Subway Rat releases highly anticipated debut album (exclusive interview)

With Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, indie artist Subway Rat gets under your skin
Author: Willa Rudolph

NY born-and-raised artist Subway Rat has recently released an album entitled Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, led by single “Rendezvous,” which exemplifies his passionate and funky sound, influenced by the likes of The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem. Subway Rat, a.k.a. David Polanco, hails from all over New York, but “never too far away from the Mets,” and picked his name because of how big a part of his life the subway has been. “There’s something very resilient about the rats underground. Humble. Strong. Brave,” he tells The Deli.

Polanco’s articulate and fluent writing in this project takes you on a journey of a “retro dance break-up record, like Fleetwood Mac or Madonna or Taylor Swift.” He deals with themes such as longing, confusion, loneliness, and love. “Dancing through the pain,” he says. “It’s also a lot about my recent autism diagnosis, level 1 (formerly known as Asperger’s or “high functioning”). It’s about finding myself, finding my voice, and finding meaning in being alive, even when things aren’t going so well.

Sounding a lil bit like Dean Blunt meets Daniel Johnston meets Pharrell, the music is rousing and positive, even while at times it’s heart wrenching, like in the opening song “Tell Me What to Do,” where he straight-up wails about an unrequited love. The project was mastered by Grammy-winning, multi-platinum sound engineers at Lounge Studios in New York in just three sessions. The words and the music genuinely flow out of him with ease and effortlessness, which can be felt throughout the project.

Subway Rat works with producer Paco Lee, whom he found on Youtube with hundreds of beats reminiscent of “The Strokes, Harry Styles, Omar Apollo, Arctic Monkeys, and more,” Rat explains. “He’s got skills and great taste and is the perfect fusion of rock, pop, indie, and hip hop in the rhythm section. All the guitars and bass on the album are played and recorded by Paco! Superstar in the making.” That hip hop is noticeably infused into this beat-heavy indie pop-rock makes the project even more dynamic.

“Rendezvous” is like a picnic with bae or the feeling when your crush finally gets to your house to pick you up and you’re running down to get in the car. It’s cute as shit. Subway Rat is soulful in his longing and describes this work as a documentation of this “timeless time,” in his life. It’s the first song he ever wrote, and it grapples with experiencing opposite emotions simultaneously: “being both sad and in love, happy and heartbroken…”

WR: Musical influences?

Subway Rat: First time I got into music was early/mid 00s top 40 pop and hip hop. The 50 Cent era, I call it. All that Snoop, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Usher, Drake. My dad would always play 80’s post punk/new wave. Lots of Talking Heads, The Police, U2, Flock of Seagulls. Then recently, during lockdown, I decided to do deep dives on all the classic bands I was never really introduced to as a low income Dominican kid. Started with The Beatles (every album, song, podcast, interview, wiki, etc), Pink Floyd, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, David Bowie – I found myself getting more attracted to the alt stuff – REM, The Smiths, Joy Division, Television, Patti Smith, Nico, and back to Talking Heads at CBGB’s. Which led me to The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the 2000’s indie garage rock scene that I completely missed, save for a couple songs I remembered from Guitar Hero and flashbacks of classmates in black skinny jeans. They quickly became my favorite band, and Julian Casablancas my biggest musical inspiration.

WR: Non-musical influences?

Subway Rat: My mom and dad, of course. And my 4 siblings are my biggest motivators and supporters and inspire me every day with their creativity and genius. Eli Manning is a sports hero of mine. He’s the blueprint for how to win in New York. Andy Warhol and Basquiat are my visual influences. Learning about The Factory and downtown Manhattan in general is a big influence. Art punk beat poet scene. I lived in Alphabet City for 2 years after lockdown. That’s actually where I started writing and singing my songs. Singing with the scoundrels in Thompson Square Park. New York City is an obvious influence in my aesthetic and attitude. I’m inspired by Steve Jobs, as cliche as that sounds. I’m an app designer and marketer in my day job. Simplicity.

WR: What story does Stand Clear of the Closing Doors tell? 

Subway Rat: I spent countless hours tinkering with the tracklist to make sure that listeners are taken on a journey. Stand Clear is a breakup album, and it tells the story of me and my college sweetheart breaking up for a 2nd time. After 10 years of knowing each other, and as our friends began getting engaged and having kids, she left. But we lingered for a bit. Kept seeing each other at these weddings. I changed. I tried. She blocked me. All I was left with were these songs. I see them like journal entries, saying to you all what I desperately wanted to say to her.

WR: How would you describe your recording style?

Subway Rat: This is my first time ever recording music, so I didn’t really know how it worked. Still don’t. But I got enough nerve one day to book a session at a professional studio in Times Square, Lounge Studios, and almost puked from nerves. Hopped up on stimulants I just wanted to get these songs out of my head – I had written 40 by the time I started recording – so I ripped each song in 1 take and sped through the mixing with multi-platinum, Grammy nominated engineer, Dan The Man. We finished 12 final mixes in just 3 sessions, and sent those to brilliant grammy winning head engineer, Blue, for mastering. Quick, efficient, fun. Almost like my startup day job, I learned a lot about products and marketing from there.

WR: What’s your favorite thing about the NYC music scene?

Subway Rat: I’m new to it, but after living in LA and SF for a few years and seeing lots of the same kind of music, I’m very excited to dive in. I love Rockwood Music Hall, and the singer-songwriters I see there. There’s a lot of heart in nyc. A lot of soul. I love the jazz clubs. Brooklyn still has a lot to offer, I’m moving there soon. I think the blues are coming back, rock is coming back, and NYC is poised to be the epicenter of another revival/revolution/renaissance of independent art.

WR: What other NYC-based artists do you fuck w/ or inspire you?

Subway Rat: My soon to be roommate is an old college buddy and multi talented musician/singer/songwriter, Danny L’Amour. I’m helping him release his first record under his new solo project. He’s been in lots of groups, but now he’s fully sending it as a psychedelic indie pop star. We’re in the midst of recording his debut EP at Lounge Studios. If you like Subway Rat, you’ll like Danny L’Amour. His heavy rock band Chezwick is also insanely talented, they practice nonstop. My friend Ashley Strongarm is a brilliant songwriter and plays at Rockwood Music Hall often. She has a beautiful, haunting, folksy voice and super passionate fans. Check them out! Enjoy Stand Clear of the Closing Doors on your next long walk, commute, alone in your room, or on a date with yourself.

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