Self-portrait by JJAMZ: James Valentine, Z Berg, Mike Runion, Alex Greenwald, Jason Boesel,
Los Angeles is an incestuous place, but especially for musicians, and JJAMZ is the latest in a long and storied tradition of Supergroups. Comprising James Valentine (Maroon 5), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Conor Oberst), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Michael Runion (solo), and Z Berg (The Like), the band is named in self-referential (read: self-reverential) fashion, by stringing together the first initial of each member's first name. They've known each other since childhood: Greenwald is an honorary member of the Berg family (as if he didn't have his own); Runion and Boesel are roommates, but they've all been friends since forever. I've known each of the kids in JJAMZ kids for years, but the conclusion we reached during the interview was that I had kissed every member at some point in my life—all except James Valentine. But life is long and there is still time.
Tonight JJAMZ plays its first show at the Echo Plex, which is sure to be filled with LA's bright young night owls. I visited the band at their tiny, dilapidated rehearsal space in Glendale, California to conduct the interview. I brought my laptop with me, for fear it would be stolen from the car.
ALEXI WASSER: How did the band form?
MIKE RUNION: We all went to Guys [club in Hollywood] for karaoke night. Luckily, James knows Samantha Ronson, who hosts that night, so we only had to pay $5, as opposed to $10 [LAUGHS]. Z sang "Criminal," by Fiona Apple, and it was really good. We got the idea there; it took us about 20 minutes to name the band. I think that got everyone super inspired. And it was Alex who suggested that this could be an epic ‘super-group'. He suggested we go back to James' house, and we recorded our first song "Square One" that night. It was so much fun, we got together the next night and recorded a second, "Get What You Want."
AW: What are the songs generally about? Love and sex?
ALEX GREENWALD: Those are opposites, right?
Z BERG: JJAMZ started at an interesting time in all of our lives. We all needed some kind of escape from relationships or our other bands. It was a tumultuous time, and the lyrics just came out, it was like word vomit. I can't remember.
MR: There are songs about other songs, and lying girls...
AW: How many songs do you have?
ZB: We have about 11 songs. We're playing eight at the show.
AW: How are the vocals divided up?
JASON BOESEL: I'd say, between Z and Alex mainly.
AG: Everybody's watching Z.
ZB: I don't have an instrument, so I have to sing. So far, James is the only one who hasn't started singing on any yet.
AW: Is there a band leader?
ZB: There is no leader. It's the blind leading the blind.
ZB: We all write everything together. JJAMZ is equal.
AW: I feel like you guys are covering something up. Why do I feel like it's all Z and Alex?
[The band's mascot and sometime guitarist Blake Mills, intervenes: "Finally! The truth comes out!"]
ZB: This is like that scene in Almost Famous!
MR: One of us will bring a part, either a chorus or a verse and then Z, typically, will write the lyrics. And there's the rare occasion where Alex and I have brought in lyrics for parts that already existed.
AW: Times are tough with the recession. If you had to, who would get cut first?
MR: What does the recession have to do with cutting someone from the band?
AW: Saves on gas money for the tour bus, toilet paper.
JAMES VALENTINE: I think I retain a spot because I own the recording equipment. I think that's the only reason I'm in the band.
AW: Who is the weakest link?
ZB: Well, Alex is today because he was two hours late to practice. But it goes in waves.
AW: Who writes the songs?
ZB: All of us. [OTHERS CHIME ASSENT]
JV: There's no drama, or gossip, or ego battles, or power struggles yet. This is a break from our other main bands, so we all like each other as friends still.
ZB: You always like your mistress more than you like your wife. She'll do everything that your wife won't do.
AW: Who's your most famous fan?
JV: I met Joe Biden.
AW: But has he heard JJAMZ?
JV: Not yet!
ZB: The answer is, James Valentine is our most famous fan.... But talk to us after our first show.
AW: How do your other bands feel about JJAMZ? Are they supportive?
JV: I haven't told them about JJAMZ yet.
AG: I think we're all busy doing different things, so it's not a big deal.
ZB: I don't know. Tennessee (The Like's drummer) said she's coming to the show.
AW: Is there any sexual tension in the band?
ZB: I think there's a lot of sexual tension between all of us. At the end of the day, Mike Runion might be the only person I know that I don't have any sexual tension with. And I think that's great.
AW: So I can't compare you guys to Fleetwood Mac?
MR: I do wear shorts on stage.
JJAMZ play tonight, 9 PM at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles.