You may not have heard about L.A. band Phases, but you’ve heard of the bands they’ve played in. Rilo Kiley, Phantom Planet, Maroon 5, and Bright Eyes are among the acts that the members of Phases have fronted and backed over the years. Their debut album, which Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) recorded partly on an old version GarageBand and partly in a studio, is due out this summer, and features ‘80s reminiscent dance pop with futuristic elements (partially inspired by Tron being projected on the walls while the band wrote). Unsatisfied with their dance album, the band took it to the next level in their video for their single “I’m In Love With My Life,” which the band performed backwards. We spoke with lead singer Z about making the album and video. Read our Q&A below.
Ones To Watch: Your band is comprised of former band members of JJAMZ. What was the catalyst for starting this new project?
Z: I was literally just going to get out of town and start a new life and move to Nashville and be done with pop music. So they started working on a whole new sound, a lot of which came when Alex sequestered himself to an orange couch for two years and learned how to record. The doctor literally told him he had to stand up or he would die. I was really floored by the sound and it really renewed our interest.
Ones To Watch: Your manager says your music reminded her of a dance club in the ‘80s in the Valley called Phases. Can you comment?
Z: The whole idea to me is a nostalgia for something that never happened. There are a lot of influences from ‘70s and ‘90s music on this record, but this music literally, physically could not have been made then. I think there’s a lot of super modern and futuristic aspects to it while also incorporating the things that we love from the times of yore, if you will. So it’s not a throwback to me, but what I love so much about how we got our name is she was inserting us in her memories. She was literally feeling nostalgic for the future, and that’s kind of the whole sound of this record to me.
Ones To Watch: What is this Phases record about and when is it coming?
Z: It’ll be out at the end of the summer. It is truly the most collaborative thing I’ve worked on. It all came from a place of fun, more than anything else I’ve ever done. The songs that I’ve always written have come from such a place of total heartbreak, writing the songs alone in my room, miserable; as opposed to this stuff. There are a lot of breakup songs and gnarly shit on this record, but also so much joy and a celebration of making music with your best friends. As much as I can get really dark and have written really dark songs about my life, I’m also an incredibly positive person, to a point where it’s annoying to everyone around me. This record has a lot of that positivity. The subject matter is much more varied – it covers a lot of different ground, emotionally and intellectually. It’s fucking fun. It’s fun to play, it’s fun to dance to. I spent so much time while we worked on it listening to it with the top down on my old convertible cruising around L.A. like, this is fucking rad.
Ones To Watch: Did Alex produce all the songs on Phases’ new record?
Z: He co-produced it. He recorded about half of the recorded at his house on GarageBand in his living room. Then we took that and finished the rest of the record in a real recording studio. It’s a combination between the most lo-tech and the most high-tech, which is a reflection of the sound.
It’s different from any record I’d ever made. The last record I made with my band, The Like, which Alex played bass in, it was all recorded on ½ inch tape, the band all live in the room and all sixties gear, microphones, pedals. And this is like future music - it’s music I’ve never really worked on before. I’ve always been a past-obsessed person to begin with - with all the music I listen to, and have always lamented the fact that I didn’t live in the past. This is the first time I’ve ever made a record that could have been made now and I am so excited to be living now where we have the technology to make this weird fucking space music!
Ones To Watch: In your new music video for “I’m In Love With My Life,” you had to learn choreography and how to sing backwards. Can you talk about why you chose to do this?
Z: We read the incredible, over the top video treatment from the director and were like, “Absolutely, yes.” But that meant that we had to spend a month learning how to play the song backwards, and had dance rehearsal seven hours a day. Then I would go home and sit in bed and record myself singing the song backwards in my iMovie then play it back and be like “That was wrong!” I have like 500 of those. At the end of the day, the simplest, totally human tricks are the ones that blow our minds the most. Seeing something backwards is still the greatest special effect. And doing it for real without CGI, there’s a reason why the original Star Wars still looks better than all of the CGI action versions today. We like a challenge, and this video was definitely that.
Ones To Watch: That’s a great analogy.
Z: That was kind of the whole point. It was the same thing with our record - about recording with old GarageBand, it’s not super treated and it is really real. Sometimes using the simplest, most human technologies, you can create the greatest special effects.
Ones To Watch: Do you think you will bring any of those live movement elements to your live show?
Thus far, the show is a combination of live and electronic elements. We sampled every single song from our record. It sounds exactly like the record.