In 2019, a then 18-year-old Sub Urban released his debut solo single, "Cradles." Cue just over a year later and the New Jersey alternative singer, songwriter, and producer's single has been streamed over 150 million times on Spotify alone and is one of the most popular songs on TikTok, with over 1 billion uses on the micro-video sharing platform. It is a testament to the platform's undeniable influence, having helped launch the likes of Lizzo, Lil Nas X, and others, as well as Sub Urban's own haunting vision for a genreless music landscape.
The world of Sub Urban is one where the ominous origins of the Grimms' Fairy Tales and the visionary production acumen of the 19-year-old creative come to play. It is a world that comes to life in his debut EP, Thrill Seeker. Actively defying simple classification, traversing the sprawling hallways of Thrill Seeker serves as a look into the vulnerable and enthralling mind of the rapidly rising artist. Imagine if the theatrical elements of vaudeville and modern-day anti-pop and alternative influences had a definitive soundtrack.
I caught up with Sub Urban, remotely from the safety of our own homes, to get an inside glimpse into the fantastical mind of an artist who is doing music on his own terms. From how he spending his time in isolation, his thoughts on TikTok's rapid ride in the music industry, to the story behind Thrill Seeker, this is Sub Urban.
Ones To Watch: Who is Sub Urban?
Sub Urban: I'm the kid who's about to rock your fucking world. I'm an artist, singer, and producer but most importantly, I'm a gamer. I was born in Nyack New York and raised in Ridgewood New Jersey. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade then decided to pursue music and since then I have not looked back.
I think one of the first questions that immediately comes to mind to is how did you land on your haunting sound?
Funny enough, I wanted to be a DJ when I first started producing, I was 15 going on 16, and I was very invested in the underground electronic scene and I drew a lot of inspiration from the beat making scene, Mr. Carmack, Sam Gellaitry and a lot of producers that stemmed from those sort of productions. Verzache, Dilip, inimicvs, and thook, vague003 come to mind. From the EDM world, productions from Skrillex, Flume, Koan Sound, Louis the Child and Whethan and a bunch of dubstep, neuro and trap producers from anywhere in between those. I had a knack for taking niche sound design and applying them to a pop formula, and I was doing this before I even realized what I was doing. When I made Sub Urban in 2016-2017, I knew I wanted it to be dark, whether emotionally vulnerable and raw or twisted and theatrical, I knew nobody at the time was doing it the way I could do it.
A lot of your lyrics could be defined with the line "I live inside my own world of make believe." Were you really into fairytales as a kid?
I was a creative kid, I wrote fairytale-esque stories as a child and I designed my own lego sets that to this day I still believe could've sold as legitimate sets. I have dealt with a lot of mental illness most of my life, I still don't accept reality for what it is most of the time, existence is phenomenally terrifying if you start to think about it too much.
Speaking of potential early influences, what's your earliest musical memory?
I couldn't really tell you, earliest memory of me writing a melody though was when I was three or four on my mother's keytar, I remember it sounding Egyptian.
A lot of people's first introduction to you was likely due to the viral success of "Cradles." Did you ever expect it to blow up like it did?
I expected it to do 10 million within a year, that was going from an artist who had only touched the 100,000's place beforehand, I was ambitious, guess I wasn't ambitious enough because I wasn't prepared to have a hit song this early.
From SoundCloud to now TikTok, music discovery is more democratic than ever. What do you think about the recent influx of artists blowing up through the video-sharing platform?
I think people often discredit anything that blows up on the platform due to its tie to music.ly and just in general a lot of cringey content that has been birthed from the internet through tiktok, but I'm here to say that the actual songs that blow up on tiktok are objectively just good songs, it's literally the people choosing what song they want to popularize next, it could be any challenge, it doesn't matter, the song itself is the thing making ripples. And I'm honored to have one of the most used songs on the platform. I love democracy.
What is the story behind Thrill Seeker?
Thrill Seeker is a collection of songs I wrote from the ages of 16-18. They were all meant to be singles at one point or another with an exclusion for the outro song. It ended up coming together as a project. Lyrically, a lot of the songs express common themes, but the one that made itself apparent to me was the subject of feeling stuck, almost like some sort of limbo, whether it be waiting, watching or being caught in a cycle that can't be broken. Thrill Seeking is temporal, filling a hole that can't be filled and chasing one's first high.
No two songs on your debut EP sound quite the same, and I feel like that's quite the feat nowadays. How would you describe the sound of Thrill Seeker without using genre terms?
Naïve, contorted, playful, distorted, catchy, longing, swingy, baroque, industrial (not the genre).
What do you hope people take away from your debut EP?
I hope people can hear something new and try to understand the inside of my head, I know only so few people do.
From the music, production, to the visuals, there is a sense of attraction to fantastical theatrics. What exactly drew you to expressing yourself in this fashion?
I was raised on classical piano and a little bit of classical violin. I've always noticed a bit of classical influence in my pop writing so I guess I've kind of connected to the imagery of the 19th and 20th centuries a bit. I also was a huge fan of bioshock and bloodborne.
How have you been staying sane and safe while under lockdown?
I haven't left my house for a whole month and have taken this opportunity to nonstop play Call of Duty with the boys.
Who are your Ones To Watch?
brakence, underscores, verzache, Aries, Sebastian Paul, Jadu Heart.