“It’s ok to be you in whatever moments you are experiencing”
Zach, lead vocalist of the pop-electronic trio A R I Z O N A, said this humbling and empathetic statement as we chatted about who and what the band was in the grand scheme of things. A R I Z O N A is no ordinary pop band. In fact, their sonic value spreads farther than that, and you’ll see why.
Made up of Jersey boys: Nathan Esquite (Guitar), David Labuguen (Keys), and Zachary Charles (Vocals), A R I Z O N A has made waves in the music domain in an era that just began to accept the kind of producer-like music that dominates the airwaves today. 2018 in itself has been one of the greatest years for the band to date (and it’s only halfway through!). They just released 2 new hit singles titled “Summer Days” and “Freaking Out”,have made numerous placements on New Music Friday playlists, have had countless amazing collaborations, and have embarked on Panic! At The Disco’s “Pray For the Wicked”North American arena tour (which includes Hayley Kiyoko in the lineup as well)!
They have received recognition from publications like FORBES who said “A R I Z O N A the band, not the state, is the underdog you’ll want to root for…” and EARMILK who noted them as “A trio ready to become your new favorite with their captivating songwriting and production”.
They aren’t wrong. After accumulating more than half a billion streams worldwide and completely selling out their first and own nationwide headlining tour three months in advance, it’s safe to say that these talented young men have made their own sonic mark on history, and rightfully so. Their debut album GALLERY was released last year in 2017, with hit singles such as “I Was Wrong”, “Cross My Mind”, “Oceans Away”, and “Electric Touch”.
How to best explain their music is to imagine yourself in the “getaway car” or in the final scene of The Breakfast Clubwhere you, the outcast, throw your fist in the air in success or the museum montage in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: thoughtful, nostalgic, heart breaking, and beautiful. It’s music for dreamers. It’s for you to take to the dance floor to dance with yourself when no one else wants to and That’s. Totally. Ok.It’s the music you would want to celebrate to whether that party be in your own room or on the beach with others. The carefree flow of the music adds an element of authentic joy, and that’s what makes their upbeat, 80s-like records so digestible. It’s a song for everyone, you just can’t deny it.
Now, with the new music, there is so much more emotion that you can feel intensify in each track. Their exotic lullabies now transform into more profound streams of consciousness that then become the lyrics and beats memorized in your head. From vocal feelings to guitar riffs to songwriting power, “Summer Days” and “Freaking Out” represent two types of emotional strife that some human beings carry as they live out their lives. They each have the guttural essence of rock intertwined with the silkiness and metallic trance that comes with electronic-pop music. It’s an electric touch that keeps you dancing even through all that is melancholy. “And she’s just dancing, to make the cold nights feel like summer days” or “I’m just freaking out, I’m seeing sounds, I’m freaking out”. You can’t escape the grasp of those hypnotic guitar solos, or the endless synthetic tunes, or the charismatic vocal croons. A R I Z O N A always has a way to draw you back into the song, where you will undoubtedly feel better.
So, how did this all begin? How did the hitmakers come together to produce such vibrant music and lead it with success? I had a chance to find out, speaking to the guys before their show at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Wednesday, July 25th. I’ll preface this by saying that it wasn’t just a one-sided conversation, and the fact that I came an hour earlier to just make sure I was on time, did in fact, turn out as a blessing in-disguise.
When I got there, Dan, their tour manager and long-time friend, greeted me and brought me to where the guys were all hanging. There I met both Nate and Zach as well as their amazing team who all were very welcoming (Dave was on his way). I hung out with them in the green room and there the conversations wandered around practically everything that you could talk about with someone in just an hour. To this crew, Boston is not an unfamiliar place, as you will see later, Boston was a second home for them for quite some time. We talked about cities, school, passions and goals, and upbringings, so we really made sure to cover all grounds, and that was just before the interview even started! I had a chance to really connect with the guys, and in the end, interview included, I felt like I wasn’t on the job anymore speaking to a mysterious collective, but rather was just catching up with old friends.
Once Dave joined us, we jumped into the questions. As I listened back to our interview that I recorded to write this article, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how funny they are and how great their responses were. They sat in front of me on a long, comfy blue couch, ate cookies, and kept the conversation light and real. The Atlantic Record artists were once just regular dudes from New Jersey, but at some point in time, once upon a time, they all met.
