“You know that time of night when you get really intense?” asks Z Berg. She’s recounting a wild evening of karaoke she had with four of her closest friends—only instead of it resulting in a declaration of love or an hours-long heart-to-heart as it does for most people, it ended with the decision to start a band. “We laid down the track [“Square One”], I listened to it while they were recording it, I said, ‘I got it!’ Then I went into a recording booth—aka the shower—and just sang it,” she remembers. By the time the sun rose, they were officially Jjamz.
The pop-centric band had experience on their side—in addition to Berg, who was formerly the vocalist and guitarist for The Like, there’s also James Valentine of Maroon 5, Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley, Alex Greenwald of Phantom Planet, and soloist Michael Runion. They also had timing. After that drunken night “five or six years ago,” the five best friends continued playing music together, but only now have their schedules fully aligned. “We had been recording these songs and all of the sudden we turned around and realized we had finished a record and we weren’t in any other bands anymore,” says Berg. “I don’t even remember the moment, it just happened! This band has always been a dream for us—I don’t think any of us thought we would do it, because it seemed too awesome.”
It’s not just the members of Jjamz who are having fun; from the first line (ironically, “This is not a good idea / I know it isn’t right”) onward, Suicide Pact is a pleasure to listen to. It’s not upbeat, exactly—there’s lots of talk about heartbreak—but it’s full of catchy choruses and sunny verses that seem destined to soundtrack many a road trip or beach day (Katy Perry recently tweeted that “Heartbeat” is her favorite single of the summer). While Jjamz is more than the sum of its many parts, that it’s filled with anthemic aggressive-pop tracks is no surprise, considering that these are the same people behind hits like “She Will Be Loved” and “California.” For Berg, experience is what allowed them to make an album like Suicide Pact. “It kind of represents a big part of my life and who I am,” she admits. “The second you turn it on, you’re hearing a big chunk of my life.”
In addition to the album, which comes out July 10, the band has a residency at LA’s The Satellite through June, followed by a cross-country tour next month. Saying that Berg is looking forward to hitting the road would be an understatement. “I love touring—that’s where I’m happiest. The point of life, to me, is to experience as much as possible. Touring is being in a different city every day, entering a different world every day, meeting a city full of people every day, and living with a very intense sense of urgency,” she notes. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t posed its own set of challenges. For one, Berg is going from touring with an all-girl band to traveling with four guys. “I hadn’t really thought about it until the other day, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be on tour with boys! I’m going to be sharing a room with boys!’ It’s definitely going to be trippy and there will be a lot less dress sharing, but at the same time it takes a lot less time to get dressed—coordinating outfits with four girls is a lengthy process!” she says, punctuating her sentence with a laugh.
Then there’s the other problem of finding opening acts. “The bands that all of my [Jjamz] band members were in were all the bands I grew up playing with,” explains Berg. “My first show ever was with Phantom Planet, [The Like’s] first tour ever was with Phantom Planet, our second tour was with Maroon 5, we toured Japan with Jenny Lewis…it’s funny, because now it’s hard to find bands to play with us because I put all of those people in my fucking band!” If that’s the height of Jjamz problem’s, they have nothing to worry about.