We’re all going to die someday.

That message may sound dire, but in “Graveyard,” the opening track of New Jersey electro-pop trio A R I Z O N A’s third album A R I Z O N A, it’s incredibly uplifting. The graveyard, as they describe it, is a place “fit for kings and queens” –no matter our worries or present troubles (do we like how we look? Do we measure up to what our parents did, or to what we want for ourselves?), we’re all going to end up there at the end, and that knowledge is both freeing and comforting. “Graveyard,” then, is a song full of relief – and hope. Out of the context of the album, it sounds final – a closing remark, a reminder that we’re all going to end up six feet under, and a perfectly timed set closer – but when arranging the track list, keyboardist David Labuguen says that “thematically, it felt really appropriate” to have it at the beginning, explaining, “this is what the album is about. This is the message.” Frontman Zachary Charles adds, “It’s like a Tarantino movie – you start with the last scene. And then you jump around scenes throughout all of it, between different things that you have to piece together in your own way.”

Speaking from Los Angeles, between shows on The People’s Tour with Quinn XCII and Julia Wolf, A R I Z O N A mention Phoenix, Arizona (which they say “always feels like a hometown crowd”) and Philadelphia as highlights. Later, they’d play a picturesque sunset set at The Great Saltair in Magna, Utah, followed shortly after by the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The band headlined their Find Someone Tour in the summer of 2019 before releasing their sophomore album ASYLUM that October. While several tracks off ASYLUM – “Find Someone,” “Freaking Out,” and “Nostalgic” – were performed on the Find Someone Tour, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down touring just a few months later, save for a few festivals and one-offs, A R I Z O N A were never able to tour off of ASYLUM. Labuguen surmises they were fortunate not to have a piece of the equation missing, but “We’re still learning how some of the ASYLUM songs can be received live. And at the same time, we’re also learning how the songs from our newest album are being received. And so, it feels delayed.” Guitarist Nathan Esquite continues, “The ASYLUM release came at such a weird time for us that it almost feels like it didn’t happen.” “Nostalgic” and “Find Someone” continue to be well-received at each show, and ASYLUM closer “Still Alive” has become one of their favorites to play live, so it “has felt really good to know that even though we might have felt like ASYLUM came and went without notice, that it really did stick with a lot of people.”

Though it was released just last month on Fueled By Ramen, some of the twelve songs on A R I Z O N A date back as far as 2019. At the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, Charles, Esquite, and Labuguen began revisiting earlier ideas, though without a conscious thread in mind at first. The record they ultimately created shows growth both as individuals and as a group – and also “the endurance of getting through a pandemic and learning how to pause and take a breath,” says Labuguen. Reflecting on what building A R I Z O N A meant to himself, Charles, and Esquite as individuals, he shares, “We all know people that have been affected by COVID. And I think, in the midst of this time that we all of a sudden had, and in the midst of the panic, and in the chaos of all this – coming together to bring the album together was therapeutic in a way.” 

The therapeutic nature of A R I Z O N A’s creation is evident upon listening. Like ASYLUM and the band’s 2017 debut album GALLERY, the songs on A R I Z O N A have themes of distance, anxiety, insecurity, and how all of that affects relationships – but the self-titled is newly imbued with a sense of peace and coming to terms with things. While GALLERY’s “Cross My Mind” and ASYLUM’s “Don’t Leave” and “Problems” showed an unrelenting longing where they were self-conscious of their own insecurities, here, on “Out Of My Hands,” they’ve accepted those same neuroses. GALLERY’s “Running” saw them sleeping “through the dark days,” but on “Warm Water, Winter Winds,” they “remember that the night is not our enemy.” And where ASYLUM’s “Freaking Out” sees them so anxious, they’re sleeping with the light on, on “Graveyard,” Charles proclaims that he “hated the way I looked” – but this time, he went out anyway. Charles maintains that this sense of peace “came from the way the album was put together”: some songs were written in the “before times,” included as vignettes or memories; others “in the middle of quarantine, locked away from the world in its uncertain state,” included as “snapshots of being in the middle of quarantine and the world being upside down”; others still were written “as the world began to see its reemergence and its ways of dealing with things.” As he and his bandmates took bits from songs they’d started years prior and got to finish them, a central theme of perspective emerged: time had given them the space to figure things out and discover what really matters.