“It’s like 3 different journey’s that kind of converged together”, Dave laughs as he reflects back at the genesis of the band. Zach goes on to explain how he wasn’t ever immersed in music at all at the time, but he had some influences in the house from his father being a horn player and his mom a multi-instrumentalist. “My mom gave me her guitar and dad bought me a keyboard. I was supposed to go into the military, but I was doing music on the side anyway. I loved computers and tech, so I sort of learned that being a producer was a thing along the way”, explains Zach.
Dave came from an immigrant family who raised him in a “typical, Philippine” way. He sums it up as “I was classically trained, forced to play the piano, hated it, then came to love it”.
Zach describes his encounters with Dave as kind of a comical situation: “Nate didn’t really meet us until Boston. Dave and I met when we were in Jersey at age 13 and 14 in school together and we were kind of frenemies. We were sort of both the producer guys in school, so there was this kind of competition”. At the time, the two were both interning for a man named PJ who ran his own studio, and who is now a part of their team as co-songwriter and co-producer for their music. Nonetheless, the frenemy-status continued even in the studio as one tried to out-work the other. Later on, PJ moved to Los Angeles and Zach would fly into visit and work with him, while Dave stayed in Jersey.
Later on, Zach and Dave would get in touch again to create a friendship they finally wanted. “It’s like a great distrust for each other, turned into massive trust. It was really weird. At some point, we were like ok let’s just cut it out”. The guys all laugh as Dave makes his point. Dave would soon go to college at Emerson, and Zach would then come out to Boston to stay with Dave in the city. Further down, Nate would become Dave’s roommate in the building above Bolocco on Boylston Street (Boston, see!).
“We became best of friends”, Zach smiles. “Nate didn’t like Zach at first”, Dave elaborates on how Zach would eat Nate’s food and how that bothered him a lot. Nate jokingly replies “yaaaa” in unhappy remembrance for his lost tortillas (RIP). Eventually Nate became close with them though, jamming and hanging out with them. “He folded into the circle”. As college winded down, their ways were parted as Nate moved to LA with Zach to once again work under PJ at his studio mixing and mastering unsigned artist’s music, while Dave continued a path in advertising post-grad.
“We all re-became best friends with 4 people”. Their lifestyles were very settled, but that was the issue. “You do it for a while and for my age I felt like I was doing really well, but I felt kind of unsatisfied. Like you give your creative away. I felt torn apart so harshly” Dave acknowledges. At that time, where all four were working their 9-5’s, Nate and Zach were creating demos on the side, and then sent their first track “Let Me Touch Your Fire” to Dave. Dave was extremely impressed and asked who the track was for, to which Zach then replied “I think this is for us man”.
“I think we all started to collectively burn out, and when you burn out there’s no real solid vision of a way out, and then it’s all just gut instinct after that and to follow that is tough” Zach explains. Nate and Zach began dabbling in their own work outside of the work they were doing for PJ’s clients in the studio”.
“We kind of found our footing in making these A R I Z O N A records, moved to England, then back to Jersey, then sent “I Was Wrong” to PJ. PJ then chimed into our conversation to say that when he had first heard that track, he said “What are you doing? This is amazing!” We all laughed collectively at the enthusiastic comment. PJ would be the one to then hop on board with the guys to help them co-write their songs for their first album GALLERY.
“We realized, there’s no backing for this project, there was no one telling us ‘Go A R I Z O N A, this is a great idea, you guys are amazing!’, but we realized that we really enjoyed doing it” Zach emphasizes.
Summer of 2015, the guys spent it making a couple of songs in Dave’s basement back in Jersey, and through a FaceTime when Nate was wearing an Arizona Iced Tea hat, were they inspired to dub the band A R I Z O N A.
The roundtable discussion continues as PJ chimes in to tell me “it is amazing for the master see his students becomes the masters, and how there’s now this sense of producers taking their own thing and running with it”. He explained the guys as having a “foundation of real songwriting and real production”. It was all through this humbling experience and understanding that they had to stumble around and work for their art and passion .
However, they had the necessary resources. With Dave having a deep background in advertising, Zach in computers/design, Nate in performance, and PJ in music, they all had skill sets to bring to the table. “Everything that makes a brand we all just happen to do”, Zach admits. “We had everything right here, it was just a matter of having the courage to actually do it”. PJ also made sure to remind us that none of this happened over night, and that most of it was “a perfect storm” to get them to this state of professionalism and understanding. PJ says, “There were so many happy accidents … there was a lot of preparation that went into what it is now, and grinding, and then the right opportunity came along”. When the going got tough, the tough got going.
