A couple of weeks ago at Bumbershoot, I got the chance to sit down with two of the three members of the popular electronic indie-pop band, A R I Z O N A. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, A R I Z O N A was signed to Atlantic Records in 2016. They released their debut album, GALLERY, in 2017, and currently have over 3.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Their 2016 single, Oceans Away (also found on GALLERY) has accrued over 171 million streams alone. Lead vocalist, Zachary Charles, and keyboardist David Labuguen sat down with Wikileaf to talk about their thoughts on cannabis, how it affects their lives and creative processes, and the story behind how they came to be a band. David and Zach also gave Wikileaf an exclusive scoop and announced that their next album is finished and on the way (possibly this month!) See the full interview below to read about how they use cannabis, what their favorite products are, and what the deal is with all those spaces in their name.
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Sitting Down With A R I Z O N A at Bumbershoot
So I don’t know how much you guys know or if you’ve heard of Wikileaf before, but we’re a cannabis tool that helps users find dispensaries and price compare dispensary menus. Another huge part of what we’re doing is we want to normalize cannabis, and that means keeping everyone in the know for all things cannabis news, health, and lifestyle-related. So naturally, being based out of Seattle and having an event like Bumbershoot in our backyard, we wanted to talk to some of the artists and ask you guys about cannabis and how it affects your creativity and lifestyle.
So I guess, first of all, do you guys consume?
Zach: I don’t really as much. I know Nate, who unfortunately isn’t here, is probably the one of us who consumes the most. But, I think we kind of – it depends on where we are in life on that day, you know what I mean? So if I have nothing going on that needs immediate attention, and I can just let myself shut off for a little bit is definitely when I’ve [smoked.] I’ll definitely smoke like on tour on the bus with Nate, or at home sometimes. Like when Nate and I used to live together, we’d have days where we would just be kicking it. And nothing would be going on right now today, so we’d just go up to the studio and hang out a little bit. And he’d be like “Do you wanna just do nothing today and just jam and hang?” And I’d be like “Yeah, I’m down, let’s fucking do it.” And we’d roll a joint and just hang out. Nate’s the dude for that, for sure.
David: I think for me, it’s been – like, when I was living with Nate, back in college, I would clean my entire room, pack my backpack for the next day, and get my clothes laid out because I’m kind of neurotic. So for me, it was like – and this was before we knew what the different strains were —
Back when it was like “Ay bruh I got some weed.”
David: Exactly, exactly.
Zach: Straight up!
David: And I was like cool, it’s gonna be an experience. Because being who I am – kind of borderline OCD neurotic, I want to have control of everything. But it was a tool for me in the sense that I could just put everything away and then relax. I think nowadays, I would say I’m more into cannabis products like topicals, tinctures, all the different health and lifestyle products that have come out of legalization. I think it’s been such an underutilized plant for all of its properties as a whole, that that’s really exciting to me. Like we got gifted these THC bath bombs, and I thought that was sick. I’ve become more of a consumer than I was in the past, but in a non-traditional way, if you will. And it’s coming with this emerging industry, with this emerging category of products that is coming out there that I think is really cool. And I think, in general, I used to be – I grew up in a religious household, super conservative, and I used to be so anti. And nowadays, especially being in the industry that we’re in where things can be pretty uptight, you realize that cannabis can be an option to take a load off and relax. And it inspires creativity in others. It’s definitely, for me, I’ve transitioned from being an uptight dude about it to being like “Oh, that’s cool.”
I totally get that. I used to live in a super conservative Filipino household.
David: Yeahhhhh so you already know!
Yeah definitely, out in Piscataway.
David: Oh you’re from Jersey?!
Zach: Yo, we’re from Jersey!
*Some Jersey Boy chatter ensued*
But yeah, it’s crazy because I lived in sort of that same environment that you were describing, and so I still — like my grandparents, they’ll ask me what I do for work and I tell them “marketing,” which I kind of do, but it’s not my whole job.
David: I mean, there’s such a huge cultural divide, right? I think even between my mom and my dad. I think my dad understands the medicinal value, and my mom is just like “No no no” because of how she was raised. It’s interesting navigating that for me, even in my social life. I have friends who are self-proclaimed stoners, and I have friends who are straight edge, and it’s like “Cool, whatever works for you.” For us, our biggest thing has always been everything in moderation. And I think having more information on cannabis, like what Wikileaf does, having more information helps you to be a better consumer. Period. Last time we were in Seattle, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Heylo —
Yeah, we love Lo and Daniel!
