Parley with New Orleans rappers Skylar Allen & Max Taylor
Skylar Allen and Max Taylor detail playing with big names at a young age, being students/artists, and how they manage to craft a unique sound in a diluted scene. The two are former roommates at Loyola University in New Orleans. They, in the vein of many other highly successful rappers of the late 2010’s, use SoundCloud to connect and have used the platform to secure opening performances for Ghostemane, Xavier Wulf, Riff Raff among others.
Thomas Dente: What kind of sacrifices have you had to make in both school and music juggling the two?
Skylar Allen: It can be difficult to keep up with school and stay consistent with music. I think the key is good time management, and thinking about the value of each hour. I try to do at least something every day that will advance me a step further, whether it be finishing a song, practicing my production, or handling emails and work for other people. School is pretty wearing on my energy sometimes, but I have learned a lot that I have been able to apply to my own career. Doing both has its pros and cons, but I consider myself lucky to be able to learn what I can while staying consistent with my music.
Max Taylor: Same here, school can be a b*tch and a blessing at the same time. Sacrifices must be made for success.
T: Max Taylor – seems like you have a good hustle going with offering mixing, mastering, graphic art, can you show some of your work that isn’t your own particular music?
M: All of the tracks on our underground label/independent artist platform renæsance have been orchestrated by yours truly. There are a handful of scattered gems across the internet that I have either mixed and mastered, produced, or featured on but nothing worth sharing that isn’t on the renæsance page. Here’s a random favorite of mine by Beamon that I was lucky enough to help put together when we connected last summer while living in Minneapolis. We recorded this jam in the closet of our old house with his Neumann TLM mic and my simple Scarlett 2i2 interface.
T: It’s wild that you guys played with Riff Raff, he’s actually playing here in San Luis Obispo town tomorrow night (at the time of this interview), how was that whole experience? And, if you don’t mind, comparing it to the Ghostemane show you did?
S: This was the second time we opened for Riff Raff. It was a great experience, his audience merged well with ours. Both shows had really receptive audiences and it was cool being able to be a part of the show. To compare it to the Ghostemane show, I think that the Ghostemane show was much more wild. People were hype from the moment we hit the stage. I think that’s because our music really suits a show like this. There was a moshpit, lots of headbanging, and we met some dope people. We got to chop it up with Horsehead for a while, as he joined onto the tour as an opener as well.
M: Although the Riff show was a great stepping-stone for us as he’s a hell of a showman and arguably much more well known than Ghoste in the United States, nothing could ever compare to the raw, spiritual emotion that was released during the Ghostemane show. I could feel the deep psychological pain that some of the people in that room had previously experienced while Ghoste roared on stage, bodies flying across the room.
T: What kind of non rap do you guys fuck with that has influence on your music? It seems to me like you both must have influences outside rap that make up your sound.
S: I used to listen to a lot of metal, pop, and rock. A band in particular that got me interested in the rock/rap genre-fusion is Linkin Park. I thought it was so cool how they went from a screamo section to a rap breakdown out of nowhere. That contrast is something I feel that really inspired my own sound. Some other people I listened to are The Cure, The Classic Crime and Daft Punk.
M: I used to listen to a lot of EDM, indie rock, alt-punk, and post hardcore. I’ve always been an emotional fellow and somehow managed to combine elements of all of these in the music I make today.
T: Did you guys get into hip-hop through family, friends, the internet or some combination of the 3?
S: I got into hip-hop through friends and the internet. My family wasn’t as into hip-hop, but they’re really supportive of my music. I originally listened to pop and metal. My hip-hop taste was mainstream, but after digging deeper into SoundCloud my taste became more abstract.
M: The first hip-hop I remember hearing was De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest thanks to my mom’s expansive tape collection. Throughout early grade school I would skateboard and play lots of Tony Hawk video games, I was often fueled with angst thanks to the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtracks. It wasn’t until this period of my life where I really gained an appreciation for old school and early 2000s hip-hop that I would listen to on my mp3 player when I would skateboard. Right around seventh or eighth grade I discovered the world of SoundCloud and haven’t left since. So to answer your question, family, friends, and the internet have all certainly influenced my taste for hip hop.
T: Tell me about your tour aspirations, where does Soundcloud say people are listening to you the most outside your area? I love seeing those statistics.
S: I get a lot of love from Moscow, Russia. Russia in general shows a lot of support. A lot of plays come from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. New Orleans is also up there too, as it is where we are currently based. We would like to do a tour within the next few years. Hopefully we can find another one or two other artists in a similar genre to come with us. That’s definitely a future plot though.
M: Sky nailed that on the head. My statistics are similar to his, for the most part. I’d definitely love to tour Europe, that’s indefinitely a goal.
T: How do you approach a song that you produced versus one you found versus one you have been sent?
S: I didn’t start producing until last year. It’s only recent that I felt that my own production is starting to be satisfactory enough to record my songs over. I have a small group of producers who send me beats pretty frequently. One in particular who I have worked with a lot is actually from Russia. He goes by the name of Cutnoise, and produced more than half of my last project. He has also produced a number of other songs for me. I think our sound fits really well together, and feel lucky to have met him. Max and Derek (Dii Tii) also have frequently produced songs for me.
