“Strange Tales From the Forest”: The Making of Purple Dialect’s “Forest Fortress”
Purple Dialect decided he wanted to make beats after spending several years honing his musical chops as a punk rock bass player. When popular DAWs like Ableton and FL Studio didn’t give him the creative experience he desired, he decided to pick up a Roland SP-404 that he found at a bargain price. Though the Roland 404, 303, and 202 samplers are now his primary weapons of choice, the Bucks County-based producer got off to a rather inauspicious start with 404. “I hated it at first,” he admits. “First time I fired it up I was like, ‘I’m never going to be able to use this.’”
Instead of throwing in the towel, he decided to stick with it and give the 404 some time to grow on him. Constant trial, error, and experimentation made him realize it might actually be a good fit. “I just kept coming back to it,” he says, explaining that he enjoyed “having the pads and having something physical to smash on — and the portability.”
Though the tactile experience of the 404 convinced Purple Dialect it was a keeper, it took many months of practice before he felt ready to put any music out into the world. “It was probably a year and half of just messing around with every different function and trying different chops until I got a workflow where I was like, ‘OK, I can really do what I want to do with it now,’” he says.
“All my beats are really just jam sessions.”
After nailing his SP workflow, Dialect found he loved the portability of the 202 and 404, with the world soon becoming an extension of his studio. “I realized if I’m at the beach or I’m in the car I can do the same exact thing I’d be doing at home anyway,” he says. “And then obviously you get that inspiration of wherever you are and the change of scenery helps you not be stagnant.”
Beyond giving him new energy and ideas, he also enjoys people’s reactions to a guy walking around and making beats on the fly. “That’s been super fun too, just getting weird looks and doing it in crazy places,” he says. “Very rarely you’ll run into someone who knows exactly what you’re doing, so it’s pretty funny to see that.”
On his recent Forest Fortress instrumental album, which dropped in mid-March of 2017, he decided to take his love of the great outdoors and making music in odd locations to new heights. The album, as described in the liner notes, was made with “the intention of setting the ambiance for hikes, quests or daydreams. Inspired by strange tales from the forest.”
“I’ve definitely had the 202 out camping at night, just sitting up with my headphones one when everyone else is asleep.”
When pressed to explain the underlying meaning of that somewhat cryptic description, Purple Dialect points to America’s curious fascination with odd creatures and supernatural beings that supposedly roam our forests. “There’s this whole American folklore tradition of cryptozoology — people claiming they saw Sasquatch or the Jersey Devil. That’s always been so fascinating to me, regardless of the fact that I don’t really believe in it,” he tells me. “There’s this rich oral history of people seeing bizarre things and having weird experiences in the woods. It just seems like such off-beat Americana to me.”
Of all the strange stories he found in this realm that helped provide inspiration for the album, there was one in particular that stood out. “There’s this dude called David Paulides. He has this whole thing called Missing 411 where he’s pitching a conspiracy theory about people going missing in national parks in the US,” he explains. “There’s all these crazy conspiracy theories that surround it like, ‘Oh, is it Bigfoot?’ ‘Is it some interdimensional thing?’ It’s just this insane rabbit hole to go down if you look it up on YouTube. It’s wild.”
After going down the rabbit hole himself, using a snippet of Paulides’ dialogue on Forest Fortress was too great a temptation to resist. “I actually sampled him on one of the tracks ‘Paper Route’, that’s his voice at the beginning,” says Purple Dialect.
“I’m never gonna have anything that’s gonna to be a radio hit, ever.”
In terms of recording the album, Purple Dialect decided to strip his setup down to the bare bones and lean heavily on the SP-202 and 303. “All my beats are really just jam sessions,” he says. “The 202 is very limited, but it kind of frees you up. On the 303 or 202, there are a lot of effects you can throw on, but there’s not a whole lot of editing that’s gonna happen in those boxes. So it’s really just about your chops or your loops.”
In addition to its raw simplicity, the portability and battery powered option of the 202 also proved helpful when Dialect wanted to physically make beats in the forest. “I’ve definitely had the 202 out camping at night, sitting up with my headphones on when everyone else is asleep, just banging away,” he says.
On “Snowfallz”, a Micro-Chop favorite from Forest Fortress, Purple Dialect found his 202 and 303 working in perfect synergy. “It was probably one of the most fun jam tracks,” he says. “I made a loop in the 303. I took that loop and put it into the 202, which has a great pitch effect — really the only worthwhile pitch on any SP in my opinion is the 202’s.”
Messing with the delays and pitch settings of his trusty samplers, he was able to concoct a hauntingly simple and beautiful instrumental that ended up being one of the album’s highlights. “I did a couple different takes on the 202 of just re-sampling into the 303, I would pitch it down, pitch it up,” he says. “Then I had those building blocks and put them back in the 303. At certain points I would just try to hit the delay at the right time and try to hit the delay and use it as a drum fill. And it sounded great.”
“I think there’s some purity of being like, ‘This is what I made, straight from my 404. Here it is. I hope you like it.’”
Sticking with this raw, in-the-moment style is Purple Dialect’s preferred work mode. Now that he has his process simplified, he isn’t exactly eager to complicate it. “I’ve kind of cut out all the parts I don’t like,” he explains.
For him, the means of production he uses matches the aesthetic he’s trying to achieve with his music. “I’m never gonna have anything that’s gonna to be a radio hit, ever,” he says. “The style of music I make, while it has that niche, underground popularity, it’s never going to be the biggest thing. I think there’s some purity of being like, ‘This is what I made, straight from my 404. Here it is. I hope you like it.’”
How far will this informal style of beatmaking take Purple Dialect? Only time will tell. For now, he’s enjoying the journey, embracing the process, and wandering Pennsylvania’s vast forests while banging out fresh beats on his faithful collection of Roland SPs.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop and Bookshelf Beats publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at HipHopDX or follow me on Twitter.