Zach continues, “just a common misconception is that just because you blow up on streaming over a summer, there wasn’t 10 -15 years or so of experience in the training and grind work that gives you the ability to do what this is. If it was overnight, that day was 15 years long”, they all chuckle. “Conceptually speaking, the four day-one fucking guys, when this happened [when success came] we were all at the end of our ropes, and now it’s the four of us in the green room together”, Zach looks at his bandmates in realization and relieved disbelief.
To speak briefly about the show itself, seeing A R I Z O N A perform live only furthered my love for this band’s quirky and enthusiastic personality and their music. They really seemed to be having a great time on stage and they sounded amazing (no seriously, they sound incredible live). They were great at commanding the crowd with just the overall feel-good nature of their music, people stood up to dance in the stadium and wave their hands in the air. Nate performed barefoot while wearing his Mexican flag cape and mask, killing it on the guitar, Zach had his perfectly kept hair and energized movements across the stage, captivating us with his powerful voice, and Dave grooved behind the keys and crushed it on the drums; it was just a good time!
TWO GARDENS // guys, in our hearts we have two homes. new york, and boston. they both have legendary gardens and we just played them both back to back. big captions are great for when there are words to be said, but there are no words for this. we love you all so much and we’re going to keep doing our best for you all. ❤️ #prayforthewicked #prayforthewickedtour
Now, for this next cycle of music coming out, A R I Z O N A is making you jump into an even greater sound experience somewhere between the 80’s and a modern electro-pop vibe. “We love the vibe and the ethos and the persona of these dudes like The Police and The Clash and Duran Duran. They didn’t give a fuck and they didn’t have a whole lot of resources to do what they wanted to do. They relied on being super bad ass and making music, and out of it came incredible music because it was coming from their vibes”, Zach says with the uttermost certainty. “So we wanted to do that as our evolution of our second album. If we had to channel anybody, let’s channel those guys but in an A R I Z O N A way”.
Exciting news for fans, the guys will be releasing a new single this coming Friday that will be another of their tracks off the new album that includes “Summer Days” and “Freaking Out”. What to expect? It is something “definitely way up that vibe”; a recipe of both the 80’s and A R I Z O N A. The guys are also excited to announce that they have begun their series of Tour Vlogs and their first one has already gone up on their YouTubechannel! So be sure to check those out!
“This tour has been absolutely fucking insane, we did MSG [Madison Square Garden] last night which is fucking home for us Jersey guys… it’s been a very exciting back half of 2018”, they all nod in unison.
I had to then ask the guys some fun questions to get on that true level of friendship with them. For example, I asked if they could be from any era, which would they go back to (I also asked this because Zach was a big history buff), to which Nate responded the 70s, Zach answered the 80s, and Dave said somewhere between the 80s and 90s. They all agreed that Dave probably belonged in the 90s though with all of the breakdancing folk.
They all dohave nicknames, so besides the bromance banter they exchange such as honey, sweetie, baby, etc., they all talk via radio. So on call Zach is considered Pathfinder, named after his first vehicle he had to build for himself. Dave is known as Pacman because of the Philippine boxer Pacquiao, and Nate for the most part is incognito because he never carries radio (but it used to be Taco Cat according to Dan).
Another fun question I asked was if they could give their band a spirit animal, what would that be?
Nate: “A dragon!”
Dave: “A very particular kind of Dolphin. If the Russians trained these dolphins to be like spies, they’d have attack surveillance dolphins and we are a combination”.
Zach: “Man, I should have gone first, damn, because I can’t top that. Wait, I got a good one! A capybara. I always wanted a capybara, because they are basically massive guinea pigs, and I wanted to give it a very normal name. If it was my task to give A R I Z O N A a mascot, it would be a capybara named Alex”.
Nate: “I feel like I should clarify I didn’t mean a majestic dragon, I meant more like a Mulan dragon, like an Eddie Murphy Dragon”.
What are these dance music hit makers’ go-to dance moves?
Dave: “I’m at a keyboard always, so it’s usually some sort of hip movement. I’ve been told by my trainer I have very flexible hips. I do also the old school Jersey Shore frolic, which I’m very adept at, and I do this subtle neck and shoulder movement. It’s kind of like when you see Pharrell [Williams] bouncing to his tracks. He’s one of my heroes”.
Zach: “Nate does this shuffle point move with the shoulders”.
Some of their top artist influences include:
Zach: “The Police for me, all the way, I love them”.
David: “The Neptunes, and The Black Eyed Peas, because it’s rap for people who don’t like rap, it’s pop for people who don’t like pop, it’s rock for people who don’t like rock…” (I hope you go this reference.)