A listen through A R I Z O N A is a journey in its own right: after beginning with the celebratory “Graveyard,” “all of a sudden, things are shit. And all of a sudden, things are kind of okay again, but [they’ve] changed forever” – although where exactly the journey is headed is left open for interpretation. Speaking on the album opener, Charles says it serves as a reminder that “there’s gonna be a bunch of shit you’re thinking about constantly…. But at the end of the day, we all die. All we do every day is prolonging the inevitable, and that’s why I think you have to find the art in doing, find fun in doing, find meaning in doing – and that itself is a special perspective to have.” That theme is echoed in “Dancing With The Dead,” where they begin to let go of the voices in their head and be present in the moment. What actually matters at the end of the day? Maybe there are no answers, or maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Coming to terms with the reality that the things we tend to focus on – buying a big house, driving a fancy car, or having some impressive job title – don’t actually matter all that much is liberating; it lets you focus on the present moment and discover what you need to be happy right here, right now. Charles feels strongly about the importance of perspective, adding, “If you go through life without ever finding that perspective, it’s going to feel like a bit of a jungle, more so than it already actually is.” 

Following “Graveyard” is “Dark Skies,” a track straight from the dancefloor that promises the listener that while bad things are on the horizon, they’ll get through the storm – together. Along with perspective, that sense of perseverance is central to A R I Z O N A: “Moving On,” “Wanderer,” and “Meet You There” are empowering, motivational anthems – reminders to keep going and that it’ll get better; reminders of the beauty in being lost; reminders that you, dear listener, aren’t alone in this journey and you’ll make it out the other side. With second-person lyrics that seem to speak directly to whoever is listening, the group is taking on a new angle this time around. For the members of A R I Z O N A, writing is a way to tell a story; Charles acknowledges that indeed sometimes the songs are written to “yourself, or a different version of you” – perhaps the words he sings could be ones he and his bandmates needed to hear – but the actual story being told is intentionally left open to interpretation. “I think that’s kind of the theme of what we do,” he reflects. “We write songs in ways that tell stories that we enjoy writing, but they’re supposed to be what people can make of them, that serves themselves in a way that they need. That’s a big thing for us. Because what it might be about for me, or Nate or Dave, it might be different between us, let alone what it might be about to someone who hears it for the first time and needs it to be about something that they felt connected to immediately when they heard it.” 

Back in February – nearly four years after the release of ASYLUM – “Moving On” was the world’s first taste of A R I Z O N A’s new album. Along with the song release came a music video shot in Round Rock, Arizona (the state, not the band). As Charles, Esquite, and Labuguen walk through the desert, surrounded by land art created by Jim Denevan with the help of Navajo Nation and his son, Brighton Denevan, text appears on screen: “To all the wanderers, misfits and outcasts tired and broken. This is for us. Welcome home.” In the same vein as the ASYLUM artwork – which reads, “Blessed shall thou be when thou comes in / Blessed shall thou be when thou goes out” – it’s a reclamation of church language that Labuguen grew up with. “There’s a lot of corruption in today’s world,” he reflects, “and there’s a lot of ways that people want to use inclusivity to foster their market share. And that goes for businesses and religious organizations.” Just as the band members show their diversity on stage, the crowd at an A R I Z O N A show is not a homogenous group: A R I Z O N A fans come from all backgrounds and walks of life.

