Gaming gear, love letters, and a half-eaten sandwich
What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring rock and electropop band A R I Z O N A.
Zachary Charles, Nate Esquite, and David Labuguen technically have the day off, but that only means from touring. The three, known collectively as A R I Z O N A, are spending the afternoon at New York’s Quad Recording Studios working on a mixdown when The Verge arrives to shuffle through their things. A New Jersey-based band, Zach, Nate, and David started A R I Z O N A in 2015, as a last-ditch effort after years of trying to make it in music. “Fuck this, fuck music, fuck everybody, fuck the industry, everybody sucks, everybody’s terrible,” Zach says about his mentality at the time of the band’s creation. “But,” he proposed, “real quick before we go, do you guys want to make some songs just for fun?”
That decision to come together one last time wound up changing everything for the trio. Within a matter of months, the songs they made under the newly minted A R I Z O N A banner went viral online, they were discovered on Reddit by their current manager, and they signed a major label record deal. The day The Verge is with the band, they’re preparing to play iconic venue Madison Square Garden as part of the tour they just wrapped with Panic! at the Disco. That’s quite a trajectory.
To top things off, A R I Z O N A has just released a new EP titled COLD NIGHTS // SUMMER DAYS. It’s the breezy kind of infectious pop that hooked fans in the first place, with big, watery splashes of reverb, tropical guitar plucks, and a dash of ‘80s production vibes thrown in for good measure. Laissez faire seems to be the winning approach for these three, both in music and in their longtime friendships with each other. And it’s paid off.
Zach: Hey guys I’m Zach.
Nate: I’m Nate.
David: I’m David.
Nate: And with our powers combined, we are A R I Z O N A.
Zach: We literally just got off the bus this morning. The AC broke in the bus two days ago so we’re getting that fixed today, but we have a “day off” [makes quote signals]. We’re working today. We’re in the studio, at Quad.
David: This is where we’ve mixed every A R I Z O N A song.
Zach: Every single one has been mixed in this room right here at Quad.
Who wants to go first?
David: I will. This bag is a 5.11 RUSH 72-hour pack. We’re super into tactical gear, especially because we are on tour and how rugged it is. How long it lasts matters. This is definitely bigger than a regular EDC pack.
I’m sorry, a what?
David: Every day carry pack.
David: It has everything I need just in case. It’s really cool. There’s three main pockets and there’s smaller pockets inside. I got it on Amazon, where I buy everything nowadays, including food. Zach’s bag is a cheaper version, but at a certain point we were like, we have to go for the real deal.
So let’s start here.
David: These are my life essentials. I’m happy, because everyone’s always like, “Why is your bag so heavy?” So now they’ll know. All that technology.
These USB things are iLok licensers for the software we use, which is why they’re always at the ready. That’s also why I have multiples. The LaCie is a little crap drive. I usually have a whole stack of them, but because we’re on tour I have them in a different case. What I do with the LaCie drives is open them, put an SSD in them, and then re-close them.
Okay, so what does that do?
David: Sometimes it just doesn’t come in the capacity that I want it to. So I’ll buy a Samsung SSD, pop open the LaCie, and put a bigger drive in. I’m just using the case, because it has thunderbolt. Then the black drive is a HGST Western Digital, and this other silver one is made by OWC. And then this is my transport drive which is why it’s green, because I want to know which one is the drive that has all the random stuff on it.
And this the same HGST Western Digital brand. You must like it.
David: Honestly, they were just on sale.
On all of our laptops, I upgraded the SSDs internally. But, because they’re Mac, you have to use a specific enclosure. This is just the backup to my touring rig. I keep it on my person so it’s separate from where the rig goes, because it’s our redundancy. Right now, this LaCie is half personal and half samples.
What kind of samples?
David: Samples for virtual instruments. So like, the piano I play on stage, the synths I play on stage, they’re all coming from my laptop.
Tell me about the earbuds.
David: They are custom molded JH Audio JH16s. Jerry Harvey is basically the guy that invented headphones for stage musicians. They’re just the best-sounding. There’s eight miniature speakers in each ear: four low, two mid, and two high.
Do you have any other headphones?
David: Those are the ones that I’m guaranteed to have on me, unfortunately. The pair of wireless headphones I have been rocking for general use are missing on the bus, but Zach has the same pair.
What kind of phone do you have?
David: I have an iPhone 8 Plus in a case I haven’t removed the backing from, and I stuff random documents in it. I think one is a letter from my girlfriend and the rest are receipts. [Continues removing items] There is another layer of stuff behind all this.
