With nine million unique monthly listeners on Spotify, A R I Z O N A feels like it has been around for a long time, when in fact, the band has been together for around two years. Their journey has taken them from viral Internet fame, to opening for Kevin Garrett and COIN on tour, to playing Lollapalooza and finally headlining their own tour; the band has seemingly fast-tracked their way into the spotlight, even landing them an endorsement from AriZona Beverages.
Comprised of members Zach Hannah (lead vocals), Nate Esquite (guitar), and David Labuguen (keys), the trio has gone from writing and producing music for artists in NYC, Los Angeles, and London, to finally making music for themselves. Hannah says, “We were doing okay, but after awhile, just doing okay fades to doing not so great. As we were approaching rock bottom, we decided to jam and came up with an idea. We said, ‘You know what? Maybe we should actually make a project out of this, because nothing else is working right now. Let’s just have some fun before we call it quits.’ I mean, thank god we didn’t call it quits and decided to have fun!”
As the guys reflected on the release of their highly-anticipated debut album GALLERY and geared up for the last bit of their tour with COIN, a series of music festivals this summer (including Governor’s Ball in NYC, Firefly in Dover, DE, and Lollapalooza in Chicago), and their first-ever headlining tour toward the end of the summer, Billboard had a chance to catch up with them at their album release party at the Gibson Showroom in NYC to talk about the record, meeting their online fans in person, and the release of a stripped version of their song “Are You.”
You’ve said that you were never really planning on becoming a band and that your success is almost accidental. Where did the push come from?
Zach Hannah: For around five years, we worked as producers and songwriters, doing a million different things [in the music industry]. I decided to move to L.A. permanently, and Nate moved out and became my roommate. Dave would travel back and forth but was mainly East Coast-based. [Nate and I] continued trying to pitch our songs to other people, and Dave was working in TV and advertising. The grind went on for so long but it never really hit home for us. Nate and I had a friend in England so we decided to move out there for awhile, we were writing for some other artists, but nothing worked.
So finally, we all moved back home to Jersey and the three of us were all together, so we decided to take the ideas we had and made them full songs. This was around the time when we met our now-manager Jake Posner, who discovered us on Reddit, and he was the one who said, “No guys, this is not a joke. I love [your music], I want to manage you. You need to do something with this.” We were all thinking, “Whatever, bro. We don’t care, this is just fun for us.” But [the project] became legitimate under Jake’s supervision and us actually getting together and putting some time and effort into it. When we released [our music] into the world, none of us were really ready for people to accept it as much as they did.
You guys originally set out to release an EP, and here you are debuting a full album. How did that happen?
David Labuguen: We did have the intention to make an EP, but when we looked at the body of records that we had, and in talking to our A&R folks [at Atlantic Records], we realized that we had enough material for an album. We were like, “Wow, that’s daunting, but it’s cool!”
Hannah: We had to catch up to the numbers. At some point in the year of creating what was slated to be an EP to introduce ourselves to the world, we realized that so many people caught on early that we didn’t just want to drop a couple songs that people knew plus one or two [new ones]. We had all these songs that were lying around unfinished that we always loved and didn’t know what to do with them, that we decided to take a little extra time – and by extra time, I mean we’re about six months overdue – to really put some work into making these songs great and maybe writing some new songs from scratch along the way to create a full-length LP. We wanted to give something to people that was more than the couple songs they already knew from us. We needed to catch up to the fact that there were so many people [listening] already, and we wanted to match their presence with more music.
You have nine million unique monthly listeners on Spotify who are meeting you in person for the first time as you make your way around the country. Tell us what that’s like.
Labuguen: I think meeting people who felt a connection to our music was when this became real for us. It broke us out of our routine. We were working in a basement, making music, [designing] our visuals, we were “working.” I was having a rough day once, and Zach came up to me and said, “There are people out there, man. They are listening.” We went out on the road, and we had people come up to us who have said that our show has inspired them to create and that is so crazy. We have [artists we view in that way], but then to be that [artist for our fans], it’s surreal. We feel a certain kind of responsibility to be authentic, to keep doing this; it has really energized us to move forward and to keep going.
Hannah: I think really putting the faces to the [streaming] numbers has been terribly, terribly, terribly inspiring for us. I almost can’t believe the sense of responsibility that comes along with the connection of having that many people that are not just listening to us in passing, but are actually inspired by us. It really reminds us that this is not just about cool music, it’s not just about having fun with a hobby. It’s an avenue for all of us to open up to other people. When they are changed by what we do, we are changed by them being changed. We need to make sure that when we create, it’s for that purpose and not just for ourselves.
What should we know about the video for the acoustic version of “Are You”?
Labuguen: We recorded the stripped version of “Are You” here in the Gibson Studio, and the arrangement actually came about on the fly. It’s cool because Nate and I came up with this riff… Nate was kinda noodling around and I thought it was really cool, and then Zach jumped in on his trumpet. This kind of arrangement is really different for us because we’re all producers and we’re used to being in front of a computer, behind the glass. What you see in the video is very organic and specific to the space.
A R I Z O N A released their debut album, GALLERY, on May 19. Their headlining tour kicks off later this year.