JJAMZ (pronounced juh-jamz) is a new band from Los Angeles composed of indie music royalty—Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Bright Eyes), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Michael Runion and Z Berg (the Like)—and one pop music guitarist—James Valentine (Maroon 5). They’ve all been friends for over 10 years, and together they write upbeat pop songs about failed relationships, reckless partying, suicide pacts and heartbreak.
I emailed Berg to discuss the band’s friendship, favorite karaoke songs and the campy horror-movie-inspired video for “Heartbeat.” Check out her responses below, as well as the exclusive new lyric video for “Suicide Pact,” featuring sexy/scary footage from B-movies and anti-drug PSAs from the ’50s and ’60s.
I love the video for “Heartbeat.” Is it based off of Twin Peaks?
It isn’t based off of Twin Peaks, but it certainly was a point of reference! We are massive David Lynch fans, and Sky Redlove’s slight “Bob” vibe did not go unnoticed. But the idea was all from the mind of Eddie O’Keefe, our brilliant director. And having spent my entire childhood watching any horror movie I could get my hands on, it certainly was a dream fulfilled to be a scream queen. And who doesn’t enjoy spending a day tied up in the basement?
You say you’ve been best friends for a decade. Can you tell me a story that defines/sums up your friendship?
There are just too many to think of one that encapsulates our friendship! I mean from the fact that Mike Runion dated my sister when I was 14 and we used to stay up all night watching movies, to the fact that I used to have my dad transcribe Alex Greenwald’s demos into sheet music for me when I was 13, to the fact that James Valentine met Jason Boesel in Anaheim in ’99 when James moved there thinking it was actually L.A., to the fact that I’ve made out with everyone in the band except for Runion, to the fact that JJAMZ started on a night like any night, when we were all hanging out the way we always do, and it hit us like a ton of bricks, we have all the makings of a band!!
What do you hope to achieve with JJAMZ that you didn’t get to with your other bands?
The biggest difference is that it’s entirely collaborative; that writing songs isn’t just sitting alone in your room torturing yourself, but instead it’s a fun creative party!
You recently asked your Twitter followers what their go-to karaoke songs are. Good question. What are yours?
I personally do a mean “Criminal” by Fiona Apple, “You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore and “Different Drum” by Linda Ronstadt. Alex and I are known for our “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas And The Papas.
The lyric and videos to your songs are pretty depressing although they sound really upbeat. Is this intentional?
All of my favorite music seems to be this way. The delicate, bittersweet balance of sad subjects with upbeat music is to me the most touching, the most nostalgic, the most satisfying combination.
JJAMZ plays Bowery Electric on Thursday, October 18, and the Studio At Webster Hall on Friday, October 20, as part of CMJ 2012.