Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine knows where to go when he wants to party.
“It was great times, epic times,” he says of flying a group of friends in from his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, to the Delano South Beach for his 30th birthday.
Too bad it happened only once.
“It’s probably the only time I’ve ever done anything big for my birthday,” Valentine, now 41 and living in Los Angeles, says, laughing. “It’s an amazing city with just so much energy and so much to do. I just love being there. It’s definitely one of the highlights of any tour we do.”
Though Miami Beach might be a culture shock to a bunch of guys from the Midwest, taking risks is nothing new for Valentine.
“I remember being in the station wagon I inherited from my parents in front of my college apartment in Lincoln, talking to a friend of mine,” he says of making the life-altering decision to drop out of college and pursue a music career.
The two young men rolled west to the City of Angels, where Valentine soon found himself astounded by the talent of the alternative rock band Kara’s Flowers.
It was the first time he saw Adam Levine and the crew perform.
“I was like, Oh, God, these guys sound great! I think I need to be in this band,” he says.
Soon after, Valentine was in, Kara’s Flowers was out, and Maroon 5 was born.
The friend who drove with him to L.A., Dave Beste, hit it big as well, making a name for himself as the bassist for Rival Sons.
"And they’re doing extremely, extremely well," Valentine says, sounding elated by their mutual success.
It’s memories like these — taking chances, what is gained, what is lost — that inspired Maroon 5’s newest single, "Memories," which debuted at number 22 on Billboard's Hot 100 after its September 20 release.
"'Memories' is definitely a different type of song for us," Valentine says. "It’s stripped-down. I think every single that we’ve released has been about relationships gone wrong or that sort of subject matter, and I think 'Memories' might be the first single we’ve released that’s not just about that. It’s about something bigger."
Not that failed relationships have been a bad subject for Maroon 5.
The band has sold more than 56 million albums and snagged three American Music Awards, five Teen Choice Awards, eight Billboard Music Awards, and three Grammys, including the 2005 award for Best New Artist, something Valentine calls "surreal."
"Memories" is the band's 15th consecutive Top 40 single of 22 in total, including the number one hits "Moves Like Jagger," "One More Night," "Makes Me Wonder," and "Girls Like You."
Maroon 5 is set to headline the grand opening of Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino October 25.
The 225,000-square-foot, 6,500-seat arena is part of a $1.5 billion expansion, which also includes shops, restaurants, bars, a lagoon-style pool, and a one-of a-kind, 400-foot-tall guitar-shaped hotel.
Valentine confirms Maroon 5 is "in the shit" of recording a new album but is hesitant to say what musical direction it may go.
"I famously tried to predict the sound of previous records and have been completely wrong, so I won’t try to do that again," he says, laughing.
Even so, he hopes "Memories" will mark the beginning of a sort of evolution for the band.
"I think schematically (hopefully), lyrically (hopefully), it might open us up to include a wider range of topics," he says. "We’ll see — we can never really predict where the creativity will go."
Valentine has always been artistically different from the rest of his bandmates, he says. But it is that difference, that willingness to take chances, that has landed him where he is today.
"They were a rock band that was just starting to explore the more R&B, funk style the first time I saw them," he says of Kara’s Flowers. "That’s why I knew there was a place for me in the band."
Valentine’s background in jazz, along with his love of funk and classic rock, added what he calls an "exotic" vibe to the band’s sound.
"All of that Queen/Nile Rodgers influence and funk style is what most people would describe as my signature sound," he says. "You hear that in a lot of our songs."
But it’s some of the lesser-known artists whom Valentine credits as his guitar heroes.
"Steve Lukather would absolutely, 100 percent be one of those guys," he says of the Toto guitarist. "I think he’s under-sung. The amount of records that he played on, his brilliant solos, but also his brilliant rhythm parts, are incredible, and I’ve been lucky to get to know him a little bit."
Valentine says he still admires the guitarists he looked up to as a kid, such as Pat Metheny and John Scofield.
"I think they inform my playing in ways that might not be readily apparent, but I’ve always found that jazz was such an endless well of inspiration for me," he says. "Trying to find ways to bring that into the pop-rock format is something that fascinates me."
The Hard Rock Live show marks the bandmates' final appearance before they wrap up their one-and-a-half-year worldwide tour with two nights in Las Vegas for New Year’s.
But Valentine plans to make his way back to the Sunshine State after the tour to indulge one of his other passions: tennis.
“It was amazing,” he says of the tennis camp in Bradenton he once attended and to which he plans to return. “But also, I look forward to doing silent meditation retreats. I was able to do a couple of retreats this year and look forward to doing more.”