From the supremely funky synth bass lines and drum machine claps to the little synthy glimmers, sparkles and added flourishes of smoothed out and laid back sounds, it can be hard to tell exactly when, or where BusCrates is from. Certainly someone who lived and breathed in the ‘80s, who was tuned into all sorts of music like funk, electro, boogie and hip hop that permeated the radio airwaves and local scenes with a whole sonic arsenal of synths, talk boxes, drum machines, samplers and other then-newly available electronic sound devices. Is he from space a very long time ago or a person of this planet right now? And if so, how does he do it?! (Okay, maybe I should stop watching Ancient Aliens marathons).
Obviously we at Analog Cases already know BusCrates -- the modern-day multi-instrumentalist/producer/DJ who helped create the loops and sounds for the latest Analog Supplies Vol. 4 Sample Pack. But we thought we should give a proper introduction to the Pittsburgh-born, -raised, and -grown artist known to his friends and family as Orlando Marshall, who came up in the Steel City surrounded by music and mesmerized by the synthesized electronic sounds on the records he heard. As the son of a DJ who always played records around the house (on a Realistic mixer from Radio Shack, no less), he was given his first trial run as a DJ when a local radio DJ at a party gave the young, impressionable (and presumably precocious) 8-year old an opportunity to play with the crossfader.
Fast forward a few decades later, and what you get is an extremely skilled, insightful producer, a bonafide synthesizer nerd and voracious vinyl consumer of all things funky, who has poured his heart and soul into beatmaking for the better part of the 21st century, releasing dozens of singles, EPs and remixes, as well as getting co-production credits on “From The Start,” a track on Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y’s 2019 album, 2009. It wasn’t until October 2020 that he released his debut solo LP, Blasting Off, for the slick, beat-savvy New York label Bastard Jazz, where he was able to showcase a diverse roster of soulful singers punching up his catchy, uptown electro-funk heaters to get the dancefloor sweaty. And just last month, Bastard Jazz released his follow-up single, Internal Dialogue, featuring two instrumental songs that take a bit of a more mellower, nocturnal route.
We recently caught up with BusCrates from his Pittsburgh studio, where the walls were lined with all sorts of record-packed shelves and racks upon racks of vintage synthesizers, samplers and drum machines filling in virtually every other nook and cranny.
Let’s go back to how you got into making music?
I want to say I got my first synth in 2000 or 2001. It was an Ensoniq EPS Sampler. I had that, a cheap little turntable, and a stack of records. That’s where all of this started. My background is from sample-based hip hop, but I later evolved into everything you hear now. How I got to that (laughs), I always gravitated toward electronic sounds. I remember some of the records my dad used to play, one was this Roy Ayers song “I Want To Touch You Baby.” It starts off with this MiniMoog (*mimics spacey synth sounds*). That sound just always fascinated me.
Just listening to records my dad would play. All of the electronic sounds just made me go “wow, what is that?!” Later when I got into making beats, I would always look for those kinds of sounds on records. I would get all of the Gershon Kingsley, Mort Garson -- I was heavy into that stuff. Hugo Montenegro had Moog records and things of that nature. So it got to a point, like, you know what, instead of trying to sample all these records, let’s see if I could make it myself. That’s when that evolved. I remember my first synth, it was a Roland Alpha JUNO-1. It was totally beyond my comprehension at the time because I’m used to things with knobs like the MiniMoog, you turn a knob and it does this. I wasn’t used to the membrane patches and menu diving. It was above my paygrade at the time. Of course if I had one now, I would breeze right through it. I think I sold that and then in 2007-2008 I got a MicroKorg, that’s when I started getting into the Moog stuff, that’s when I got the Little Phatty, and then it just snowballed from there.
Were you DJing before that?
I was DJing around town a little bit. I guess I started DJing locally around ‘98 or ‘99. But I first got the bug when I was 8 years old -- a local radio DJ was DJing a party and he let me get on the turntables and move the crossfaders and stuff. That’s what got me hooked on that aspect.
The Midwest seems like a fertile ground for beatmakers and producers. Do you feel a connection to the Midwest region, being from Pittsburgh?
I’m glad you said Midwest, I always think of Pittsburgh as the far-east of the Midwest, it’s literally right next door to Ohio. I live two hours away from Cleveland. As far as the whole Midwest sound, for me and what I do now, Dayton Ohio is the funk capital of the world. It all comes from there and Cleveland and places like that.
You’re doing a lot of your sampling with the Roland SP-404?
All of that. Let me go find a record with some drums and pop ‘em in there and then I’ll add some stuff. I like to add a little sparkle, noises and this and that, and that’s pretty much my signature sound.
