Proz Taylor, a senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, recently dropped his highly anticipated full-length album, titled “Deadman Wonderland.” The Fine Arts major infuses hypnotic beats and full-bodied synth into the tracks, which adds an unexpected but satisfying twist on classic hip-hop techniques. As a whole, the record establishes his credibility as a nimble wordsmith and experimental producer.
In addition to dropping the debut album, the Mississippi native also used his eye for graphic design to create art for his merch, website and album cover. Throughout the record, the UTSA senior takes listeners on an otherworldly trip through a wide range of sounds that help solidify Proz’s spot as a name to watch in the San Antonio hip-hop scene.
I was able to talk with the producer and artist about his new release, being a student and his future plans for his music.
Kelly Lambkin You’re originally from Long Beach, Mississippi, so what drew you to the University of Texas at San Antonio?:
Proz Taylor: I was a military brat; I lived all over the world, different states, different countries. I used to live in Italy, Japan and Florida, a lot of different places. I moved to Texas for the first time in seventh grade, but I ended up moving back to Mississippi right before high school to live with my grandma. When I finished high school, there wouldn’t have been anything for me to do there, so my mom ended up getting me to move back to San Antonio, which is where she was stationed, with her and my step-dad at the time.
I moved back to San Antonio before my twelfth grade of high school and my step-dad and my mom had divorced before I graduated. Before I graduated, I didn’t know what I was going to do; I was living with my mom, and after the divorce it was just me, her and my sister, so she made me go back to school. It was one of my mom’s requirements in the household. I started going to [Northwest] Vista for a little bit to finish my core stuff, and then I transferred to UTSA. Right after that my mom moved to D.C., so I’ve been out here in San Antonio on my own ever since.
KL: Personally, what do you feel came first: Were you more interested in art, like graphic design, or music?
PT: I’m not too sure, but I feel like art was one of my hobbies as a kid. I always drew and painted, but there was still a musical aspect. As I got a little bit older and was working on music, I actually started making tracks and putting them out. After, I understood that I needed a cover and a website for my music, so I started dabbling in graphic design and teaching myself how to do that, so that’s where the art came from, just being involved with music.
KL: Speaking of your music background, have you always been interested in writing and producing rap, or were you interested in other genres first?
PT: It definitely started out as rap. It shifted over the years; I don’t know, it’s never been something I’ve ever really kept track of. But moving all over the world, living in different places, being exposed to different things, different people, hearing different types of music and writing about different stuff while making music helped. Listening to something all the time, you start to like it and develop an ear for it. And I started to want to make music like that. Most recently, I’ve been interested in creating “pop” songs, if you will—not “typical” rap music—and I demonstrate that on the album. I’ve been into a lot of ’80s music lately too, so that was an inspiration too.
KL: When you create music, do you focus more on the beat on a track or the lyrics?
PT: Everything. I can’t focus on one thing more than the others. Everything matters, from the beat, the structure of the song, where everything is placed, the lyrics, the way I say a certain word, ad-libs, the vocal effects—everything is critical.
KL: Speaking to your newest album, “Deadman Wonderland,” which is your first full-length work, do you feel that there were any specific emotions that you channeled into creating it?
PT: There were definitely a lot of different emotions. I think [laughs] it’s pretty evident what the album is about, you know, the undertone of it. There was a lot of despair, anger and depression in my life at the time that I tapped into while making it. Just a mix of gloomy, down emotions, namely. But here and there, there’s some upbeat stuff on there, a little bit of happiness, a glimmer of hope thrown in the mix.
KL: You use music-making to channel emotions; do you also use other forms of art to express and name emotions?
PT: Yeah, with film. I’m working on a film right now to accompany the album and that’s going to include songs that were left off the album and different versions of the songs on the album. And that’s definitely another form of art that helps express what’s going on there.
KL: Do you like to have your videos speak to/mirror your songs?
PT: Sometimes, you know, I think it doesn’t necessarily have to. I like to do a lot of things that aren’t so spelled out. I like when people can draw their own conclusions; the visual could match the song, it could not match the song. To me, it may match, but to other people it may not. I think with the “Hills” video, there was a lot of feedback from friends who were saying that they were unsure of what the narrative was and were asking for an explanation, but I don’t think everything has to be so literal.
KL: You collaborated with artists such as Deezie Brown, Venture, Thomie [creator of The Parallelephants] and The Parallelephants on your new record. What was it like creating tracks with different artists with different artistic tastes?
PT: It was awesome. They all brought something different to the table. They complemented my work very well and, at the same time, added something different to the mix. With Deezie, it was real cool working with him; that’s my right-hand man, my best friend. We’ve been making music together forever.
Thomie is the writer and composer of Parallelephants, and we separated that because the track we did was more of a “him” thing rather than a “Parallelephants” thing. That was really cool because I’ve known him forever; we’ve known each other since high school, but we’d never made music before. We’ve always supported each other, gone to each other’s shows, hung out and talked about music. I’ve known him for like ten years, and we finally made music together for the first time, so that was cool. Working with Venture was a very organic process as well. They all just complemented what I had going on and added something completely different on the album.
KL: I listened to “Deadman Wonderland” front to back a few times and “Very Scary” was definitely one of my favorites. Do you have any songs on the record that you really vibe with?
PT: Thank you. I have a video for “Very Scary” coming out soon, too. [“Very Scary”] is awesome and definitely one of my favorites as well. I like all of them [laughs], just because it’s my life, I connect with it. For musical reasons, the way they sound, the vibe of it, I really like “Dangerous” and “Dead to Me,” because I’ve never made music like that and I’m currently obsessed with the songwriting, the structure and the sound of those “pop” ’80s songs.
KL: Have you played any shows in San Antonio or Austin? And if not, do you plan to?
PT: I’ve performed at different bars, outdoor/indoor music festivals, house parties, general music venues—that’s about it. It’s weird, but I would say yes and no. I would enjoy performing more once I get my stage design/presentation complete. I think a lot more goes into performing your songs live than just getting up there on a microphone. I think people should have an experience with seeing you live, so I’m trying to get this awesome, live set-up complete, and once that’s perfect I’ll really enjoy it. But I do enjoy it now as well.
KL: What’s one of your favorite aspect of creating music?
PT: Discovering new things. How we get better and perfect our craft is by creating, so just discovering new things, different approaches and different techniques. All the songs from “Deadman Wonderland” were made from scratch, through trial and error. We were just messing around and I was trying new things and learned new stuff. Like, “Oh hey, that sounds cool. I’m gonna’ use these sounds, this effect and instrument.”
KL: Are there any aspects you don’t like?
PT: That’s a hard one. I get excited about the things I create, like a song, and I’m very impatient, so probably waiting to get it mixed and mastered. I’ll make something I really like and it’s not in its final form yet, but I’m just so excited about it.