- Words Cal McIntyre
New-Jersey based multi-hyphenate creative, Sub Urban, creates eerie and folklorish universes within his expansive and visionary work. We caught up with the artist to talk love, video games and Capitalist nectar.
If you’re not yet akin to the worldmaker that is Sub Urban, then you for sure would have heard his idiosyncratic brand of alt-pop as he is quickly becoming crowned the new prince of internet anthems.
We say Sub Urban is a multi-hyphenate creative for good reason – the singer, songwriter, producer and all-around creative mastermind is dominating the internet waves with his vast soundscape that draws in listeners with it’s haunting, softcore and fantastical narratives. Think ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ where all of the characters are influencers and that’s where you will find Sub Urban – sitting at the intersection of light versus dark.
Beginning his musical journey in a classical setting, Sub Urban performed his first classical composition in his Fifth Grade talent show. These classical roots of composition and storytelling are ultimately embedded within the artist’s work, even though his genre is constantly wavering and pouring into many musical boxes. Growing up in a rich and diverse musical household with his Father having an array of 50s – 80s music on vinyl, and his Twainese Mother preferring the modern R&B anthems, Sub Urban found himself still looking for the music that sought him.
“At this point 2010s’ pop radio wasn’t doing it for me either.” Sub Urban tells me. “It wasn’t until I discovered electronic dance music in youtube gaming video outros that I realized there was a whole world of music I had yet to even touch. It started with youtube music labels like Monstercat, MrSuicidesheep and trapnation, until my sense of exploration ran deeper into the underground caverns of SoundCloud. I realized that all these artists were creating entire records on just their laptops and some of them were just barely older than I was at the time. I decided to finally do a trial run of Ableton live 9 when I was 15.”
Surprisingly and somewhat unsurprisingly, Sub Urban’s innate instinct was to make a trap remix of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’. While it may have “sucked”, it sparked the desire and fire to create a world of music that you can reach into and see within a computer screen.
With the tumultuous teenage years appearing to hit harder to the digital generation than previous generations, Sub Urban tells me that there was a sense of nihilism running through his younger years as school didn’t call him to the way music did. After breaking up with his first girlfriend, the combination of mundane school hours on loop on top of heartbreak threw Sub Urban onto the path he is leading now.
Despite having already having racked up almost a billion streams of his ‘Cradles’ song that spread amongst TikTok like wildfire, it’s pretty evident that we are just at the surface level of what Sub Urban can do and create. His music and creative visions are able to exist outside of an app and transcend you into the world he is creating by hand.
We caught up with the alt-pop prince in the making to get introduced to the visionary as we are sure we will be seeing a lot of him to come.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s Sub Urban. The music crosses between so many genres that I gave up trying to label it when people asked me what kind of music I made. Diversely textured production drawn from a more underground electronic sound with punctual pop hooks. Chord progressions and riffs I inspired by alternative rock. Lyricism and even the sonic of my vocals are comparable to indie. There’s a classical, baroque nature to some of my songs I can only blame on my musical upbringing.
What are some of your first memories of music?
would not be able to tell you about the first nursery rhyme or lullaby that reached my ears, but the earliest memory of me writing something was when I was playing with my mother’s keytar in front of her, I was so proud of this riff I can’t even recall, I remember it sounding Egyptian. My favourite song in preschool was Crazy Frog – Axel F.
How are you staying during isolation?
I’ve been hunkered down in my house completely alone for well over a month. At first, I wanted to avoid any risks by eating only jarred and canned foods that my A&R provided me seeing as I can’t really cook, but I took to postmates when I realized the highlights to my days were eating, a life comparable to a house dog. I will not lie, I lost a lot of my creative drive, especially with finishing my ideas that have been already started. I’ve been nonstop playing call of duty warzone and really taking this as an opportunity to revisit my lifestyle before I entered the music industry by playing videogames with my online friends and friends back home. Besides the constant manic depressive mood swings and chronic insomnia, it’s been revitalizing.
What’s the best part of being an artist? The worst?
The best part of being an artist for me is being able to creatively decipher myself through most forms of expression beyond just sonics, and having the mental control to actually create what I am thinking.
The worst part of being an artist is only being able to create my favourite forms of art after I’ve experienced pain or turmoil. That may change at some point in my life, but for now, existentially, I will continue torturing myself mentally for my sweet, capitalistic nectar.
What is something that not many people would know about you?
One thing not many people would know about me is that I never got my driver’s license until I was 19, I had to mooch off my friends who had cars until I had the money to uber.
What energy do you want to give off when you perform live?
want to feel vulnerable on stage, I want the audience to feel the raw impact of the drums, the dry elements in my tracks, and all the punctuation. I want it to be more than just the idolization of some random musician flailing their arms on stage.
What does being in love feel like for you?
It starts with the attraction, getting butterflies when you think about this person, looking forward to the next moment you see them, analyzing their shapes and mannerisms, fantasizing about them sexually, fantasizing about them beyond just sexuality, wanting to spend as much time as possible with them and around them. When it becomes reciprocal, trusting them and making them one of your biggest priorities, wanting to watch them blossom more than they already have, finding genuine purified comfort in their presence. Love makes us dumb.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Time will take longer to pass if you just take the time to notice the details of your environment.
Do you have a favourite lyric you’ve written right now?
My favourite lyric is in an unreleased song that I can’t quote right now. Out of the songs that I have released, my favourite lyric is probably from my song Cliché: “You think you’re all original, but you’ll never be unique”. It plays upon the realization that there is no true inspiration, that everything is derivative and though we may brand things as originals, they are never truly unique ideas.
If you could say one thing to your younger self, what would it be?
For the love of God, stop cutting your hair so short you look terrible.