Indie-rock supergroup JJAMZ, composed of current and former members of Maroon 5, Rilo Kiley, Phantom Planet, seemed like an almost too good-to-be-true side project, doomed never to exist past its dreamy, SoCal-synth pop debut Suicide Pact, released by Dangerbird Records in 2012, and its accompanying tour.
No one pondered the band’s fate more than lead singer Z Berg, who joined JJAMZ after two albums for Geffen Records with female rock trio The Like.
“As often happens with bands, things kind of got to a point where I was like, ‘Are we ever gonna make music again?’ All was lost, I had no idea if our friendships were gonna be OK. It was this tumultuous time, and I was about ready to go skip town and start another life.”
But then things took a turn for the positive. Once JJAMZ co-founder James Valentine deemed his schedule as Maroon 5’s lead guitarist too demanding to juggle two bands, the pieces starting falling into place to keep the group going under a whole new guise. “We just decided to make music again and not think about who’s gonna hear it, who’s gonna put it out or any of that stuff that clouds your judgment when you start working on something,” Berg says, adding that “James will always be a ghost member of the band, and he even co-wrote some new songs with us, so his presence will always be felt. We were thinking of cloning him.”
The result is PHASES, now a four-piece still fronted by Berg and featuring Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) and Michael Runion. The band’s sound is still rooted in many of JJAMZ’s influences, but with a seeming renewed emphasis on fun-loving disco and throwback funk licks. Lead single “I’m In Love With My Life” is the most compact presentation of the band’s new mission statement, as is its intricately choreographed music video, which was filmed and lip-synched entirely in reverse over two days.
“I still wake up singing the words backwards in my head,” Berg recalls. “I sat practicing for six hours a day, then I would go home, sit in my bed and record myself on iMovie singing it backwards than record it 100 more times every night until it was in there somehow. And on top of that, we had choreography to memorize at the same time. It was a pretty psychedelic experience.”
While PHASES puts the finishing touches on its as-yet-untitled debut full-length, due this fall via Warner Bros. Records, Billboard has the exclusive premiere of a new “I’m In Love With My Life” remix from Mystery Skuls, who transforms the song into a nearly 100 percent instrumental acid trip take on 90s house. Other remixers include Big Data, Big Black Delta, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr and Joywave.
After playing their first proper gig at Jewel’s Catch One in Los Angeles last month, PHASES will hit New York’s Studio at Webster Hall on July 21 to further road-test their new material. And though the band’s latest incarnation is still relatively new, Berg says it’s the best career experience she’s had yet.
“I’ve never been in a situation where we all share the same vision so intensely,” she says. “I think the goal in life for any relationship, whether it’s your brand or your friend or whoever, it’s to see the same reality. Plus our friendship has been tested so much at this point that it’s so solid in a way that it never was before. We really must love each other to go through everything we have to be a band. You can’t fuck with us.”