After a False Start As Jjamz, Indie-Pop Supergroup Phases Finally Hits Its Stride
Photo By Julia Brokaw
In the middle of 2013, Jjamz were lost. Even with local interest in the indie-pop group peaking — as seen in the over-capacity crowds squeezing into their residency at the Satellite — and an album, Suicide Pact, released on Dangerbird, the quintet felt rudderless.
The group, most of whose members were better-known for their work in other bands, hit the road that year in support of Suicide Pact. But they never felt confident in the material, and after the tour, they amicably parted ways.
Jjamz's singer Z Berg, also known for her work in The Like, was burned out and ready to leave Los Angeles. The lifelong Angeleno had her sights set on Nashville, where she’d pursue a singer-songwriter career in alt-folk. Armed with 70 acoustic-based songs, she thought she had found a clear path for the next steps in her music career.
“We didn’t know what the vision for this music was at that point,” Berg says. “I was questioning whether the music spoke to me and if it was what I wanted to be doing.”
“I think we all wanted to be doing something else, but we didn’t know what that something else was,” drummer Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley) adds.
Unbeknownst to Berg, after Jjamz called it quits, her former bandmates Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Boesel and Michael Runion were quietly fleshing out new songs separately before ultimately reconvening in Greenwald’s Laurel Canyon home. “We separately realized that the other thing we wanted to do also happened to be with this group of people,” Boesel says. “It was a surprise, but coming back together felt natural.”
The new material, inspired by Greenwald’s experiments with instrumentation, which he attributes to listening to Thriller during the group’s tour, lured Berg back into the mix. “Once I heard what they were working on, I said, ‘Fuck yeah!’" she says. “I knew this is what we should be doing. We started making music for fun instead of being pulled in different directions.”
What had seemed like a lost year now ended on a high note. Quickly things came together; they were making music they liked, without external influences.
However, they lacked a name. Jjamz had been based on the first letter of each member's first name, and since James Valentine (Maroon 5) departed the group, they were short a "J." They were also tired of being asked how to pronounce Jjamz. Their new manager came up with Phases, which is an ode to an underage dance club in Canoga Park, and the band instantly agreed that the name fit their vision.
That synergy within the group extends to their new label, Warner Bros., to which they signed last year. Phases uses the label’s Burbank headquarters as a makeshift practice space. Tucked away on the basement level, where only a couple of employees are based, an empty conference room has become the band’s cozy headquarters, which they joke is bigger than many of the grimy places they’ve practiced before. However, the sterile nature of the room has allowed them to treat each rehearsal like a job, which is actually a good thing.
“We need a place to rehearse and there were so many free spots down here,” Greenwald says as he leans up on an empty cubicle. “There aren’t really any people here, so it’s easy to play without disturbing anyone.”
Even with the basement's eerie The Office-meets-The Walking Dead vibe, the space has allowed for the quartet to sharpen their focus. Unlike other bands who have checkered relationships with their record company, Phases is grateful that they’ve been allowed to practice rent-free in a place where they can maximize their rehearsal time.
There are other perks, as well. “The first day we rehearsed here, Michael and I walked upstairs trying to find food and they were having a party for Duran Duran,” Berg recalls. “So went and hung out with them, and then came back downstairs to practice. Rehearsing in the basement feels like being on Warner Bros. in the ‘70s.”
So far, the band has played only two live shows, but they’re as confident as they’ve ever been in themselves. They worked with co-producer Mike Elizondo, who signed the group, to ensure that the album wouldn’t be as haphazard as their earlier material, which they produced themselves. With the album slated for a summer release, Phases is finally ready to unleash a collection of songs that showcases their abilities as a collective unit.
“Before, we were individuals lending time to this other thing from our real lives,” Boesel says.
“This music is fun,” Berg says. “It was fun to write, fun to play and representative of our friendship and the way are in our lives. It’s pretty fucking joyous, which I think is rare and really exciting.”
Phases perform at Jewel's Catch One on Thursday, June 25.
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