“For us, having a safe space means that you can be who you are amongst all of us,” Labuguen proclaims. Esquite believes that authenticity is key in connecting with everyone listening, both online and offline. “We just try to stay as true to ourselves as we possibly can,” he states. “The three of us are so diverse as people that I think it’s our hope that by being true to who we are, we can show our fans how despite our differences, we can all get along and love one another.” It’s no wonder, then, that with their music, the members of A R I Z O N A have created a safe space that’s as important to them as it is to their fans: Labuguen opens up, sharing that “In a lot of ways, whether it’s growing up or even in the industry, [in] our lives before A R I Z O N A, it would feel difficult to fit in somewhere, or get into a circle or a network.” Now, Charles, Esquite, and Labuguen can be that light for others, with an open gathering place that anyone can be a part of – “as long as you’re open, we’re open. There’s no hate. It’s all love. Let’s hang.”

There’s a quasi-spirituality to A R I Z O N A that’s less about worship and more about soul-searching – who are you, anyway, and what do you believe in? Maybe that is a higher power, maybe that’s a cause, or maybe the thing you believe in the most is yourself. This is particularly apparent on “Pray To God”; here, with a distorted vocal over thundering drums and a synth that feels almost holy, A R I Z O N A narrate the power and freedom of discovering who you are and the difficulties of communicating that to those around you, centering around the lines, “I killed a man there, and I prayed to god to cleanse me of my sins.” Labuguen recalls the moment in the studio when they came up with that line: “People take it their own way,” he says, but “for us, I think it’s more like, the old versions of me are dead. I’m who I am today. And I’m not this idea that someone has created of me or whatever. And I’m not the idea that I had of myself before.” Change and growth – whether internal or external, planned or unplanned – can come as a shock both to those experiencing it and those surrounding them, and “Pray To God” also explores the idea of “being conscious of, you know – I did that, and now I have to deal with the aftermath.” The pandemic has seen a lot of change, as people worldwide have made decisions that “have life and death implications not only for themselves but for other people.” Sometimes, no one will understand – or agree with – a change besides the person experiencing it – but that doesn’t make it any less real or significant.

Throughout The People’s Tour and for several months beforehand, A R I Z O N A have been using their social media platforms more than before to connect with their fans. Last fall, the members began their own series of content, giving a glimpse into their personalities: Charles shows off his 3D-printing skills in his “Making That” series, Esquite visits ice cream shops across the Northeast in his series of ice cream reviews, and Labuguen cooks a new dish in each “Dash of David” special. Longtime fans won’t be surprised to see the band sharing covers like Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers” and Pink Pantheress’s “Boy’s A Liar.” On Instagram and TikTok, A R I Z O N A have posted photos and tour vlogs of each stop on The People’s Tour, sharing live footage and moments big and small – like a fan making them custom embroidered shirts or Charles deciding not to curse during “Graveyard” because he saw a little kid in the crowd. They even made a video full of live footage to announce their headlining Live For A Night Tour this fall, and their touring crew members have joined in on the fun with their thecrewnotthestate page, sharing photos from backstage and behind the scenes. Each piece of content helps show more of who A R I Z O N A – both the members as individuals and the band as a whole – are, further connecting them with their fans. “Music is built off community and connection,” Esquite says when discussing the increased engagement, “and it’s very important to us to foster a community within our fans where they feel like A R I Z O N A is a place that they can connect with – not just us, but with other fans as well. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we all have our stories to tell.”

In a satisfying parallel to its opener, “Graveyard,” A R I Z O N A ends at the beginning: the closing track is “Warm Water, Winter Winds,” a song “about recollecting a time before all this shit happened.” “Warm Water, Winter Winds” thinks back to sitting around a fire, drinking whiskey, when they were “young and lonely” but had each other. On stage, Charles is known to say, “If you’re not doing what you love with the people you love, what’s the point?” – a mantra the trio lives by. Spending so much time together in a professional capacity, working and traveling together, meant that before COVID hit, they had begun taking parts of each other for granted. Labuguen believes that COVID ultimately “forced us to take inventory… I think in the pandemic, a lot of people rethought a lot of things about their life and were able to investigate and pry apart just what they’ve been going through as people and get in touch with themselves. And it’s true, when you are with people constantly, you can get to a point where you kind of lose sight of why y’all are homies in the first place.” Esquite laughs as Labuguen admits, “I definitely had a moment where I was like, ‘F- you guys, I don’t wanna see you,’ you know?”. Now, he has a newfound appreciation for the bandmates he calls his brothers: “These dudes are my family. I love them. And I think going through all of that growth [helps in] realizing that life is too short to not appreciate the people around you.” 

