Before they were Phases, the quartet were a quintet with the goofy name—JJAMZ. Each letter was the first letter of a band member’s first name. Following an album and a tour, JJAMZ went away with nary a whimper. They were set to be forgotten upon in the annals of the L.A. indie scene before realizing that they were better off making funky ‘80s laden synth pop.
Even at the early hour of 10:30 a.m., Phases were loose and happy while relaxing in their trailer before going on as the very first act on Saturday's lineup. Unlike their previous experiences, where singer Z Berg (The Like), multi-instrumentalist Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) and drummer Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley) played in more prominent slots and stages on the bill, the early morning call time was strangely refreshing.
“There’s a certain peace that goes along with seeing the sprinklers going off while sound checking,” Greenwald says.
“It feels so nice, it’s air conditioned in here!” Berg adds of the empty Mojave tent. “People were still partying at my house when we had to get up and ready to go.”
Playing first in the tent afforded the band the opportunity to soundcheck, something they’d never done at the festival while in their bigger bands, and to eat a hardy breakfast on-site. While it seems menial and mundane to the non-insider fan, the band was able to navigate the potentially awkward task of playing in a sort of open space without being sure of how to figure out what to do. Nevertheless, the romanticism of being in a relatively new band, allowed the indie veterans to enjoy Coachella from a different perspective and without the pressure of playing a hit single or doing anything familiar. The two hours in between soundcheck and show time allowed them to relax and roam around the empty polo fields.
“It’s been the most leisurely morning and day,” Berg says.
A few minutes before set time, the quartet weren’t too concerned about the size of the crowd. People were sprawled out comfortably on the ground under the shade of the Mojave tent. The band's fears were quelled as they peeked out from behind the stage and saw the area steadily fill up. By the time they played their first few songs, a few hundred people were dancing around to the band’s spunky sound.
When the band’s 35-minute set was wrapping up, Berg ambitiously scaled up the side of the stage in her 3-inch heels, like a female Spider-Man, while the band jammed and just like that, it was time to go.
Making the interview rounds in the press area following their set, Phases were like any other scrappy new act trying to get their name out there. Unlike other veterans who could have been easily turned off or been stand-offish while making the promotional rounds, the group is doing what they can to become an entity on their own, even with their individual pedigree.
“It was fucking fun as shit!” Berg exclaims of the band’s set. “Unlike last time with my other band, it wasn’t 119 degrees and wasn’t hectic and stressful. Right before we went on-stage, I said that I don’t give a shit if no one shows up and I’m so psyched to be here.”
“I thought no one was going to come but they showed and were really into it,” Greenwald adds. “Some even knew the words and I was over the moon.”
Guitarist Michael Runion had a different perspective than his bandmates. As his first time playing the festival, he wasn’t sure what to expect from the band’s early slot, but shook off his nerves as the band plugged in.
“There’s just so much space on the stage, at least compared to South-By,” he says. “With that, you’re aware of your body and everyone is way the hell on the other side, so it was different than anything I’d experienced.”
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As we chat a bit longer, the mood becomes lighter. Runion says the early set allowed them to punch out of work (“It feels like getting off work early on a Friday and feels like a free pass,” Berg adds) early for a change and they can actually enjoy the rest of their Coachella experience. Each member chimes in with their prospective plans for the evening and what acts they want to see. However, they get the cue from their tour manager that it’s time to wrap up, as it’s time to head to Palm Springs to do another quick private gig before zipping back over before they can enjoy the night.
“You have to bring the night time during the day,” Berg says. “Playing our music at 10:30 a.m. is insane, you have to not care and make it what it should be and not worry about the surroundings.”