Would you say you’ve always used samplers in one form or another?
Like I said, I had the EPS, then I had the (Akai) MPC 2000XL. After that, around 2008 or so, I took my first dive into learning Ableton. I still have quite a few. I have a 3000, SP-404 MK11, I have a Korg MicroSampler, Casio SK-1, Casio SK-10, the OP-1… I think that’s it (laughs).
How’d you hook up with the Bastard Jazz label?
For a long time, I would do 45s and singles and remixes for people. But I never did a full-length album until two years ago. I want to say around 2018-2019, Aaron from Bastard Jazz reached out to me about a deal cutting a record.
Did they hear you through SoundCloud or something?
I actually had a track (“Horizons”) on a compilation that he released called Tempo Dreams Vol. 1. My good friend Tall Black Guy put that compilation together and he picked me as one of the artists to contribute. I think basically that’s how they got wind of my stuff.
How’d you get involved with producing a track for Wiz Khalifa?
That’s something that came about through a really good friend of mine, Nice Rec. We were in East Liberty Quarters back in the day, putting out records. Me, him and G-Man. He’s linked with a lot of cats out there, like the people from ID Labs, so they already had that connection. We had done the track awhile ago and he pulled me in. And then he called me one day and was like “that track we did that one time is gonna go on the Wiz record” and I was like “Ohhh, okay!” It was something that just kind of happened. I didn’t seek out anything.
So it wasn’t like you were shopping the beat?
Right, it was something that was already done.
What did that feel like?
It’s really amazing to have something like that under your belt. I can have something nice to put on the resume. It’s cool points, I guess. But I never met Wiz. Someone I knew and was cool with was Mac Miller. He used to go by Easy Mac back in the day. He passed in 2018, the same day my grandma passed away. It’s all a blur.
Let’s talk about your new single, Internal Dialogue. You took on a bit mellower, late-night/early morning direction than Blasting Off.
I kind of wanted to veer off a little bit and still maintain my sound but change the tone a little. I didn’t want to duplicate my last record. I like to explore different things. Especially when you’re in the world of synthesizers like I am, there’s infinite possibilities, the only limitation is your mind. It’s amazing the things that you can come up with in terms of using synths.
What’s kind of your day-to-day?
It comes and goes in waves. Yesterday I was here all day. There’s times when I won’t do things for weeks at a time. Inspiration doesn’t always immediately strike, or you have other things going on in life. Like, I was trying to DJ on Twitch, or working the day job, going out, there’s so much push and pull in life sometimes. Whenever I get the down time or a clear schedule, I’m in here.
What’s the move you're making now?
I was in here yesterday listening to some of the stuff I worked on, as I pull together music for this next LP. I want to veer off from what I’ve done before and go other places, and when you have synths that have updates, you get more stuff, you get more pedals… (laughs)
Let’s talk about the Analog Supplies Vol. 4 Sample Pack you did for Analog Cases.
There were a couple days when I came in here, it was a complete stream of consciousness. Let’s try this idea, okay this is cool. Let’s change the tempo on the next one, let’s change the tempo on the next one. I try to keep it varied. I think I did 22 loops all with separate tracks, like two or three tracks each, then I did some bleeps and bloops on the MicroMoog when it was working. I did some stuff with my Korg Minilogue. I recently got the Hologram Microcosm, so I thought that would be cool to get some cool sounds out of that.
Okay, last thing: What are three tracks that have had the biggest impact on you as an artist?
WHOOOOAAA that’s a tough one. The question could be what have I been listening to lately! I’m into a lot of the boogie early 80s stuff. There’s this track by this group called Collage called "Alien ZZZ." I didn’t know about it. I was streaming on Twitch one day, and someone asked if I had that record, while I was DJing. I went to my stash and pulled the record out and played it and was like WHOA, this is insane! It was totally my vibe, it totally nailed my vibe. Also Howard Johnson “So Fine,” a track produced by the late great Kashif, which is one of the main reasons why I wanted a MiniMoog, his MiniMoog bass lines were off-the-rails good. It’s amazing what that guy did with this thing. And let’s see, the third one, I’ll go a different route. There’s this track by Lonnie Liston Smith called “Bridge Through Time.” It’s a really laidback chill jazz funk kinda vibe. His signature sound at that time, he played a Fender Rhodes through a phaser, I think it was the Mu-Tron Biphase. I always loved that. I don’t have one of those though, 'cos they’re like 5 billion dollars (laughs). The MoogerFooger MF103 12-stage phaser nails that sound. It gets close enough!