Nate: “Jeff Buckley”.
And what do they want their fans to feel or think of when they hear their music?
Nate: “Ice cream is a good one”.
Zach: “Having a good time”.
Dave: “Have you ever seen an 80s prom photo? With that fruffy shirt”.
Nate: “So, basically what you think of when you think of ‘Time After Time’.
Zach & Dave: “YES!”
Zach: “The way the song “Time After Time” makes you feel is how you should feel the entire time”.
A topic I really wanted to attack was on the release of their recent single “Freaking Out”, which delved into a deeper message and meaning on mental illness. “‘Freaking out'” was our journey through sort of this heavy anxiety, which then obviously plays well with depression, and you just get very low. It was our awareness song for people that suffer from really bad anxiety and depression and self-doubt and things like that…to the point that the world around you starts looking different, and feeling different. And I think that by using a medium like music and creativity to sort of glorify terrible things, it’s not as backwards as it sounds, because you essentially get this feeling that it’s ok to go through things like that, and that it’s widely experienced and you’re not alone in that and I think that ‘Freaking Out’ is for that sector of human emotion.”
He continued to justify A R I Z O N A’s place in their fans’ music worlds. “The ethos of A R I Z O N A is that it’s ok to be you in whatever moments you are experiencing, you know? So, there’s no first person in A R I Z O N A . It’s not about ‘we’re amazing, we’re awesome, we’re cool, we’re a great band’, it’s about ‘we make music that channels our uncontrollable emotions as a person’. When something great happens to you, you can’t help but feel good and want to kick it, and when something terrible happens to you, you can’t help but feel so low sometimes. So in our music it’s our outlet of that, so all of A R I Z O N A is for the listener to be within themselves when they are experiencing that stuff.”
With all of this being said, I asked the guys what it meant to them being a trio and how significant it is that they are a trio rather than solo acts. For A R I Z O N A, the best part of being a trio is that there really are no two ways about it.
“I need these guys”, says Zach. “Being a group , we’re best friends, we’re family”.
“None of us can really see ourselves ever as solo artists”, agrees Dave.
“I think that translates to the best part of being a ‘trio’, and then even further more, including the entire tour team, like being a group, which by the way, all of these homies are from Jersey”, he waves towards the team in the room. “We didn’t hire any dudes, these are all homies from back home. The best part about being being a trio as a band or just rolling as a crew from Jersey like we do, is that we’re best friends”, Zach confidently elaborates.
“We’re family”, Nate and Dave say in unison.
Zach concurs, “Always”.
So, all in all, this was one of the best interview experiences I had with artists in my time of doing this role because it really felt like I was welcomed to the family and the conversations flowed naturally. From being a fan of their music since GALLERY, it truly was an honor to be able to talk to the guys.
What do the guys say they’re on the verge of?
Nate: “I’m on the verge of eating all these cookies”.
Zach: “on the verge of playing another amazing arena tonight”.
Dave: “I’m on the verge of trying to figure out how to escape how humid it is outside”.
They’re #OnTheVerge of some incredible achievements, experiences, and projects to come, and I’m excited for them. No doubt, their work will become music that will be our feel-good “Time After Time” track, our favorite ice cream flavor, and the music that always crosses our minds. A big thank you to the A R I Z O N A guys for their time.
The tour hasn’t ended yet, so there’s still a chance to see these guys in action! A R I Z O N A have also been performing at summer music festivals nationwide, most recently hitting Bunbury and Bonnaroo. They will next be showcasing their lively production at the main stage at Lollapalooza this summer, for a second year in a row on Saturday, August 4th. The list of remaining tour dates are below:
- JUL 28 – PNC Arena – Raleigh, NC
- JUL 29 – Infinite Energy Center – Duluth, GA
- JUL 31 – BB&T Center – Sunrise, FL
- AUG 1 – Amalie Arena – Tampa, FL
- AUG 3 – Toyota Center – Houston, TX
- AUG 4 – American Airlines Center – Dallas, TX
- AUG 5 – Bok Center – Tulsa, OK
- AUG 7 – Pepsi Center – Denver, CO
- AUG 8 – Vivint Smart Home Arena – Salt Lake City, UT
- AUG 10 – KeyArena – Seattle, WA
- AUG 11 – Rogers Arena – Vancouver, Canada
- AUG 12 – Moda Center – Portland, OR
- AUG 14 – SAP Center – San Jose, CA
- AUG 15 – Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA
- AUG 17 – Gila River Arena – Glendale, AZ
- AUG 18 – T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, NV