Forced time off from touring has also given A R I Z O N A a newfound appreciation for being on the road. Labuguen recalls a particularly special moment in Austin, Texas, sitting with Esquite after the show had finished. Thanks to a “dope crew that we can trust,” a lot of the daily tasks of touring have been lifted off their shoulders, allowing them to check out local museums or sightsee while on the road. “There’s something so special right now about coming back to touring, knowing how much you miss it – it’s a completely different experience in that regard, where it’s less of a grind and more of a – can you believe we get to do this? type of feeling.”

For Esquite, the primary responsibility and obligation he felt when making the record was “being true and honest to ourselves as people, friends, and artists.” That’s not to say A R I Z O N A don’t feel a responsibility towards their fans – but instead, they know that committing to their own authenticity is at the core of it all. He explains, “When you lose sight of that, your fans can sense that you’re not being honest, and in turn, you deliver something to them that doesn’t resonate because art needs to be honest.” That approach is precisely the strength at A R I Z O N A’s core: as much of a catharsis as it was for A R I Z O N A to create it, Labuguen hopes that relief and sense of connection are “mirrored for our fans and our audience. Like, I don’t think the music is necessarily us; I think it’s more of a tool for us, a way to process. And our aim, really, is to facilitate that same kind of connection, and vulnerability, and coping – we’re just coping with life.” Of course, they never know which songs will land with people; in fact, Charles (who claims “Black Boots” as his personal favorite) and Labuguen mention that they’ve been surprised to hear so many people talking about “Pray To God” and “Wanderer.” Charles continues, “It’s always surprising, going through that process and watching the world receive things in common ways and watching this thread be made. And it’s something that I think is cool, but it’s never something you can predict.” 

Photo credit: Abi Polinsky

Could you sit down with the lyrics in front of you and decipher who or what each song was written about or to as you listened? Perhaps you could – but for A R I Z O N A, discovering what it is that people have taken from their art is part of the magic. “That’s the beauty of [it],” Charles says. “People have always taken our music in ways that have served them, and that’s, I think, what we enjoy about watching our crowds, and meeting the people individually and having them tell us stories about things that sometimes we’re the first to hear, too.” Esquite echoes this sentiment, sharing, “By far what has been the most meaningful to me is hearing stories from all our fans who have [been] waiting patiently for so long for us to deliver new music and more shows!”. It’s been “a very long four years” since their last album release, and for Esquite, “to hear that our music still means so much to people and has stuck with everyone melts my heart! This is what I love to do, and I hope to keep doing it for a very long time.” In a way, the listener becomes the fourth member of A R I Z O N A. 

Aiming to give listeners “the most direct version of what we have,” A R I Z O N A ensure that every song “should be able to represent part of the album in some way” and stand on its own. “I think people have to live with the music, and they have to figure out what it means for them,” Charles says. “And they come back time and again, and they discover different ways to feel it and figure it out for themselves.” While you won’t walk away from A R I Z O N A knowing what experiences the trio had in mind when writing, you will walk away knowing how it makes you feel and what it means for you, right here, right now. We’re all going to die someday anyway, so we might as well stop and smell the roses right down the road from where we are.

Photo credit: Abi Polinsky

Tickets for the Live For A Night Tour go on sale this Friday, June 23, at 10am local time. VIP tickets are on sale today, June 20, at 12pm Eastern. Visit A R I Z O N A’s website for a full list of tour dates, and keep up with the band on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.