David: Yeah, so they came to our show, and they gifted us a Pax and some pods, but the thing I loved the most about it was all the information that was available.
Yeah, they give you terpene profiles, moods, optimal heating settings, etc.
David: And I love that the Pax has dosing options. Having the option to control your session size is great for being able to have an experience that you can moderate yourself. One that’s predictable, or repeatable if you will.
Shoutout to Heylo!
Okay so obviously you’ve been to Seattle before. What do you think of the weed scene?
David: Seattle is the first place I ever picked up a topical rub. It’s the first place I ever experienced the 1:10 THC/CBD pills. It’s cool! And we come here a lot more than we go to Denver, so I view Seattle as THE place where weed is legal, and I’m going to check out what’s available and see what’s out here whenever we visit. I think when people think about weed they think about Denver, but the Pacific Northwest is really up on game.
We talked about it a little bit, but you mentioned you’re all from [New] Jersey. Did you guys meet in Jersey?
David: It’s a funny story. Zach and I grew up together in the same town, went to the same middle school, same high school. And like I said, I grew up in the church. So I was going to church up in Boston, where I went to school. That’s actually where Nate and I met. He also grew up in church, and we grew up in the same denomination. So we actually went to like rival youth groups. So I knew a lot of the people that he knew and we had a lot of mutual connections, but we didn’t know each other. We ended up meeting in church and then living together in college. And then Zach would come over all the time and it wasn’t like even a thing you know?
We loved making music together, and naturally, Nate would hang out because I lived upstairs and Nate lived downstairs. He would just be like “What’s going on up here?” and eventually we just said, “Hey why don’t you come engineer [for us]?” We didn’t really know him too well at the time, but we knew that he was a music production major. So we said, “You know pro tools, you know how to work the computer and all that, so come hang with us.” And it kind of expanded from there.
Eventually, Zach moved out to LA, Nate moved out to LA. I was still working in Boston. I was still working in advertising because, you know, Filipino parents. But that’s how we all met in college, but we’re all from the same place, which is what I think made our friendship so strong. And we all ended up back in New Jersey after a while, and that was kind of part of what was the catalyst for starting A R I Z O N A, is because we had all gone on these separate journeys in our creative fields, and we all kind of got burnt out and ended up back home. So we were just like “Let’s do it for us.” And we thought nobody would care because it was just to try it just to do something that we love before we say “Hey, we gotta go do grownup stuff.”
And then it turned into A R I Z O N A?
David and Zach: Yeah.
Okay, so since we’re on this state related tangent – you’re from Jersey, met in Boston, ended up back in Jersey. How did you come up with the name A R I Z O N A?
David: We had actually come up with the name — at the time, I was in Boston and they were in LA, and we were on Facetime — and we were just toying around with this idea. They had just finished making Let Me Touch Your Fire and sent me a bounce of it, and I was like “WHO IS THIS FOR?” I assumed that they were making it for somebody else.
Zach: Because that’s what we did, we were producing.
David: Yeah, they were producing and writing. And they were like, “No it’s just us.” And we were toying around with this idea. Zach had mentioned, “What if we start this project?” It wasn’t even a band at that point, it was a project. Because that’s what you do when you’re a producer; you have a midlife crisis and you say “I’m going to start my own artist project.” And that’s usually the first sign that you’re fizzling out. And that’s how it felt. We were feeling burnt. But it didn’t matter, any of it, at the time. It was just for us, for our heart’s fulfillment. And Nate, over FaceTime, had an Arizona Iced Tea hat on. And I was like “You could call it anything man. You could call it lampshade, desk, Arizona.” And Zach was like “Arizona’s cool.”
Is that how you came up with stylization too?
David: At first I sent it to Zach in all caps. And then I was like “Maybe, we do it like this” and I just put spaces between every letter. Because at that point CHVRCHES was all caps, LANY was all caps, so like that was a trend on Spotify. So I was like “How do we make ourselves different? Spaces.” So I sent it back to Zach, and he was like “Yo this is tight. This is actually tight.” And I was like “I don’t know, it was just a joke!” And then the arrangement of the letters — we were about to put up our first Soundcloud post, and Zach and I were trying to figure out what visual to put. And Zach was like “Yeah it needs to be cool, but like also we don’t need to think about it too hard.” So in my basement, there are two rooms. One’s a music room, and one’s where I do all my visual stuff. So Zach goes back to the music studio, and I’m like “I’ll figure it out. I’ll work on something and we’ll see.” And before he could even sit down really, I call him back. And this is where he tells the story better.