Zach: [shouts from background] That bag probably weighs as much as my dog.
What laptop do you have?
David: This is a third-generation 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina in a UAG Armor case. These cases are a lot of fun because they have these clicky, locky things going on. They won’t open on their own. And because we’re on the road, it’s essential to have protection…
[Shout from background] You can say that again.
David: … especially for production laptops. If it’s the money maker then it should be protected.
[Shout from background] You can say that again.
David: This is just an Amazon power strip I found. I don’t know if you want to photograph this spaghetti situation I have here [points to cables].
Yeah. This is some cord organizing. And looks like there’s dongles and an Anker hub?
David: No, that’s a multi-charger. It’s like, 10 ports because I need 10 ports [snorts]. I’m that guy on the road.
What do you film with the GoPro?
David: Right now, on tour, I’m filming our drummer because he is missing a couple dates. And so for whoever’s filling in, I want to make sure they get the parts nailed down exactly. So I’ve been using the GoPro to record his perspective from the show. We also are getting back into vlogging. We have a video guy on the road with us, but we love holding the GoPro. It’s so tiny and there’s just something fun about interacting with it rather than holding a bulky DSLR or a hardcore video camera.
David: And there’s a flashlight here that’s like, 2,000 lumens. So it’s pretty bright. It’s made by Fenix (PD35). Oh and there’s a Leatherman. And gloves. And a hat. And a water bottle. And that’s it. It’s everything I need.
David: Yes. And then over here is more health slash personal stuff. Jewelry. And Kiehl’s lip balm. The A R I Z O N A bracelet… our friend who is a barista at Starbucks makes jewelry and so she made a bunch for us. It’s our local Starbucks and when we walk in everyone says hi. We’re regulars. The Miansai bracelets are from my girlfriend. They latch really weird, and they’re just super cool. I always wear them on stage without fail.
There’s another glasses pocket with two things of lip balm, which are really important to me. And love letters. But we don’t have to show those.
I also have personalized Shinola notebooks. These are fresh books. It’s a pledge that I made to myself that I’m going to do more handwriting. I’m trying to wean off being on the phone so much, especially in the mornings. I feel like if I start my day on social media then I lose like, three hours of peak work time. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up at 6AM. I feel like I peak at 10AM and then I start losing steam around 1:30PM. And that’s the opposite of these guys. They love to be night owls. So, yeah. More analog. Just for the sake of easing my mind.
Then in the back pouch, I always carry a pair of flip flops. I’m Filipino and whenever I’m inside the bus or in a green room, I can’t wear shoes. I just don’t know how people bring shoes into their house. It freaks me out. You know how much stuff is on the street? That’s my Asian upbringing at its finest.
Do you like a particular brand of flip flops?
David: If they’re more than a dollar, they’re not worth it. If they come in a cool color, then they’re worth it.
I’d love to hear about your origin story.
David: Zach and I grew up together. We grew up in the same town. He was like, the other music kid.
We were frenemies. And then basically we ended up having the same mentor, this songwriter and producer named PJ Bianco. He had worked with Demi Lovato and The Jonas Brothers. He used to intern in this studio.
Zach: He was a local as well.
David: We learned how to produce when we were like, 13 or 14 years old. It was always a part of our lives. I ended up going to school in Boston, and Zach ended up in LA. But he would fly back and forth. And in Boston I met Nate, who went to Berkeley. We ended up being roommates and would make music for other people.
Eventually after college I ended up in advertising, working in visual media and post-production. These guys ended up in LA working on music with PJ. We all eventually got super burnt, but we were like, we still love music. A R I Z O N A was our last-ditch effort, where we thought if nobody cares, it’s cool, as long as we did it for ourselves. We never thought anyone would care. We never thought anyone would listen. And now here we are.
And how did you come up with the name A R I Z O N A? I personally find it a really inspiring place.
Zach: It is. But we didn’t know that.
We were in LA, and Dave was still on the East Coast and it was our last strung out era when we were like, cool. Fuck this, fuck music, fuck everybody, fuck the industry, everybody sucks, everybody’s terrible. I’m going to go and become a history teacher and I’m over this whole thing. I don’t give a shit. I need a real life. But real quick before we go, do you guys want to make some songs just for fun. And so we did.
Nate: We were on FaceTime.
Zach: Yeah, Nate and I were on FaceTime with Dave, who was back at home.
