New Jersey-based electro pop band Arizona are back with their second album Asylum, out today (Oct. 11). It’s been over two years since the band, consisting of Zachary Charles (lead vocals), Nate Esquite (guitar), and David Labuguen (keys) released their debut album Gallery. In that time, the trio have made waves in the alt/electronic world with single “Oceans Away,” a worldwide tour with Panic! At The Disco, and a sold-out series of headlining tours. What started out as three friends releasing their own music “for fun” has turned into a highly-acclaimed career.
Asylum has been a long time coming for the band, which first began creating songs for the record directly after the release of their first. Working through the pressure of releasing a follow-up, they ended up writing a skeleton of 30 songs during the times they found to just be “human beings” while on the road, say the trio.
“Problems,” the lead single from Asylum, is a perfect introduction to the narrowed-down nine tracks. With lyrics reflecting on a dark battle with mental health overlayed over an energetic, ’80s-inspired sound, the song perfectly encompasses the overall feel of the album. Or, as Charles puts it: “It’s a terribly depressing song you can still dance to.”
Ahead of the release of Asylum, the guys sat down with Billboard to discuss incorporating messages about mental health into their album, the relationship with their fans, and what’s coming up next for the trio.
What would you say is the overall theme of Asylum?
Zachary Charles: Theme might be a strong word, but I think the album is basically day-to-day living through uncomfortable situations and not great spaces to be in, but at the end of the day making something fun and good out of it. The songs are very upbeat, so that offset between the two concepts is what makes up the whole album.
The songs are upbeat, but there’s a lot of heartbreak and sadness in the lyrics.
Charles: Life can beat you up. Being in those places, I think we’ve always gone to each other. It’s therapy, really. Going through all those difficult things and coming out on top has always been something that we’ve been able to do because we have just been friends for so long. I think the songs on Asylum were just us trying to find a safe place in each other, in times where you felt like you were losing it, and letting those snapshots live together in a compilation naturally.
David Labuguen: Originally the word [Asylum] came to me. I was watching the news about the border and people who are immigrating to seek political asylum, and I thought ‘Asylum as a word is a double entendre.’ It can mean a safe space and an antiquated definition of mental hospital. We were in a place where we weren’t all together and in a way, we felt insane. We needed that safe space. To name the album that is to invite people to say ‘Hey, we’re all going through a lot of stuff, but if it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one and we can get through it together. This is a safe space for you. It’s okay to not be okay and you’re not alone.’
Charles: That should be the takeaway. If this album is the starting point for some people to know that they’re not alone and there is a safe space out there when you feel like you’re losing control, then that’s great.
You guys have a really great relationship with your fans. How does that impact your creative process?
Charles: The crowds at Arizona shows are something that’s typically pointed out to us because it’s such a diverse group of people, which I think is cool because we’re basically the poster child of being diverse. We all come from different backgrounds and nationalities. You have these really funny finance bros in the crowd with ties loose and they’re crying and screaming lyrics.
Labuguen: We call it the “sensitive bro.”
Charles: And then you also have middle-aged dads that maybe rolled in with their kids or just know the music themselves, and really cool alternative-style people. They’re all coming together in this one room for an Arizona show. That taught me that the music has an interesting connection to people in a way that is beyond what they think about themselves. It’s more about how they feel about being a person in the world. Putting on a cool show is great, but it’s the fan experience — whether it’s a show or an event, like a release party. For this album release, we’re trying to do a livestream where we’ll pull apart the sessions of the songs on the album, show people what our process was. We started to value experience over production.
Nate Esquite: I grew up on the other side of the barricade. I’d go to shows and whenever a band did something really cool, you would take it away sometimes more than the music because you got to connect with them on a different level. I try to bring that to all our fan experiences and shows. To give them more than just the music, but an experience where years from now they’re still talking to their friends like, “This one time I saw Arizona and they did this. It was so cool and I’ve been a fan since.”
What’s up next?
Charles: Right now, the idea is to take a couple months and work on album three to give it the immediate attention that album two maybe should have had. The idea is to finish that and then hopefully go on tour maybe in the spring, first half of 2020. But take it easy. It’s a marathon [laughs].
Looking to the more distant future, where do you hope to see Arizona go?
Labuguen: I think we’re still figuring it out. It’s a funny thing, because you meet a lot of artists that are very dead set on measurable metrics goals, like “I’m going to play MSG. I’m going to sell out an arena tour.” Arizona is a band that started as a byproduct of a joke. We have a lot of fun as friends and that’s at the core of it. I think as long as we keep doing that and give it our best, the byproduct of doing that would be all of these measurable things.
Charles: [Arizona] allows us to do what we love in a lot of different ways. When we’re custom designing and building for live shows, when it comes to filming video and content, we love doing that. We have a lot of friends from music, so we can help out developing other artists as well. We’ll always be Arizona, but as things get different later in life, there’s hopefully a way that we can explore the other things that we love.