- - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On the surface, Phases is a brand-new band comprising Z Berg, Alex Greenwald, Jason Boesel and Michael Runion. The Los Angeles pop group plays retro-flavored, keyboard-driven, hook-filled tunes that recall the hits of both Human League and Berlin.

But if you dig beneath their stylish surface, you’ll discover an act with a rich musical pedigree. Miss Berg was the lead vocalist for the power pop band The Like; Mr. Boesel was in Rilo Kiley; and Mr. Greenwald was lead singer of Phantom Planet.

Phases’ debut CD is a blast of fresh air in a stale pop music landscape. That is why I had to talk to the whole band when they played a hometown gig in Los Angeles about their musical formation, evolution, influences and why this is neither a “side project” or a “supergroup.”

Question: How did the band come together?

Alex Greenwald: It started as a different band called JJamz, which was an acronym of the band members names. The story could go on way too long.

Michael Runion: The way Alex tells it.

Z Berg: We were all in other bands when this started. This was a side project. Then we tried to make JJAMZ a real band and failed. We thought, “Maybe we should never talk to each other again.”

MR: That’s an extreme view.

AG: Interviews were talking too long. So we broke up. Then we started making new music and changed our name.

Q: Why did you change the name from JJAMZ to Phases?

AG: Nobody could pronounce the name.

ZB: Also, there was another J in JJAMZ, and we didn’t just want to be JAMZ.

MR: We were playing new music and lost a member, so it felt like to was time to rebrand ourselves.

Q: You said the band started as a side project. Is it still a side project?

AG: It is not a side project.

ZB: We’ve got nothing else. [laughs] This has really become our real band. That was a huge part of the evolution — turning this band into something that was creatively fulfilling for all of us. And what we each wanted to collectively say.

I don’t think JJAMZ was that. That band was just for fun. In order to make this not a side project and our main job, we had to find what that sound was that spoke to all of us. That is Phases.

Q: Musically, the CD has a very ‘80s synth pop sound. Were bands like Berlin and Human League your influences?

ZB: I like that you just said Human League!

MR: Berlin was a reference point for one of the songs on the album.

ZB: I don’t think we intended to make our album partially ‘80s-sounding. That is just our reference for “synth pop.”

Jason Boesel: We found things that sounded good and then realized they were from that time period.

MR: And the synth sounds from that time are great.

AG: I really learned a lot from Daft Punk, from their material. I guess you can say they have kind of a ‘70s/‘80s thing. That to me was my influence.

ZB: There is some from every decade, ranging from disco and funk references from the ‘70s to Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and [Dr. Dre’s] “The Chronic.” Similar sound palettes from different eras that we touched upon in the Phases world.

Q: You’ve all come from different bands. Are those bands (The Like, PhantomPlanet and Rilo Kiley) done?

JB: Rilo Kiley is definitely done.

AG: I would like to say Phantom Planet will never die, but I can’t see it being resurrected in the near future.

ZB: Same for The Like.

MR: I feel that as long as money exists, no band is ever truly dead.

ZB: Just ask LCD Sound system. They just broke up.

JB: Again?

ZB: The Like did get back together a couple years after we broke up to play Japan. They were like, “Hey, you have fans and money. Come to us!” But there’s not plans to make any Phantom Planet or Like records in the foreseeable future.

AG: I didn’t say that.

ZB: I can only see a month into the future.

Q: The band is kind of a supergroup. Is it OK to call you that?

MR: I do feel super about this group. [laughs]

JB: If any of the bands mentioned had any platinum records. Or gold records then maybe.

MR: We’re not Chickenfoot.

JB: That’s a supergroup.

MR: Velvet Revolver. Supergroup!

ZB: I actually think the term supergroup is reserved for supersuccessful bands as opposed to amazing bands getting together. If my three favorite musicians from bands no one has ever heard of got together, I wouldn’t call it a supergroup.

AG: That would be Raffi. And?

Q: Z and Alex, you both sing. How do you decide who sings what?

AG: For this record I defer mostly to her. I learn more about music when I’m not concentrating on singing. I noticed in JJAMZ, where I was predominantly playing, I learned more stuff about the guitar than I ever did in my own band Phantom Planet, where I was singing and playing at the same time.

ZB: I had the exact experience not playing guitar. I learned and was capable of more as a singer by putting down the guitar.

MR: Then there are people like Dave Grohl who do it all.

JB: But that only happens once a generation.

Q: Are you working on more new music?

AG: We just released an EP that has some new songs on it.

ZB: We will continue to release new music as much as possible.

Q: Do you guys ever tease Alex about his Gap ad?

JB: It has happened.

ZB: That’s a hard thing to tease somebody about. “Remember when you were so handsome in this iconic commercial?”

MR: That’s a good tease: “Remember when you were young and handsome?”

AG: That’s really hurtful.

Phases debut CD, “For Life,” is out now.

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