David: It was like, four in the morning in Boston. I was working in Avid and all my media went offline. So I’m sitting there and trying to reconnect everything because my deadline is the next morning. I get this FaceTime call. I’m like, ah whatever I’m up anyway. So I pick up and it’s Zach and Nate. They had sent me “Let Me Touch Your Fire.” And I was like, who’s this for, it sounds dope.
Zach: Nate and I had started this idea and it was fun. We all saw the bottom of the pit as we were falling, so we were like, well before we hit we might as well go out on our own way. So, let’s make some jams. During this conversation we decided yes, let’s make this a project. What are we going to call it, though? At the time, Nate was wearing an Arizona iced tea hat and Dave was like, “Dawg, I don’t know man, whatever, no one’s ever going to hear this or care about it. It doesn’t matter what we call it.” He pointed to Nate’s hat and said, “Uh call it Arizona.” He sent it to us in caps all spaced out and was like, “Dude, all these stupid hipster bands are doing this. It’s mad funny.”
In the moment, it was us making fun of musicians using Vs for As and removing vowels and all that dumb shit. When we got done joking around about it, we were sold on the idea of not thinking too much about it.
It’s not meaningful. I think that in itself is the meaning of it. The meaning is whatever comes out of you just let it be what it is and don’t think too much about it. Don’t try to refine it too much. The name, the logo, the whole ethos of what we do, I think, is whatever it is that feels good to us and it’s a thing with the homies. That’s good enough for us.
I love that story.
Zach: It’s funny. The SEO is kind of a similar take on our whole attitude to it because it’s like, how are you going to optimize searching A R I Z O N A? And it’s like, well I think our whole attitude going into A R I Z O N A is we’re either going to make billions of fucking dollars and be the biggest thing in the world, or we’re going to be broke in two years and I’m going to be a history teacher. There’s no middle way. There is no, yeah, we’re cool in 12 years touring in a van like, “We’re still going, dude!” Fuck that. A R I Z O N A is going to work or it’s not going to work. And if it works, trust me you’re going to be able to Google us. And if it doesn’t work, you won’t be able to Google us. And that’s the end of it.
So I think that’s the whole attitude. We’re having fun and having fun affords us the opportunity to do things that we love and that’s all that matters to us.
That’s an incredible goal.
Zach: We’re not really in it for any particular reason. We found out more reasons for it once it got started. When we started going on tour, we connected with individuals that have these stories about what the music does for them.
At the end of the day, I feel weird about it because I don’t want to take credit for that. What the music does for you is what the music does for me, too. The music is something that is a byproduct of all of our friendships and then we get to look at it just as third-person as the people that are consuming it. We are just the messengers, so to speak. When you see how it connects to the world and what it does to people in their lives, it’s not just a joke anymore.
And you included that idea in your video for “Electric Touch,” which was really beautiful.
Zach: Yeah, we wanted to bring attention to that. There are real people out there, going through real things just as we are. A R I Z O N A is about being. It’s okay to just be. It’s about accepting who you are and whatever it is you’re going through. We’re all people. And we were almost at the end of being not people when we started this. It was like, hey, we’re going to give up and be a statistic the rest of our lives. A R I Z O N A was us letting go of the concerns and the worries and trying to be something that let us be everything.
I’d love to hear more about when things started going nuts for you on streaming platforms. Was there a strategy?
Zach: Our manager would send 100 emails a day telling our story to these blogs. And a lot of them were YouTube channel curators. Every now and then, he would maybe get one email back out of 100. When we were ready to release the song “I Was Wrong” he got an email from a blog called MrSuicideSheep, which is one of the biggest YouTube channels for curating music. They decided they wanted to post us. So they did.
It got so big within a couple of days. And this was around the same time that Spotify was starting to have its big upswing. People would find the song on YouTube and all those people would then go and save it on Spotify. So I’m assuming all these saves created this big fat spike on Spotify. We just got a lot of love from streaming, particularly Spotify. Those numbers happened over the course of a couple months. We went from nothing to being signed at the end of the summer. It was weird to see that. Your mind doesn’t catch up to it until… I don’t even know if our minds have really caught up to it yet. Even this day now, doing exactly what we’re doing today is kind of surreal.
What’s your songwriting process?
Zach: It’s just us hanging as homies. We’ll be kicking it and then have a mini therapy session between us friends, catching up on each other’s lives. Out of that usually comes some pretty inspiring talk and then we’ll start jamming on some music. And then we’ll just write a song. It’s a big, long process because we do everything in-house. We do the production, the writing, the mixing, the videos, the branding.
