I caught up with the singer-songwriter in New York, where he performed his debut EP "Sewer Rat" to a home crowd in the East Village's Bowery Ballroom.
Inside the green room of The Bowery Ballroom, Franklin Jonas is giving us a tattoo tour. It's clear that each one has a story, and they're not all necessarily deep or profound, but they trace back to memorable moments in his life. He points out the rat tattoo on his left arm, which is an ode to his debut EP, Sewer Rat. He got this one in the subway in New York – no, literally.
This year, Franklin launched his career as a singer and songwriter. His debut single, "Cocaine," came out in February, which was followed by his second single, "Hoboken." Two months later, he made his live performance debut at Stagecoach Festival in California. Most recently this summer, Franklin reached full circle when he released his debut EP, Sewer Rat. It's certainly been a year of "firsts" for the 22-year-old.
The EP, which was co-written and produced alongside Charlie Brand, explores Franklin's early life and teenage years, and concludes to where he stands now. After getting the chance to hang out with him, it's clear that the "now" for Franklin is all about happiness.
HG: I was listening to the EP on the train ride here, and it's so awesome.
Franklin: Thank you so much.
HG: I don't know if this is a bad thing to say, but I felt like the songwriting was so deep and clever.
Franklin: That's a compliment. Why is that bad to say?
HG: I went in expecting the great beats and sick composition, but then I was listening to the lyrics and I was like, these are so profound.
Franklin: I definitely took the choice to make it more introspective rather than for everybody. And I think in a way it's been hard to look at it and be like, it's not getting the biggest numbers in the world. But if I'm treating it as any other musician in the world who doesn't have brothers who everybody knows, then I have incredible numbers, right? And there are people who have responded to it. Thank you so much for responding to it. I sacrificed my privacy by putting such vulnerable things into the world, and it really does mean a lot to be received for it. So, thank you.
HG:: I wanted to make sure I said that because I went in and I was recently surprised, which is awesome.
Franklin: I'll take that, dude. Thank you, man.
HG: This is a bit random, but I wanted to know the biggest lesson you've learned about love?
Hector: I'm asking cause I feel like that's how this EP started.
Franklin: Absolutely. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of you to find the person who's going to love you the way that you've loved everyone. I was lucky enough to find someone who supported me, someone who believed in me, and they made me believe in myself. And that's what "Hoboken" is all about. That song was the catalyst to believing in myself enough to finish the record. I've learned so much working on this record. It was supposed to be a love letter to my time in New York, and by the end of our sessions, I sort of realized that it was actually a goodbye. It was like a breakup note and that love comes in many forms, and sometimes love looks like hate. Sometimes love looks like anger and resentment. And I think there's a song that didn't end up on the EP that was about that about my twisted feelings of New York, and the way that I romanticized this city.
I kind of said I forgive myself for all the things that I wake up every day regretting, and I now allow myself to be loved and to love the act of being loved going forward. So that's what I hope it transmits.
HG: Listening to you now gives the EP meaning. It shows why the lyrics are so deep and clear and stuff. It's like you're making sense of your life with this EP.
Franklin: That's exactly what's happening. It's like road stories. Have you ever read On the Road by Jack Kerouac? It's a great book. The original idea for the EP was to have an album that would be much longer, following the flow and narrative of a rat's journey, similar to that in the novel. Some of that essence still comes through in a few of the songs, which is nice.
HG: At first I thought the rat was because of New York.
Franklin: I feel like it's sort of a symbol of the city.
HG: How did the symbol come to be? I feel like now you're embracing it. I've seen you in the rat costume, and it's obviously the name of the EP. How has that symbol become sort of like your own?
Franklin: The rat took on a life of its own. It all began as a connection with these rats when I created the EP or the album, along with all the demos, specifically cause I was listening to them on the subway. I would ride the subway every day, by myself, analyzing and contemplating how to improve it, what to change, and how to evolve the project. It was a new experience for me, moving beyond just working on a beat for a week and then abandoning it. I wondered how to develop this project further. I used to call myself a subway rat because I was always on the subway, and people would ask for directions, and I'd respond like the characters in "The Californians" SNL skit, just as if I were giving subway directions. That's how deeply I was immersed in subway culture.
So, I started to call myself Subway Rat. Over time, it evolved into the Sewer Rat. As I worked on the project, I created this character, the Sewer Rat, which was this Times Square mascot that doesn't have skin underneath, doesn't have a mask but everybody else has masks they wear. And unfortunately, my character didn't. I am just that character. And the mask is something metaphorical. I think that speaks to what you said about the lyrics, right. It's about vulnerability, I don't have something to cover this up. I don't have something to go in front of who I am and go in front of the way I interact and see the world. So I am the Sewer Rat.
HG: That's cool. You found power in an unlikely symbol.
Franklin: Yeah, I tried. I did my best for that, and it means a lot to be received for it. Thank you.
HG: You're opening for Hobo Johnson tonight, here in the Bowery. How does it feel to be playing in New York? Obviously, you mentioned you were a little nervous, but you got friends and family coming. It's a sick venue that we're in. How are you feeling?
Franklin: It's an incredible venue and it's an incredible opportunity. Touring with Hobo has been so profound and so enlightening in a lot of ways. I grew up watching the greats of our modern era, right? Touring around the world. But it's been a long time since I watched them do small rooms and have to learn how to win a crowd, and convince them to enjoy the music. I think watching Frank (Hobo Johnson), the way he performs, has taught me so much. This run has lead me to tonight in a lot of ways. It's a homecoming show, yes, but in my eyes I gotta win New York back. Because I'm no longer living in the city and now I'm back here where everything started. I've definitely had a couple of nightmares about how tonight could go, and I'm praying and putting everything I can into doing my best.
HG: I feel like all this weight is only going to make this moment more memorable.
Franklin: I hope so. I really do.
This interview was condensed for clarity. If you enjoyed this interview, you should follow MUD on Instagram to get more content like this.