A R I Z O N A dropped their new album, ASYLUM, last Friday, and as you might have guessed, it’s filled with bops. I listened to their single, “Freaking Out,” on repeat for two weeks when it came out last summer. The New Jersey trio has spent the last two years working on their sophomore album and touring, both as headliners and opening for Panic! At the Disco.
In honor of the “Where You Are” video release, A R I Z O N A’s lead singer Zachary Charles talked to L’Officiel USA about the new video, not becoming a Navy pilot, and working on Avicii's last album, Tim. Watch the video here, and see the interview below.
What’s new with ASYLUM?
ASYLUM is the second album of ours, and it took a little while to put out; we worked on it for about two years following our first album in 2017, GALLERY. After finishing GALLERY, we then had to balance being on the road and going on tour quite a bit. We went through a lot of difficult times, I guess, as life started to change and pick up, and what we ended up with was an album that was essentially a collection of a lot of those experiences. A lot of the songs on ASYLUM became a message out of that time that we went through in our lives. We're just very happy that it's finally out into the world.
How did the “Where You Are” music video come to be?
We actually ended up shooting three of those videos in one day: the "Problems" music video, which is the single off the album, "Where You Are," and "Still Alive." It was the first time that we had a day like that, on that scale of production. The crew was amazing; we usually work very internally when it comes to music videos and basically everything film and design-related because we're very hands-on. But working with external directors has been a lot of fun. You get to see these treatments come together outside of your own inspiration.
The set design that we had for each one of these videos, including "Where You Are" was really cool. They weren't extremely complicated, but so much of it was about how the video should feel, you know? So we took these concepts, and all in one big warehouse building, we styled three different rooms and shot these videos.
The "Where You Are" video, it's all very natural light, big white room, lots of cool curtains hanging from the ceiling. When we saw the videos, we were super surprised at how well they fit the music, especially because the design overall for, not just the videos, but the album itself has been a little bit lighter. It's been a lot more picture book-esque if you will. There's a lot more cohesiveness in between the music and a lot of the visuals for this album. It's been a really fun part of the process, believe it or not.
Tell me a little about your background/how you got together.
Dave and I grew up together in a small town in New Jersey and we were always doing music, trying to be producers and songwriters from the beginning. Dave went to Emerson College and met Nate, who went to Berklee School of Music (Nate was from New Jersey, coincidentally). They started living together, and that's how all three of us got together.
After so many years—we stayed together for years after—of trying to produce music and write for other artists and trying make it work, it got really, really old. We got tired and burnt out. But one night we stayed up super late and made a song for fun. We realized that we had so much fun creating together, so we said, before we give up entirely, maybe let's just take the summer and get back together and make some music. We'll put it out into the world, it'll get like three likes on SoundCloud, it'll die, it'll be over, and that'll be the end of it. It'll be something that at least we have for ourselves as friends. And by the end of that summer, after years and years— a decade of trying to make something work and of course, nothing working—A R I Z O N A became A R I Z O N A. And here we are. Very weird.
What is your creative process? Has it changed since you first got started?
The creative process has remained the same since we made that first song that one night because we didn't really expect any of this to happen. The process at the beginning was, we'd been three best friends for so many years that when we decided to create, we just wanted to sit down and not think about it too much. So we’d get together, talk, and have a little therapy session, like most friends. And that sort of becomes the songs; we'll just write about our experiences and help each other get through these things.
The workflow itself has changed quite a bit because now that life is different, there's a new landscape in front of us, we have to deal with more things. We're busier. That's the challenge we ran into with making ASYLUM was that we had to find time and mental space to get together and be in that creative headspace with each other as friends before we could sit back down and do it. We’ve never made any intrinsic changes to the process. I think the idea is we're always trying to go back and find that original, ‘let's just sit down as friends and make some music and not think about a process’. That's where it started and that's kind of where it is now.
Tell me about working on the Avicii album, Tim.
Ooh, yeah. That was shocking actually. Tim, Tim's team, and our team had always been relatively close; we've had some contact and we were friendly with each other for a while. One day, we were in the studio writing a song during the second album process and we wrote "Hold the Line", with our friend Andrew Jackson, who also wrote, “Still Alive” on ASYLUM with us. We made a little demo of it and kind of forgot about it. Then unfortunately what happened with Tim happened—I still don't even really know how to explain that, it was just such a weird feeling. It was just a terrible thing to happen. We were coming to terms with that around the same time that we kind of got a phone call and found out that there were a few songs that Tim was really close to that he was working on and wanted to finish. Only a handful of them. The family reached out to us and said, ‘One of these songs is your guys' song "Hold the Line"’. We didn't even know that it got sent to him, you trade records back and forth all the time, but we didn’t know that it made its way to him. They said, 'Listen, he started it, would you want to finish it?'