Zach: Basically, to cover the concept of how the name and the spaces and caps and how the logo came about: when you’re friends with somebody for over a decade, it just gets stupid. Shit just gets stupid. So like, literally, one of Dave’s things is Dave will help you out with something. I was like “Yeah, let’s just put a little logo together, a little thing to throw up there with the song.” And he was like cool, so he does, and he says “Yo, it’s done” and I was like “Uhh, okay” and went right back to him. And he was like “Yo, what do you think?” And what Dave does is, because he’s really good at what he does, he can just sort of mess around and do something stupid and real quick and thow it together and he’ll be like “Yo this is it, what do you think?” trying to get you to say you like it.
Zach: Yeah, joking, but you don’t know that! You’re not a professional opinion, and he knows that. So he’s just trying to mess with you, and he’ll be like “Yo this is it this is dope.” And you’re like “Fuck you, this is a joke isn’t it.” And then he’ll pull up a tab and be like “Yo this is really it.” So my way of getting around that and beating that is I got smart. He’d ask me “What do you think?” and I’d start saying “Huh. Yeah, you know I mean, what do you think?” And then he kind of looked back at me and was kinda like “Yeah, I mean I don’t know” and I looked at him and said “Yeah, it’s kinda cool I guess.” And we kind of sat there back and forth and just started laughing because we both knew it was some bullshit that he threw together.
But that’s the thing about when you’re good at something, is even when you’re doing it for fun or just joking, it’s muscle memory and you’re probably going to come up with something cool, whether you realize it or not. So after we got done laughing about it, he looked at it and said “You know it’s actually kind of cool. There’s no real center to the logo, and it’s the same font that we use for everything else.” And we just decided to keep it, because it was a funny moment, it was a cool thing, it was a joke. And the entire process for us up until that point had been that if it was from a legitimate place, and we had fun, and it was a good laugh and came from us being friends and messing around, then — I think we were trying to escape thinking too hard about things.
We were trying to escape the gravity of the lives that we were in, so that was good enough for us. It felt good. So whenever we felt that in ourselves, we were just like “Yeah fuck that, just leave it there. Who cares?” This is supposed to be something where we can do what we want to do, and if it feels good, then leave it. We’re not looking for approval. We’re not looking for it to be the best thing in the world. We just want to have fun and let it be who we are. So we got done laughing, and we said “It looks tight. Fuck it. Leave it.” And that became the name, that became the logo. It became a lot of the decisions we make, even now today. Because that day, in retrospect, it’s been four years. But it feels like yesterday for us. We laughed at all those initial decisions. We clicked the button, it went online, and it was like a portal in time and now we’re sitting at this table.
Tight! I like being on the other end of that wormhole.
Zach: Yeah, so do we! So we never really changed our thinking or started taking it too seriously. We’ve always had fun, and that’s something we try to keep with us.
Okay, so one more question. Nostalgic is your most recent single. Do you have anything else coming down the pipeline soon?
Zach: A second album.
David: Yeah, we just got literally in my email yesterday, a link back to the masters. I believe the date is mid-September, and if it isn’t, I’m saying it anyway so that it happens.*
Zach: You’re the first person we’ve told this. But yeah, the second album is done. We are probably not going to take too much time to hang. We’re going to put the second album out, probably work on some cool stuff around the album while it’s being released, do some other stuff, and then probably get working on album three at some point here soon.
Well, it sounds like you guys are really enjoying what you’re doing, so why stop?
Zach: It’s fun man, it’s fun so far.
David: I feel like every day is just like, I don’t know —
Zach: It’s getting better, every day is getting better now.
David: It used to feel like more of a grind, and now it’s just like we’re starting to reap the benefits of our work.
Zach: Mentally. Definitely mentally. But yeah, the second album.
David: And my Filipino parents finally understand, so that’s nice.
*Note from the Editor: This interview took place on August 31, 2019. While A R I Z O N A announced that they have completed their new album, the release timeframe that is mentioned in this interview is not official and is subject to change over time.