Q&A – A R I Z O N A Talks Podcasts, Mental Health and Honoring Avicii’s Legacy

The band A R I Z O N A isn’t named after the state, but instead, it’s named after the iced tea company that was printed on a hat. “Nate was wearing an Arizona iced tea hat and Dave was just naming random shit in the room,” recalled lead vocalist Zach Charles. “And we were trying to figure out the name for the band because the idea was, no one’s going to care, it doesn’t matter.” Turns out, people cared.

With over 3 million fans on Spotify, sold-out tours, performances at festivals such as Coachella, Hangout and the upcoming Life is Beautiful in Vegas — not to mention landing a spot on the Billboard 200 for their debut album Gallery — the boys have kept busy. The New-Jersey based electro-pop band is comprised of three long-time best friends, Nate Esquite (guitarist), David Labuguen (keys), and Zachary Charles (vocals), who are also working on new music, including their latest single “Find Someone” and their song “Hold the Line” that is featured on the late Avicii’s new album, TIM.

303 Magazine took the afternoon to chat with the guys and what resulted was a very real and very honest conversation about the importance of history and your mental health, the story behind the song with Avicii, big career moments for them — Khalid is involved — and getting good at feeling uncomfortable.

303 Magazine: Your latest single “Find Someone” is a lot of fun, especially the music video. What was the creative process and vision board for that like?

David Labuguen: This is the first video that we did with an external director. We come from the production side so sometimes it’s a little hard for us to let go. But this one with the animals and the director, she had to sketch [the scenes] out; there’s literally no stock imagery to simulate this and right off the bat it’s, oh, that’s unique. She had to draw it to convey it because it doesn’t exist. And then who could resist animals?

303: Well, when the puppy looks at the camera you can’t help but think yeah, that’s the someone that I want to find. I feel like everyone is thinking about trading their boyfriend or girlfriend in for these puppies.

Zach Charles: And that’s kind of the idea. This idea was that you can take a bunch of really interesting and fun to work with animals and just sort of paint this different picture where there’s not one way to look at the song. If you’re having a bad day, you’re having a bad relationship, you’re having a bad time, whatever it is, sometimes the best part of your day is going home to your dog. So there’s a lot more of a broad statement to it.

DL: It was like Noah’s Arc. There were two of every animal.

ZC: [Laughs] There was a bunch of animals. But it was fun.

303: So does this means new music is on the way?

ZC: We’re almost done with our second album right now and a lot of the songs have that spirit to them.We kind of dove into the more uncomfortable parts of [life]. “Freaking Out” is obviously about going through crippling anxiety and stress and not feeling comfortable in your own skin. We’ve all been in these weird, very specific experiences. People are uncomfortable with these experiences and not only are those things you sometimes don’t find in music, but it’s not something you are usually comfortable talking about. So we made those songs.

303: You all have been very open about dealing with anxiety and discussing mental health. How do you handle the stress and anxiety that comes with the job?

ZC: That’s the most difficult part. It’s just the expectation. For half the year, our tour is our living and we have a contract to go out and play shows. We also have a responsibility to the people that are supporting us to show up and play a show. You have to really exercise a certain finesse in how you maneuver situations like that because the most natural thing to do is to tell everyone to go fuck themselves and go hide in a hole somewhere. That’s life as a human. Any person can be like, “leave me alone, I can’t do this right now.” It’s just a matter of when you’re dealing with things that are outside of your control.

DL: If something isn’t going your way that day, admitting it and being able to acknowledge it is the first part, and then figuring out how to move forward from it is another big part. It’s not setting the bar low, but it’s saying, hey, okay maybe today’s a Mulligan; cool, great, we’re human. And tomorrow is a brand new day and tomorrow’s the day where yesterday doesn’t necessarily carry over.

ZC: That’s the message we want to send a lot of people. We just want people to be aware that you can’t run from those things and the best thing you can do is just get good at being uncomfortable.

303: When you find yourself in those days or those spots where you think, I don’t want to do this, but I have to do this, what are some things you do for yourself? What is your self-care?

ZC: Dave and Nate are both the kings themselves.

DL: What became a part of my kit is a Eucalyptus Shower Spray. Zach has adopted this as well. Any shower, even if it’s a janky shower, as long as there is hot water and steam, you can turn it into the most wonderful day spa by spraying Eucalyptus.

ZC: And we’ve come across some janky fucking showers.

DL: It just totally transforms the space. I also have an essential oil diffuser and I have sheet masks.

303: It’s like a little mini-day spa.

ZC: [Laughs] Dave’s life is like a mix of Dante’s Inferno and a little mini-day spa.

DL: We were in Santa Clarita a week ago and everyone went to LA and people are hanging out, and I was like all right guys, I’m going to go to a day spa and literally just sat in a hot tub.

Nate Esquite: I do a lot of yoga. I take classes everywhere I go. I really like going for walks, finding a nice park, sitting down, smoking, reading a book.

303: Do you guys listen to any podcasts?

NE: I’m in more of the serial kind of storytelling. I also am really into fictional ones. There’s a Wolverine podcast that just started the second season and that’s great.