The difficult part for us was realizing that no matter what we did, it's missing the most important part. The whole album sort of carries this message; these songs are all missing the most important part, which is Tim himself. We were never going to 'finish' it, but we were going to give it our best shot and turn it into something that could stand on its own two feet as part of this album that, eventually, would go out into the world and send a really good message to people, which is not very different from the message that ASYLUM has. It’s a big theme of saying life is difficult and a lot of people don't make it out, but that stands as a message of hope for people that are still here fighting that battle. We were just very honored to be a part of that on that level.
What is your favourite song off of ASYLUM and why?
You can't do that to me! It's like picking your own favorite child. If I had to pick one to tell people about, I think it would be "Still Alive" which is the last track on the album. The whole point of the album is to showcase a series of experiences and moments that we are all going to go through at some point in life. Each song has a different message or a different snapshot of a different moment in life, and most of them are uncomfortable moments. Most of them are songs about being a person that's different from who you want to be, but it's who you are at the time. Without "Still Alive" at the end of the album, essentially, it's just a big depressing album of ‘life sucks, I'm the worst, life is terrible’. But with "Still Alive" bookending the album at the back end, I think it sends a punctuation message. Even though you're gonna go through all these things, even though you may not always be who you want to be, at the end of the day, you'll make it through, you're still here and it's okay. It's okay to be not okay. It's okay to accept where you are. And if you do, then you'll make it out and you can keep going.
If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?
Nine Inch Nails. I love Nine Inch Nails, dude, their live show is absolutely insane. I saw them back in 2008 the Izod Center. I saw them again last year in Mexico City. Their albums have always been crazy. I've always loved the way that they are able to take very niche sounds and very interesting genres and bend them and put them together in a way that can bring lots of different types of music listeners together. You don't have to stretch too much to love any one of their songs; they have something for everybody. I think that's a really cool thing that we try to do as well.
Do you guys have any hobbies outside of making music?
Oh, 100%. I know for a fact Dave loves cooking. Literally that's all he'll ever do. Dave and I live like down the block from each other in New Jersey and he will literally call me and be like, 'Yo dude, I'm making this crazy cucumber lemonade infused pineapple vodka in this big carafe that I have in the freezer right it's going to be tight. You should come over and check it out.' and I'm like 'What are you talking about, dog?' He loves cooking, but he also loves tech stuff. I think that's the cool thing about Dave and Nate both is that they're both very tech involved, and that does come out in work, because they custom build all of our gear racks and stuff for tour.
I'm not as cool as those guys when it comes to whipping up cucumber vodka, and building gear racks. But I've always loved building PCs and computers, and I love gaming. I do a lot of live streaming on Twitch and YouTube live. One of the big things that I do is like flight simulators. Before I was in A R I Z O N A, I was actually going to be a pilot in the Navy and there are these crazy flight simulators that you can get and you can play them at home. We have weird hobbies, man. With me, it's either between that and home improvement, like dad stuff. I built a patio when I got off to tour when I got home, in the back yard. Regular stuff.
What are you most excited about for in the future?
I’m actually really excited about this year, working on the third album. We had such a crazy learning experience over the past two years of how to not do an album and how to not balance life, that I feel like we're all at a very zen place, if that's even the word for it. We're all just at peace moving forward, looking into this year and saying we're gonna have a lot of fun just as friends, we're gonna let go of a lot of stuff. We're going to try to not focus too much on the pressure. We're gonna let things do what they are and we're going to write this third album and that's going to open up a lot of time for us to do a lot of other cool things that we love doing.
The more that we can focus on writing the third album, the more time we have to do more live streaming on Twitch or YouTube live, whether it's like me just gaming and hanging out with people or it's us in the studio pulling up our sessions. Maybe cool little pop-up events that we can do in whatever city we're in. People can come through and have a little intimate hang. I think we learned to value experience over production, especially being on these big arena tours, like with Panic! At the Disco, and some of the larger rooms we played on our headlines tour recently, they're great, but as the rooms get bigger, you start to realize that you miss being with a smaller group of people.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about ASYLUM?
We're not trying to break any ceilings with ASYLUM, I think it really did end up being a simple message that we wanted to send to the people that were still listening, which is just, everyone's getting older, things are getting crazier, things are getting more confusing and this album is essentially a collection of our experiences over the past two years of exactly that. But, you're not alone in that and that it's okay to go through stuff like that and it's going to be alright. Use ASYLUM as an album, as a body of music to come to find exactly that, an asylum. It's a safe space. That's what we had to find in each other making it and that's why we named it that. I think that's what we want people to see it as.