every day. This got me very interested in jazz.
At this time I was playing in a band called Montay that specialized in covers of grunge hits du jour and a small number of strange original tunes. I loved playing. I don’t know if I would have survived adolescence without the guitar. I soon became involved in a lot of musical endeavors.
So a lot of other stuff happened over the next few years that got me more and more into music, but let’s skip forward before I lose you all …
After high school I went to the University of Nebraska. I was majoring in advertising because everyone told me that making a living as a musician was impossible. I liked my classes, but every spare moment was devoted to music. I started traveling around the Midwest with my band, Kid Quarkstar. We'd play frat parties and the bars on O Street in Lincoln. Our sound was a fusion-hiphop-latin hybrid—pretty strange. That eventually transitioned into a band called Square that ended up becoming pretty popular in Lincoln. I was still under-age at this point, but because I played at all of the clubs, they’d let me in to see shows. I was teaching guitar lessons by this time to help pay for tuition. One of the guys from Dietze (the music store where I worked) entered Square into a battle of the bands competition. Long story short, we ended up winning the whole thing; out of 6,000 bands. The grand prize was $25,000. We used the winnings to move to Los Angeles.
I had always been drawn to L.A. for some reason, even when I was really young. I used to doodle pictures of surfers and the beach. All of the musicians from Nebraska that we admired had made the move (a trend that has since reversed, as so many great Nebraskan bands have stayed in Nebraska—Bright Eyes, the Faint, Cursive). I had the idea in my head that all the bands playing out in L.A. were going to be amazing; the best musicians in the world! I couldn’t have been more wrong—until I saw Kara’s Flowers.
I saw Kara’s Flowers play at Glass House in Pomona, Calif. They were hands-down the best band I had seen since I moved to L.A. I could sense that they weren’t complete; Jesse was switching back and forth between his guitar and keyboard. I somehow knew I was going to be in the band, even though I was still completely devoted to Square.
These were pretty tough times. Square’s prize money had dried up, and I was starting to mount a pretty impressive credit card debt. However, at the same time I was surrounded by an amazing circle of musicians and was having the time of my life.
Through some fortuitous connections, I arranged for Square to open for Kara’s Flowers. I felt it would be good for Square to play in front of their fans (they had a very loyal following in L.A. and O.C.), but I also think I secretly wanted them to see me play (I know how evil and Machiavellian that sounds). I could tell as soon as we started playing that they were indeed impressed with my playing. After the show they came back to our band house for an after-show party (mostly because we had out our drummer’s cousin and her really cute friends with us).
We became friends that night and a long affair ensued that would end in me leaving Square and officially joining Kara’s Flowers, which would change its name to Maroon 5 a few weeks later. You can read about everything that happened after that in a bunch of different places, so I will say goodnight for now …
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