ZC: I just finished up a six-part series on the first World War by Dan Carlin. It’s called “Blueprint to Armageddon.” Dan Carlin is one of my idols. He’s one of the people in the world that can remedy one of the largest issues we have with historical education. I think history is one of the most important things in the world. When it comes to dealing with things in your life such as mental health, mental wellness, your wellbeing, where you are as a person in the world right now, everything that you have gone through and will ever go through — a lot of people have gone through that exact same thing. There were 26-year-old kids in ancient Egypt. Do you think that everyone was a glyph? No. They were some 26-year-old kids shooting the shit.

303: Smoking Eucalyptus.

DL: Hitting that Papyrus.

ZC: [Laughing] Straight up. And of the million people that have been in the exact same situation that you are in right now, and of those million people that are almost exactly like you, they’ve all done things differently, they’ve all taken different ways out of the situation. So if you know history, you can see which ways people have dealt with the things that you’ve gone through.

303: You guys released a song with Avicii, “Hold the Line” on an album that was released after his death. Obviously, the lyrics hit close to home. What was the story behind that song, producing it and then, with Avicii’s passing, continuing on?

ZC: We wrote that song quite a while before what had happened, happened. It was just a piano and a vocal. That was it. The lyrics are the same. Everything’s exactly the same. The only thing that really changed was that there was a track built around it.

DL: Avicii and his team had been trying to collaborate with us for a while. Things were kind of rumbling there. So I guess that’s how that song naturally got to Avicii and his team, but then it was nothing about it until after his passing.

303: So he had already been working on the track before?

ZC: So the way it was explained to us was that his family and his team reached out to us not long after what had happened and they said that there was a bunch of stuff that Tim was working on at the time, but it really got narrowed down to maybe a handful of songs that he was really close to and a lot of them really weren’t finished, but one of the songs that meant a lot to him was our song [Hold the Line].

303: Was that anxiety-inducing?

ZC: It was sensitive for us. We were producers and songwriters way before we were a band. Tim was a producer as well, so he was at that stage where he would probably just throw a couple of things together, trying to make it work and never really got there. So when it was our responsibility to take it there, number one, we’re not him. We’re never going to be Avicii. Tim had his own sound, so we’re not going to be able to fill those shoes, so to speak. And we knew that. And the other thing is that we didn’t want to just tear it apart and rebuild it and not keep the integrity of what it was. So it was difficult.

DL: In our hearts, we knew that keeping it as close to what was sent to us would be the right thing to honor his legacy and to honor the family. Ultimately, it came back down to sounding really close to the demo version.

ZC: The difficult part was accepting the fact that these [songs] aren’t supposed to be done and they never will be. There will be no such thing as a completed body of work on this album because it’s missing the most important component. The idea is just to get these to a point where you can put them on display and say, this was our best version of it. I think the best part about it is that it serves as a beacon for people that really need to hear it.

303: Will you guys be playing the song on tour?

ZC: We have a nice arrangement of it. It’s more sort of broken down, just the three of us, sort of thing. I think the more that we can introduce people to this song and this story, the better.

303: What has been your favorite moment in your career so far?

NE: I grew up going to tons of shows all the time and the best shows are the shows I walked away going, “that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in my entire life. That was dope.” Those are the shows where I took something away. I felt like everybody got something out of it. And whenever we have someone come up to us and say, “that was the coolest; that was the best show I’ve ever been to.” That for me is always the proudest moment. Recently we did Hang Out and we did the Unicorn thing and on the side watching the whole time was Khalid. So after the show, we go talk to him and he’s like, “that was the coolest shit I’ve ever seen.”

DL: The moment my parents got it. We were playing two back to back shows at the Troubadour in LA opening for COIN. We bombed that first night. So then the second night was when my parents came and it was just electric. I have really strict Filipino parents. So the questions after that night became different. Before, it used to be, when are you going to get a job that gives you health insurance? And now and I think they felt the electricity in the room and they were like, oh this is a thing. The less they have to worry about me doing this, the better. And I think they finally got it and really understood what was happening. It’s really cool to see how they’ve been engaging with it differently ever since. Now they’re fans. It’s also the night that I feel like Zach finally accepted his frontman status.

303: Was that something you had been struggling with?

ZC: I got thrown into a job I’m not qualified for.

DL: Nate and I have performed live before but Zach’s first time on stage was with us, as A R I Z O N A.

ZC: It was like, great band, cool music, great album, now go on tour. And [Nate and Dave] were stoked but I was like, you want me to go on stage? Being the dude on onstage, that’s like, “yeah, what’s up!” That’s not me as a person and never has been. I never intended on doing this. So that night in LA when I found myself, what it really was, was me testing some shit out. I said, we have nothing left to lose at this point so I’m going to go out there and try it.  When you start realizing that cause-and-effect relationship with the crowd and your energy, you do become more comfortable and then you realize that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what anybody in the room thinks of what I’m doing. All that matters is I look like I’m having a good time bringing the energy.

All Photography by Kori Hazel.

You can see A R I Z O N A’s full tour schedule here. 

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