Venture into the dark & peculiar universe of artist & visionary Sub Urban and his new single ‘Patchwerk.’
It’s difficult to describe everything that encapsulates singer, songwriter, and producer Sub Urban. The 21-year-old New Jersey native might’ve had his beginnings on TikTok after going viral, but to deem him a ‘star’ of the app truly does a disservice to the whimsical (and sometimes downright terrifying) art he’s created. Known for his witty lyricism and theatrical music videos, he’s equal parts mythical and meticulous, refusing to sacrifice his artistic vision due to the respect he has for both himself and his work.
It’s within that tenacity that has set him apart; he pushes boundaries, blurs lines, and dances between genres. His fans feverishly follow his every move & project with a cult-like adoration, wondering what exactly will the artist do next. After the release of his debut EP, a collection of songs penned by a then-teenage Sub Urban, his fans wondered what his new music might sound like as he moves from coming-of-age into adulthood. They got their answer with ‘Patchwerk’, a haunting track that represents a new mindset for the singer/songwriter and marks a new chapter of his career.
1883 caught up with Daniel (aka Sub Urban) and had a chat about his beginnings in music, his new single and what we can expect from his debut full-length album out later this year.
You just released your new song ‘PATCHWERK’, your first release since your 2020 debut EP ‘THRILLSEEKER’. How would you say you’ve grown as an artist since then and now?
It feels like I’ve experienced a blossoming renaissance of emotion. It’s starting to weigh on me now that I’ve finally become an adult. I feel like everything I’ve released at the beginning of 2020 was essentially just a conglomeration of a bunch of songs and tracks that I worked on as a teenager. Funnily enough, to me, the songs that are less emotionally driven and a bit more cynical are the ones I wrote when I was 15 and 16. It wasn’t until this year I started finding my sound and realizing what it is. You can hear it in the next few singles — Patchwerk is only an introduction. It’s heavier compared to other ones, but I do feel like I’ve abandoned this sense of adolescent pain. The project itself is still maniacal in a lot of ways and it’s going to show in the music itself and the videos, but I feel less directly involved… if that makes sense?
Yeah, almost as if you used your debut EP as a place to show everyone who you are but now you’re looking at it from a bird’s eye view.
Yeah, I vented my teenage emotions in my earlier work. I had a moment with ‘Cradles’ and I ended up having to wait a long time to release music because of that, so it’s been a lot of waiting around and I finally feel like I’m caught up to myself and my sound. I feel surer than ever.
Was there a certain point where you realized Wow, I’m an adult now — there is no more coming-of-age, it’s here?
It’s hard to recognize because it feels like I was 10 yesterday. I’m sure everyone feels this way at some point but you get to a place where your fundamental understanding of everything changes. There’s still a curiosity there, but it’s not a childish curiosity; there’s a bit of darkness lingering.
Your songs explore darker themes — addiction, anxiety, and more. Has the process of songwriting felt like its own form of therapy for you to help you work through things?
It definitely can be but mainly for the songs I write for myself, it’s therapeutic in the sense that I build this parallel universe for myself. I do take a lot of pride in the poetry I expand on in my lyrics and the world I create in my music videos, but the music aspect of it — the melodies and sounds — there is a form of therapy of creating them and hearing it back. Realizing it came directly from my brain is mindblowing.
You can do that because it’s like making it tangible in a way.
That’s a perfect word for it. That’s what makes it worth it to me.
Now you just touched on poetry — are you somebody that writes poems and then transitions them into songs?
When I was in middle school I wrote a lot of angsty poems but I didn’t experiment with them. I always thought there was a purity to instrumental music that wasn’t tainted by anything else, but now I realize it’s more human than ever. If you think about this clunky form of expression that is fluid and allows you to get your point across so much easier and it’s against a melody, then that’s an amazing thing. I learned to recognize there’s a reason why pop records all have vocals; there’s a relatability there, like a wolf howl.
Yeah, people recognizing something and wanting to listen to it over and over because they feel seen.
Yeah, and it took me a while to recognize that. I used to make music where the ‘drop’ was central; I was coming from an electronic background and you can hear that in ‘Cradles’. It’s fun and experimental, but I feel now it’s hard for me to write drops without the vocals which is ironic.
Now, can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind ‘PATCHWERK’?
It was several things but I was having a discussion about capitalism and how we are never really satisfied. We will always try to fill our voids with nice products and fancy shit but we’re brainwashed into this idea of ambition and trying to get to the next level, whatever the next level even is. We’re animals at the core; existentialism drives us to give ourselves reasons for existence. I think a lot of people believe they were meant to be greater than themselves. Within the period that we’re given, we’re taught from a very early age in school that we need to do these big, grand things to give ourselves meaning. Back in the day, we were just hunting to survive. Now, it’s I have to go to school, then make money, then get a career, and you’re constantly searching for peace of mind that you’ll never get because you’ve been brainwashed into thinking you’ll ever find happiness in materialism. ‘Patchwerk’ and the music video focuses on that—sewing patches onto your skin and embedding the materials you’re buying and making it part of your identity, from the most shallow point of view. The concept of drowning is representative of fleeting moments of pleasure; suffocating by not being in control of your instincts and mind.
‘PATCHWERK’ is so cinematic, just like a lot of your videos. When you were growing up, was theatre something you tried out?
In second grade I was in the school play of Willy Wonka and that’s about it! [Laughs] It’s the same take as poetry; I was never really into it in that sort of context. I always felt like I was being teleported when I watched films and TV, but I didn’t get into movies until after I released ‘Cradles’. I never watched a lot of stuff growing up, but I realized how much I love creative directing and pulling the images in my head and bringing them to life.
I feel like, right now, music is so saturated. Artists need visuals to set themselves apart.
That’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more. My music videos bring my music to life and at this point, I’m dumping my own money into this because I don’t want to compromise. I don’t want things that look half-assed and don’t look as good as they could’ve if we paid a little bit more attention to it. I can only compromise so much until it becomes personal to me. I would give every song a music video if I could. I don’t care about the money, but it’s important to me that my music translates the way I want it to visually.
It’s been amazing to see the fan response to the ‘PATCHWERK’ video with fans recreating your staple look with makeup or through art. How has it been to see fans actively engage with your music and visuals like this?
Since ‘Cradles’ I’ve paid a lot more attention to fanart in my mentions. It’s crazy to see caricatures that you create in your head drawn by someone else out there who thought it was interesting enough to draw. It’s flattering and means a lot. The fact they can make a concept I’ve created and put another creative spin on it just inspires me as an artist. They pay attention to the little things, like the colours in ‘Patchwerk’ or the sculptures, and they turn it a different way and I see a whole new version of me as a subject for other painters and drawers.
I know the music video for ‘Cirque’ was delayed due to the pandemic and you were conflicted about releasing it because you were worried it was too old. Now that it’s out, how does it feel? Do you feel like you’re closing a chapter and preparing a new one?
It was important to me to give it a proper send-off. That EP is like seeing an old version of myself and that song is one of the oldest fans will ever hear. You can hear how young I am, I’m swearing in it and now I find swearing in songs sometimes jarring. But, there’s a charm to it in a way.
Yeah, it’s endearing and there’s a certain naïveté about it.
Exactly. Sonically too, it’s that big classic big band sound. That one, in particular, I knew deserved a music video and I wish it could’ve been even bigger, but I say that for most of my songs. It feels like wrapping up on a chapter and it took a weight off my chest. I felt like I could finally move on. When ‘Patchwerk’ dropped, I felt like I was finally in a place where I was starting something new.
Lastly, ‘Thrill Seeker’ is 7 tracks written during your adolescence and I know everyone is anticipating your debut album later this year — what are some words you would use to describe this next chapter and body of work?
It’s dark, but there’s a new level of whimsy. It’s playing on a vintage sound, there’s a bit of Latin and French influence in there sonically. There’s just as much experimentation with sound; there’s a bit of manic cynicism to it, but there’s always something fun that comes with playing with cynicism, wouldn’t you say? [Laughs]
Interview by Kelsey Barnes