Rising electropop band A R I Z O N A chats with the Villanovan

Cassie McHugh '20

Electropop band A R I Z O N A has spent the past year making waves in the music industry. The quiet release of a string of singles in late 2016 helped the band to cultivate a fan following that is now over seven million monthly listeners strong on Spotify. The band released its first full-length album in May of this year before embarking on a summer festival circuit that includes appearances at major music festivals like Firefly, Lollapalooza, Govenor’s Ball, and Hangout Fest. Following a high-energy set that drew a sizable crowd to the Tidal Stage during day two of the Made in America festival, members Zach Hannah (vocals), Nate Esquite (guitar), and David Labuguen (keyboard) sat down to chat with the Villanovan about connecting with their fans, embarking on their first headlining tour, and their love for the East Coast. 

The Villanovan (TV): You have a massive following on Spotify and other streaming services. What has it been like to head out and perform live and put faces to the numbers? 

Labuguen (L): “That’s the best part about it. For us, the number was almost unreal for a while—we made the record in our basement, so like you’re in the dark dingy basement [and] you get frustrated. Zach came up to me and he was like, ‘Hey man, there’s lots of people listening to this, keep your head up,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know these people. They’re just a number right now. Then going on tour, you meet everyone and you hear stories about how our music connects with their lives [and] knowing that being vulnerable in the music can affect someone’s life in that way makes it all worth it.”  

TV: You’ve been making music together since your college days. What advice would you give to kids in college looking to pursue a career in music?

L: “It’s kind of weird because we like fell into this”

Hannah (H): “My observation—our advice we gave ourselves then, and that I think we can look back and take now—is that it will happen if you just persist. If you work smart, do the things that you know are going to be beneficial to you. . . befriend the people that you know are gonna be the people you want to be like, always stay around other people that keep you motivated so you can keep yourself motivated.”

L: “I have one more piece of advice. Make your bed every morning because at least if you’ve made your bed, you know you’ve done one thing and even if you didn’t get everything that you wanted done by the end of the day, you go to bed and you look at your bed and you know that you can go and do more tomorrow. I make my bed even in hotel rooms, without fail.”

H: “I think that’s the point right – it’s discipline. Discipline is what makes you one kind of person and when you are one kind of person, you’re the invariable in a world of variables.” 

TV: I read that at one point, you were recording and producing in big cities like London and L.A., but you ended up recording your album in New Jersey. Was that intentional? 

L: “It was definitely intentional. I would say there’s a couple parts to it. We told ourselves we were doing this for us so we figured the most natural habitat to do it in would be at home surrounded by our family and surrounded by the people that we know, in close proximity to New York, which is a city that we love—close to people who can be rude to you, but it’s authentic so you love it.”

H: “East Coast!”

L: “Yeah, there’s something about the authenticity of being on the East Coast. I think if we had been in LA, it might have been too much like looking to the left and the right, seeing what everyone else is doing. Kind of being isolated made us original. That and the pizza.”

H: “New Jersey pizza is unbeatable.”

TV: You’re embarking on your first headlining tour this month. Are you excited?

L: “I’m very nervous.”

H: “It’s a long set. It’s like an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s pretty seamless. It’s a big production. It’s a lot different than opening. It’s a lot different than getting on and playing a half hour and getting off. You are the night, every night. You can’t not bring your A game. You have to get up there and do it.”   

TV: [Hannah], you were quoted as saying “Being touched by art fuels real change. We’ve seen it. If they walk away from the art even slightly changed, maybe they can change things for the better in the world around them.” How have you guys seen this play out with your fans or elsewhere in the industry? 

H: “I said that?” (laughs) “Lit!”

L: “Profound”

H: “I don’t even want to take credit for that because I feel like that’s something we all go back and forth with. We say that [stuff] to each other so much just as homies, as friends because like you’re in a band, traveling across the country, and you just tell stories to each other about the people you met that night. I think behind that particular sentiment, that I know we all share, is the fact that, like Dave said, you go out there and you don’t meet people who are like, ‘rad show,’ you meet people who are like, “I married my wife because of this song.”

L: “I met this guy, and he was like ‘Your music got me through chemo.’ I didn’t even know that our music could have that kind of effect on people, but then when you hear that back too, you got [to] take and pay that forward too. Being in a position of always being grateful–this is beyond our wildest dreams and wildest expectations, so for us, even if we are angry sometimes, deep down inside of us, we’re grateful to be in this position because we never thought we’d be here.”

TV: “Do you think those instances add pressure to you guys? Does that make you work harder?”

L: “It’s a motivator.” 

H: “People don’t buy tickets or come see you or come talk to you because you’re so good at what you do. They do it because they feel connected to the why and that means that their why is close to your why and that’s how you build real connections in the world that echo to other people. And I think that’s the most important thing is that what you do should never be about what you’re doing, but about why you’re doing it.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.