T: The severed song is dope to me I like the choice of percussion, the sample, both of your verses are really well done. Really good song structure flow and contest in my view. Basically down to hear the whole history in detail of how this song came together
S: Really glad you like that song, one of my favorites on the Detached album. Cutnoise sent me this beat, along with a few others. This one instantly stood out to me as an album track, and I wrote my part quickly. I made this in the beginning stages of creating my album, and I knew that I wanted to get max on a track. I felt that this was the best instrumental to highlight our contrasting styles. It was dark and brooding, but also upbeat in percussion. Max and I got into the school studios at Loyola to record. First he recorded me and did a basic mix, then wrote his part on the spot. I recorded his part (that’s typically the process when we do work together) and we exported the demo. The song stayed in demo form on my computer until about a month before I released my project and we did the final mix. The track is addressing how both of us cut off people in our lives that did nothing to further our goals, hence the title ‘severed’. People who only tell you that you can’t do things should be removed, because there isn’t any time to doubt yourself when you’re pursuing a career in music.
T: Where are you recording your stuff, your university, friends house, pro studio?
S: We record in a combination of all three haha. Probably 70% of our content is recorded in our rooms. We live in dorms at Loyola. The studios are nice to use when they are free. Friends houses are also fair game if their setup is nice enough. In reality it all comes down to the mixing, so whatever environment is easiest to access is usually what we use.
M: 3/4 of my project Maniac was recorded in a small shed in Michigan outside of a cottage my parents were renting where I jerry-rigged my equipment for a few days. This was one of my favorite places to record.
T: Any insights to your guys writing style? Starting with the beat or the verse first and how the creative process works with you linking with producers etc.
S: I have to listen to the beat before I write, because the beat is the whole mood and feel of the song. The first thing I do is start humming out a flow. I start writing whatever comes to my head, the hardest part is probably getting the first few bars down. I don’t really write a hook or verse first, just whichever comes more naturally. I’m pretty sporadic with my writing, and usually am working on a couple songs at once. I keep all my beats that I plan on using in a folder in google docs so I can quickly switch to a new one if I want to work on something new. Writing is pretty much a flow-of-conscious process for me. I like to think of words that sound nice together, and I try to say things in ways that people wouldn’t expect to hear them. I prefer to write while I walk around outside, but I also like working on the spot in a studio setting.
M: Production has always been my primary focus so it’s typically a separate animal than the writing process. I used to write the majority of my songs while lifeguarding at the Jewish Community Center in Minnesota.
T: Skylar, I like how you can use a really wide variety of beats, like, Insidious is this aggressive trap/phonk type beat and jaded sounds like something more like laid back Pete Rock/DJ Premier type production. And you’re able to kill both. Maybe expand on the difference between working with these type of beats. I love the succinctness in your bars the last 4 on jaded when the beat is cut.
S: I think it’s really cool that you noticed this contrast. I grew up listening to a lot of boom-bap and classic hip-hop, so I always will have a great appreciation for this style of production. Recently, I have become a big fan of trap/phonk type music with vicious 808’s and distorted vocals. Insidious is a good example of this. I like to think of it as two different personalities. When I’m using the dj premier style production, I’ll talk about something serious I have been through such as a relationship or an experience that changed my view on the world. When I’m using the heavier trap production it expresses passion in a different way, rather it be angry or triumphant. I try to always keep lyricism and clever writing present in both styles. Its comparative to how a rock artist plays songs that are a flurry of energy and emotion, but also sings ballads that you can really appreciate for the lyrical content and vulnerability. The jaded song explores my insecurities in relationships, while insidious is less of a story and more of a sonic picture.
T; The song “Digital Heartbreak” is great (and the artwork). I like the effects on your vocals that don’t seem overbearing and really complement the track.
M: Damn right, the digital heartbreak cover art is a hot pic of the Beauty and the Beast cartoon with Kaiba and Blue Eyes White Dragon’s heads photoshopped onto their bodies. I can’t take any credit for it though, I happened to stumble upon it while scrolling through Skylar’s retweets one day and thought it fit with the new track quite nicely. As soon as I have the funds I’m going to get it painted and hung in my house one day. : ^ )
T: Do you guys like seshollowaterboyz at all? I feel like I can hear some influence there but I could be wrong (tho I do see GREAF so I could be right). Maybe explain how those guys influence you and how you find them.
S: I got introduced to seshollowaterboyz by max and dii tii (our roommate, fellow artist, good friend and DJ for live events). I really resonated with their gritty image and dark aesthetic. I like how they present their content too. The way that they are a group but still maintain individual images and sound is something I like a lot.
M: My brother Jacob who is two years younger than me put me on to my favorite SoundCloud artists, SHWB, Night Lovell, Lil Peep, etc. in my earlier high school days. Those three specifically influenced the vast majority of some of my older music. It’s safe to say I only listened to SHWB for a solid few months when I first discovered them as the amount of content they collectively push seems to be infinite. In 2015, my junior year of high school, I actually opened for Xavier Wulf when he performed at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. This was one of my first big shows and I ended up being ridiculed on Twitter by some folks who weren’t feeling my set. But it’s cool, if I saw my 17 year-old self perform right now I would probably be booing too.
T: What did it feel like hitting upload on that first Soundcloud track? I still remember that moment.
S: I originally began posting music on YouTube, I used to do a lot of rap competitions online. That’s how I built my original small following. I began using Soundcloud frequently about a year and a half ago. Max was the one who suggested that I start using Soundcloud instead. I prefer it because it’s a great way to connect with other artists. I remember when I released my first song I was nervous to hear what people thought of my ability to rap. Nobody except for my closest friends knew that I had even written songs haha. The reception was good, and has since fueled my drive to continue making content and improving myself.
Skylar and Max are both active on several platforms. For the track with the two mentioned above: