On June 23, New Jersey electro-alt-pop act A R I Z O N A wrapped up their Find Someone Tour with a sold-out show at The Fillmore Philadelphia. The Philadelphia date of the Find Someone Tour was initially announced for the 1000-cap TLA; when that sold out, the show was upgraded to the 2500-cap Fillmore. Two years since the release of their debut album GALLERY, the success of this run with morgxn has been “beyond our wildest dreams”; connecting with people has always been the most important thing to the group, and keyboardist David Labuguen is eager to share that they’ve met “a lot of really incredible people.” Labuguen and his bandmates – vocalist Zach Charles and guitarist Nate Esquite – come from the production world, and while they’re quick to notice technical specifications of a venue, like speakers or lighting design, they also note that The Fillmore is a space where “you can still feel like you can touch everybody.”

It’d be easy to say that all of this is a dream come true, but for a long time, becoming artists wasn’t even on their radar. Labuguen, Charles, and Esquite were longtime friends and had worked together as producers. Later that night, Charles would tell the crowd that a few years ago, they had all but given up on music; on their way out, they decided to create something just for fun. Their first release as A R I Z O N A was “Let Me Touch Your Fire” in 2015, but what was supposed to be a swan song – a reminder that they’re just here to have fun, one last try – picked up steam and quickly lead to a record deal with Atlantic Records/APG. On May 19, 2017, they released their debut full-length album GALLERY; in July 2018, A R I Z O N A released the singles “Cold Nights” and “Summer Days” and began an arena tour with Panic! At the Disco.

Coming from the production world, the members of A R I Z O N A found that the hardest thing was accepting that they were now the band. Charles likens it to being given a job running a marketing department because you had a couple of good ideas, only to find out just how much goes along with the job itself. Though confident in his own skills and those of his bandmates, “I’m still just like – I didn’t really ever apply for this job and I never really imagined I’d get it, and quite honestly I can only imagine what people would think if they knew that,” he confesses. While Labuguen and Esquite had been on stage and in bands before, Charles had never performed live before A R I Z O N A – though from his command of the stage, anyone watching would never guess.

Speaking on their work as producers, Labuguen remarks that after a long time of making music for other people, “you feel like you’re giving your heart to something that isn’t giving back to you.” They didn’t expect or intend for A R I Z O N A as a project to become anything, and the band agree that it was never about playing certain stages or reaching particular points of fame; rather, creating this music was “therapeutic – it was an outlet.” Once they were creating music that they felt ownership of, the art was able to give back to them, in a similar way as it does to those who listen. Though they’re all technical perfectionists, Charles, Esquite, and Labuguen are also able to step back and remind each other to relax and enjoy what they’re doing, without taking it too seriously.

Though direct in their expression, many of A R I Z O N A’s songs deal with difficult topics, like anxiety and depression (“Freaking Out” and “Hold The Line,” a collaboration with AVICII), a failed relationship (“Find Someone”), or coming to terms with being in the wrong (“I Was Wrong”, “Cross The Line”). The trio are longtime best friends, so they naturally have those difficult conversations with each other; when it comes time to write music, they draw from those situations. Even in the most uncomfortable of experiences, their lyrics are straightforward and to the point. “Lately, right now I feel like it’s all over / ‘Cause I’ve been trapped inside my head for so long,” Charles sings on “Freaking Out”, coming from the perspective of someone who is removed enough from the situation to speak with clarity about how he feels, but isn’t afraid to say just how hurt he is. The members of A R I Z O N A will push each other to use writing as “the final step in the healing process”; the songs, then, serve as “the punctuation at the end of the big conversation.”

Soon after the release of GALLERY, A R I Z O N A began work on their second album. Following the release of the tour’s namesake track, “Find Someone,” in February, they shared “Nostalgic” and “Hold The Line” in June. Looking back on the whirlwind process, they didn’t realize at first just how much time they’d need to breathe and to come back together as friends. Spending months on end on the road means being on a tour bus with no personal space; Charles reflects that “you can’t know where you are as a person and discover uncomfortable situations or experiences in yourself that lead to difficult conversations with your best friends when you don’t have any time with yourself.”

The grind of tour demands being effective and efficient in what’s essentially a “mission,” causing you to fall into a rhythm that’s quite different from regular life. This time around, they’re not trying to replicate GALLERY, but rather to take the experiences they’ve had and move forward to create something new. Finding time to write when “you live on a bus, then a green room, then a bus, and then a green room, and a bus, and a green room” for most of the year has been a challenge, and they also admit that “it’s difficult to pull it out of you when it’s expected of you.”

As they learn what it means to not only be artists but a professional band running a business, A R I Z O N A have had to figure out how to not only create but create at warp speed. Right now, they’re collectively “very confident” with the progress of the new album. They’ve come to realize that they didn’t have to sacrifice personal experience for their job as musicians; the solution, Charles says, “is very simple – it was just [to] take more time with each other.” It doesn’t have to be a major event; even in the smallest moments, take advantage of the chance to play golf, to hang out, to do something together – those tiny, collective experiences are important, since “that’s when some of the weird things between best friends do come out.”

Charles, Esquite, all grew up in Northern New Jersey; Charles and Labuguen in Glen Rock, and Esquite in Elizabeth. Labuguen thinks there was “something in the water” in Glen Rock: in his graduating class of only 125, he was joined by one of the members of fellow APG/Atlantic act Prelow, as well as someone else at the label. He acknowledges the importance of the proximity to New York City: Glen Rock has two trains that run into the city, and the ability to go back and forth between quiet suburban life and big city urban life has shaped him and his bandmates. The cold, too, can influence someone’s personality: people who are born and raised in warm areas “just have a different personality – and it’s not anyone’s upbringing, it’s just the fact that the cold will temper you in a way that not being in the cold doesn’t.” New Jersey is also full of socioeconomic and landscape contrast – even within counties, there’s a wide range to be experienced. All of this lends itself to a broad spectrum of experience, and no matter where you are within that spectrum, “when you’re so close in proximity to different points and perspectives around you, you experience it all in one way or another, and your views are built on that.”

“Hold The Line” exists in two versions: the original, a powerhouse dance track on AVICII’s posthumous album Tim, and an acoustic version. Yet even when stripped down to the acoustic guitar and piano arrangement, the song is carried by the same propulsive rhythm. “As craftsmen,” Labuguen shares, “we’re of the belief that a great song can be produced in a million different ways and the song will still be great because the messaging is great.” “Hold The Line” was originally written with just vocals and piano; without a place for it on their own album, the band sent the track around to potential collaborators. They found out that AVICII was working on “Hold The Line” after he passed; his family sent over the track and A R I Z O N A set to work on completing it. Many iterations later, the version of “Hold The Line” included on Tim is close to what was sent to them in the first place.

Finishing “Hold The Line” required that A R I Z O N A be sensitive to the production, wanting to do their due diligence to ensure it was polished and ready to be heard, while also striving to honor AVICII’s legacy. The song’s message of pushing on when times get difficult feels even more poignant in the wake of his passing, and the band wanted to spread that message to people who might not listen to EDM. When the messaging is so clear, and the initial production is so distinct, it’s “very easy to translate across to different areas and different genres”; A R I Z O N A joke that “Find Someone” and “Nostalgic” could be country songs, and mention a “bluegrass-ish type version” of “Oceans Away” they played once as a joke.

Every night when introducing “Hold The Line” and “Freaking Out”, Charles makes it a point to let the audience know that it’s okay to not be okay, and that “a lot of what we go through in life, the hard times aren’t necessarily singular to us, and that there are other people going through the same thing.” Labuguen recalls a fan messaging them in Toronto to say they’d been listening to A R I Z O N A’s message after getting done with an outpatient rehab: “It can get heavy, but it reminds us that what we’re doing is bigger than us.” Life is always worth it, and they encourage anyone to seek help if they need it; a portion of ticket sales from the Find Someone Tour was donated to Hope For The Day, a cause close to A R I Z O N A’s hearts. Touring is an adventure, filled with excitement both on and off stage, but aside from all of that, “we just want to make sure people are good. Like how we make sure we’re good with each other.”

A R I Z O N A
Photo by Molly Hudelson.

 

A R I Z O N A will be playing several festivals and one-off performances this summer; visit www.ThisIsARIZONAmusic.com for more info on all upcoming shows.