Z.Berg is looking to get iced.
It’s before noon and the 27-year-old frontwoman of indie-pop supergroup JJAMZ is at a Whole Foods in Las Vegas looking for an ice pack. We joke that she must have had a hard night and with an infectious air of mirth, Berg attests that it wasn’t wild by “rock ‘n roll” standards.
However, the band–comprised of best friends James Valentine from Maroon 5, Jason Boesel from Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes, Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet, and Michael Runion—had been up to their usual post-show antics: a foot race at 4am in the hallway of their hotel. Boesel came out on top.
“I’ve had some good rollerblading in the hallways of hotels which is always a drunk vibe,” laughs Berg, her voice resonating with a warm-toned tomboyish quality–a direct juxtaposition to her lustworthy Lolita-esque ensembles that she says are “somewhere between Cher Horowitz from Clueless and a Beatles girlfriend.”
“My closet literally stops at 29 inches,” says the blonde-bobbed singer when we point out that we saw her at an event wearing a short dress that, despite its lack of material, didn’t get too scandalous. “You walk into my closet and it looks like a child lives in my room.”
This childlike essence bleeds mischievously from Berg’s sartorial selection to the spontaneous songwriting between best friends who started a band after a botched night of karaoke.
Recording their first two JJAMZ songs in the first two nights after they fatefully, and perhaps drunkenly, strung their name together into an acronym of their first names, Berg says her and Greenwald, who met when they were 14-years-old, became serious with their friendship when they started to do karaoke together at a karaoke joint in West LA. “Alone in this bar like crazy people,” describes Berg and rocking go-to songs like “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas and a “really slutty” version of “Criminal” by Fiona Apple.
“I’m just waiting for the day that they have [R Kelly‘s] ‘Trapped In The Closet’ at karaoke,” jokes “professional karaoke” maven Berg with an impish laugh. “I know the entirety of ‘Part 1’ and I’m just waiting for that day.”
Besides being karaoke fetishists, other hidden talents amongst the band members include Runion’s basketball skills, Berg’s crazy double-jointed flexibility, Valentine’s expert tennis playing, Greenwald’s “pretty amazing geometric wild pen drawings,” and Boesel’s James Joycean, “incredibly specific and idiosyncratic way of speaking that is just like completely inimitable.”
In what might be deemed the most fun-loving accidental band in the music industry, their provocatively-titled album Suicide Pact is a gorgeous haze-pop diary entry; both a visual and sonic outpouring of adolescent fantasy mixed with slick, studied instrumental stylings. Listening to JJAMZ is like pulling out the emotionally-wrought, sugar-rushed notes from the binder of a teenage girl, crumbled papers upon which life is tortured, temporal angst and swooning, scrawling testaments of love.
Despite this energy dancing sweetly through their sound and her history as singer for all-girl group the Like, Berg says she doesn’t necessarily have advice for girls that might idolize her. Luckily for her fans, that inspiration can be found easily through her giggly, gracious disposition and her treatment of life as her own “personal fiction” where she loves “all strangers” and makes a concerted effort to “smile at every single person” that she passes on the streets. Oh, and her love for books. Berg’s already read six books in the first two weeks of the tour.
“I just look at everybody and I have such a hard time separating myself from the understanding that they think of their life as being as important as I think of mine,” confesses the literate, Martin Amis-loving musician who cites the “Old Russians and new modern English novelists” as her favorite kind of writers. “I just want to know everybody, so I kind of do my best to find out.”
This openness that she elicits in other people is also one of Berg’s charms; she calls herself a completely “uncreepoutable human being” who has a “slightly skewed sense of morality.” In her days with the Like, she remembers when she’d be interacting with someone so creepy that her bandmates would chide her for talking to them.
Maybe it’s because she’s curious or maybe it’s because she can relate; Berg sardonically cracks that she’s “certainly inspired some homicidal feelings” and that she’s “happy everyday” when she wakes up and hasn’t been assassinated. These dark undertones can definitely be heard in JJAMZ’s album, but is most accurately reflected in the title of their album—Suicide Pact.
When asked how JJAMZ might complete their suicide pact, Berg brushes off our apologies of being too macabre and says she’s obviously thought about it. To her, the dramatic gesture of jumping seems like the most appealing way to go.
“There’s a great image in my mind of JJAMZ all holding hands and jumping off of something,” says Berg. “That kind of is the metaphor at the end of day. Holding hands at the edge of a precipice and preparing yourself to jump.”
–Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles