Interview: A R I Z O N A

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records.

3 best friends from New Jersey make up the band A R I Z O N A. They’re currently on the road with Panic! At the Disco and are preparing for the release of their second album. We had an introspective conversation with Zach Charles (vocals), David Labuguen (keys), and Nate Esquite (guitarist) after their set at Royal Farms Arena as we discussed how the trio’s music has helped individuals confront and overcome the realities of self-doubt and depression.

Capitol Sound DC: You all just released “Freaking Out”, which acknowledges anxiety. You also post confidence boosters and motivational messages for your fans. Why do you feel like it’s important to put out these positive tokens?

Zach Charles: “Freaking Out” is an anthem for anxiety. I feel like there are so many calls to action, people speaking out for causes or against things, most of them are political or are rights-based. I think our broader spectrum of speaking to our audience has always been just about "being." I think one of the difficult things about being a person is the attack that comes mostly from within, things like self-doubt, self-confidence, whatever it is. Anxiety and depression is a really big nasty one that so many people go through. People bring awareness to it all the time. We chose our own responsibility, as people who have an influence on people’s lives, to focus on “how to be okay.” “Freaking Out” is the song that focuses on dealing with that particular issue of anxiety and depression.

CSDC: How did you become so self-aware and at what point did you feel comfortable with talking about anxiety and depression?

Nate Esquite: For us, we want to be authentic to ourselves and being honest with ourselves and the things we do- the best art comes out.

David Labuguen: I think us being friends helps that. I could not have rolled up to these dudes being any sort of fake.

ZC: Yeah, you’d get called out immediately.

DL: We have this internal balance and that helps us say what we want to say and it’s something that means a lot to all of us.

CSDC: How do you address your own anxiety?

ZC: Music. Well not necessarily music alone, but music is our outlet. We address our depression and our anxiety, which I know all of us, if we’re being completely open about it, we struggle very deeply with. It’s just the way our lives have been. This sort of “success” as some would see it, but others may see it as a remedy- it’s not. If anything, success is just a mile-marker in your actions and objectives, it has nothing to do with the health of who you are as a person. It also doesn’t necessarily change circumstances that have been your life forever. You’re born into a certain set of circumstances, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes success can bring you means to help that, but sometimes it doesn’t.

DL: Sometimes success is almost a magnifier. On one hand you’re on a stage as one thing, and then the moment you get home something’s still wrong. The duality of those two things is intense.

ZC: For us, music is a particular outlet, but the fact that we get to be friends for the better part of 10 years, we come together and have moments, just hang as friends, meet up at our spots, take a breath and talk about some stuff and have a little therapy session between us. That leaves us being like, 'Alright, cool, we’re ready to jump back into music.' For us, going back to making the music is what helps us cope with it because we get to do it together. It’s not just music. When I’m depressed, I don’t go into the studio and get down to work, then I’d feel like shit. The fact that I get to make music with my homies makes it. Everyone has their own personal remedies as well. I love gaming. Dave cooks. Nate- in LA you take longboard rides. We all have our own little coping mechanisms, which are important to have. Personally, we’re lucky to have them within a friendship.

DL: I would say too, music is the outlet and sometimes the escape. But sometimes as friends, we find that we’ll also challenge and encourage each other to face what’s in front of us and be like, 'hey, face this head on and we’ll be here.' It’s one of those things I think we want people to feel like with our music, not just inspire, but for them to feel like, 'hey, I can cope with this.'

CSDC: Have you had a memorable moment yet where someone has thanked you?

ZC: All the time. It’s wild. For overcoming current obstacles or overcoming things that have already happened to them, which is wild and we’re happy to accept that if we’re able to do that for people. I would go farther to say that we don’t do it, it’s the music that does it. We view ourselves very separately from what we create, in the sense that we did these things and because the way that the world is and the way that media is today, you have access to these things and through some other source, that isn’t us, it connected you to this and it brought you through it. The fact that we’re the messenger is humbling to us.

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records.

People do come to us and say, 'you saved me,' from anything from a breakup or a shitty week to suicide or helped me get through the fact that my son died of cancer last year. You don’t hear it infrequently, it happens a lot. You begin to understand the burden of not just the singularities that people deal with just in their lives, but the burden of the type of life that we are all collectively experiencing and living. It will all happen to everyone in the world, even to us, it’s going to happen every single one of us at some point. It’s the whole thing about psychologists, where they have to leave it in the office when they go home. It’s the same thing for us, you hear bad things all the time and you sit down, think about it, and next time you go back into the studio you have to remember, 'okay, we’re just going to make a jam today.' That’s it. We’re just going to make some music. It’ll touch people the way it touches people, hopefully, in a great way and they’ll have amazing times. On the contrary, some people say, 'I got married to your song!' You have this wide spectrum of what music does to people. You don’t make music with that in mind. So for anybody to go out there and take credit for what it does to people is silly. It’s just like, 'hey, you do you and let it do what it does in the world.' But just let it be a reminder to yourself that this is the power that you have through music, just don’t be an asshole about it. Just be the best you can and do good.

CSCD: Since Gallery was released, it has been making connections with all of these people. How do you manage the pressure and how have you approached your second album differently than your first?

DL: We tried to cheat code ourselves an album and we were all sorts of caught up in the process. At some point we realized, 'hold on, when was the last time we just hung out as people?' There is a lot of pressure. A lot of external pressure to perform better -and from us too, we always want to bring excellence. We want to be better than we were, but at the end of the day we just have to be ourselves.

Photo courtesty of Atlantic Records

ZC: Yeah, we got caught up in this really retrograde playlist, we jumped back a couple decades and were jamming to the alt-80’s stuff that you forgot about and we were like, “these songs are tight and nobody is the new Police or the new Duran Duran.” So we were like, “cool. A R I Z O N A is gonna do that.”

DL: We’re just trying to channel the ethos of them being unapologetically whatever they wanted to be. It’s authentic.

ZC: That’s what helped us push through. We found our workflow and our vibe. We’re on this arena tour and hopefully a headliner tour after, at some point. Everything is moving along and we’ve also been shooting a lot of video. We have like 3 or 4 camera people in here. We have two others on the bus with us. We’re going to start releasing more personality in the A R I Z O N A world, just so that people can better connect to the music. They can connect with us at the shows, but we want to further the idea that they can connect with us and hang with us.

DL: People are going to come to realize that I’m not as cool as a look.

CSDC: Listening to your lyrics, I’d say they’re pretty romantic and thoughtful. What would be your ideal date?

DL: I can tell you about my first date. She was in Boston. I was in Jersey. We went to school in Boston. I was like, I’m not going to be able to top any New York experience, but I can do Boston. So I took the train up and planned the whole day out, but it was mainly the fact that I traveled all the way up there.

NE: Maybe a movie. It’s pretty in-line with me. Maybe some ice cream.

ZC: I love the opportunity to cook for more than just myself. I can cook for you and there will be a bear skin rug, fireplace, and candles.

CSDC: If A R I Z O N A was an ice cream flavor, what would it be?

ZC: Mint chocolate chip.

DL: We’d probably be a boozy ice cream. Rum raisin. Whiskey, vanilla, grenadine. 

NE: With sprinkles- rainbow.

*Now imagine the Forrest Gump scene where Bubba lists every way to cook shrimp…because that’s what happened to concoct the ingredients that would go into the A R I Z O N A kitchen sink*

Final answer: Vanilla-salted-caramel twist, with Jamison and sprinkles in a sugar cone.

*Seeking sponsors now*

All performance photos shot by Raelena Kniff for Capitol Sound DC.

Keep up with A R I Z O N A at the links below.