Nate this plastic bag obviously isn’t your everyday bag, but it’s what you have with you right now.
Nate: I have a Pokemon bag. It’s great. It has Pikachu, Charmander, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Eevee on it. And I Sharpied glasses onto Squirtle. Normally I don’t even carry that much stuff so even if I had my bag with me, it would maybe be a change of clothes, a book, and a phone charger.
What book are you reading right now?
Nate: Currently I’m reading Useless Magic, which is Florence Welch’s collection of lyrics and poetry.
So here we have half of my beef and cheddar sandwich with roasted red peppers. It’s very good. That’s why I wanted to go next, so I can eat the other half. And these are some napkins so I can clean my hands [laughs], and some of my favorite gum flavor, Passionberry Twist.
I would guess that flavor is not easy to find.
Nate: I find it maybe three out of eight times. So today is a good day.
And then there’s your phone. What more do you need other than communication and food?
Nate: Yeah. That’s the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s good for texting and calling my mom.
And what bag is this?
Zach: So I have two main bags. My other main bag is the 5.11 RUSH24. This is the Reebow bag, which is the more economical version. This is a 48-hour bag? It’s a little bit bigger. I took the Reebow on the road because I haven’t gotten my larger 5.11 yet. This thing has been through every tour that I’ve ever been on in the past two years and it’s gotten beat up a lot and it’s still trucking, so not bad for the price point.
Zach: Mine’s not as organized as Dave’s. This is my headphone bag for these little guys here. These are the Sennheiser HD1s. They are Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones. They just sent us these and they’re literally the most amazing things ever.
Then there’s rope, batteries, and the compass necklace we used for the cover of GALLERY. It’s also an actual compass. There’s a little note songwriting pad. My passport with a J.Crew cover. And a Tile, to keep track of my bag.
How long have you used Tile?
Zach: About a year now. I have a bunch of them. I’m the worst, so I always have to check where stuff is.
Then there’s some instant coffee. That’s a big one. And this is sort of like a hygiene slash first aid kit with antacids and whatever. Deodorant. A flashlight. Hand sanitizer.
What’s in here?
Zach: Oh, cables and a USB hub.
What’s this thing? It’s by… Chicken? It’s called Fuse Chicken?
Zach: Yeah, it’s great. Our manager got it for me. It’s a metal charging cable. Then there’s an Apogee Duet. That’s our audio interface for the road. And Sharpies, Velcro cable ties, and an Anker battery pack.
What mouse is this?
Zach: That’s the Razer DeathAdder Elite. That goes with my gaming rig because I am a huge fucking gamer. I have these two laptops.
Let’s talk about your gaming laptop.
Zach: I just got it. It’s a custom-built Sager. I ordered it from Xotic PC, which is a third-party retailer, but they do commissioned custom builds. It’s a good build. It’s got the i7-8750H, the NVIDIA GTX 1070, 8GB of RAM, and 144Hz refresh rate. Shit’s pretty tight. A 15-inch screen so it’s nice and portable. I use it with the Razer DeathAdder Elite and Firefly hard mat. And I have a little lav mic so I can talk to my homies when I’m playing.
What’s your favorite game?
Zach: I play a lot of PUBG and Fortnite for casual stuff. I play a lot of Arma. Basically anything and everything. I like streaming a lot. We have a Twitch. It’s twitch.com/thebandnotthestate, so if anyone wants to watch me play some fucking Fortnite, I’m out here.
Then this is my 15-inch Macbook Pro, which is what we do most of our work stuff on, whether it’s music or media. This is an iPad with some of our original stickers on it. This is fan stuff that I got. One girl got me a box of Cheez-Its because she knows I love Cheez-Its. She wrote a note on the box. This was at a show in Boston sometime in the past two years.
What are your essentials in this bag?
Zach: You never know when you’re going to need Velcro and rope. But personally speaking, I think my gaming rig. And the HD1s.
[Voice shouting in background] Did you tell them about the Ace pads?
Zach: Oh yeah. I had a very special moment in my life involving the bar at the Ace Hotel in London. So the Ace Hotel notepads I have currently are from the one in LA because those were the ones readily available. But I just love the stationery and because of my experience, it’s one of my weird personal inspiration things. I like writing songs on the Ace Hotel stationary. They heard the story and sent us a bunch of it.
We have to look up the story now!
Zach: You’re not going to find the story. The answer is essentially why GALLERY got written.
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