Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Essential Machine Finds Its Rhythm

Essential Machine is a 4-person band based in Pittsburgh that has found success with its whimsical melodies and the harmony of husband and wife RJ and Karen Dietrich. The Dietrich’s son Roby J and close friend Matthew Kilroy round out the group, which is always experimenting and adding instruments to create new and fresh sounds. This family band has really found its harmony and a home in the Pittsburgh area. The following is our full interview with Essential Machine. Photos taken by SkySight Photography.

What is the process, or first step, you follow when writing the lyrics and music for each song? What is the inspiration for your songwriting? Who participates in the process?
A: Our songwriting process is always evolving. Each song has gone through a long journey of writing and editing before it is ready to record.   Often RJ will come up with a riff and/or hook and Karen will have some lyrics she has been working on, or she will hear the hook and start collaborating with RJ on lyrics. Once we have the bones of the song together we will bring it to the band so Matt Kilroy and RobyJ can write their parts.  The songs often evolve even further at this point as we figure out what works with the band and what doesn’t.

What current projects are you excited about?
A: We are currently writing a new record. We all really enjoy this part of the process of making a new record.

Listening your music reminds me of artists like Of Monsters and Men and of The Head and the Heart. Are there any artists you draw inspiration from when making music?
A: We all have very diverse taste in music. The Dietrich house always has music playing. We share our current favorites with each other and are on a never-ending quest to find new music. Our library of influence is always growing.  We don’t limit ourselves by genre or time period.

How would you describe your music to a first time listener?
A:This question is always hard. I think because our music is always in flux and evolving we usually suggest that people listen to it and come up with their own descriptions.

Would you rather play in small venues or larger venues? Why? 
A:We enjoy playing in venues of all sizes. I think what is more exciting for us is the crowd. Playing for an energized and engaged crowd always makes for an amazing experience.

What is one unforgettable show you’ve played (or show memory)? 
A:Our first show at Mr Smalls opening for Justin Townes Earle and American Aquarium was a favorite. The crowd was intense and super rad. Great energy that night.

What is it like working together not only as band members but as family members?
A:RJ has a long history of playing with his family members. He started his first band with his brother and lifetime neighborhood friend. It helped inform him on some do’s and don’ts of working with people you are very close to.  One major plus of working with family is that it gives you the ability to be very honest. You have to have respect for one another and a mutual understanding of each person’s process.  If you approach the process with the idea that the song is what’s most important it really helps keep everyone focused.

What was your best experience while on the road performing?
A:One of our favorite shows on the road has been our reoccurring house shows with our friends in Gloucester MA. It’s always an amazing and magical experience.

What is your proudest moment as a musician?
A:Hearing our songs on the radio is a dream come true.  91.3 WYEP has been very kind to us. Hearing our songs in rotation on WYEP with artists that we greatly admire is truly heartening. 

What can people expect to see in your live performances?
A: A group of musicians sharing everything they’ve got with the audience.

What is your favorite part of performing live?
A: We really enjoy the whole process. From the setup to the sound check to ripping into that first song to playing that last chord and hitting that last cymbal. It’s always fun to connect with the audience after the show as well. We like to chat.

What do you value about the music scene in Pennsylvania and why did you decide to settle here?
A:The sense of community you get when you play or attend a local event in the Pittsburgh area music scene is priceless. Having the privilege of becoming a part of that scene in the past couple of years has been super rad. Karen is from the area originally so this is a re-settling for her. We really love living in this area.

When growing up and becoming interested in music, what artists inspired you to make music?
A:Karen – Olivia Newton John, Matt Kilroy – Weezer, RobyJ – Against Me!, RJ Pearl Jam.

What was the best advice shared by another musician?
A:We have all been told to “keep it up” at one time or another along our musical journeys. Those words of encouragement mean a lot.

What do you wish you would have known when you started in the music industry?
A:That geography matters. Your little slice of the world is not all that exists. For RJ Growing up in southwest Florida was very isolating. There is nowhere to go really. It takes 6 hours to leave that state from my hometown.  We believe that traveling is important for our growth as musicians.

How has your music evolved over the years?
A:Essential Machine is constantly evolving and I think that it is a representation of its members as a whole. Evolution is important to us. It keeps us pushing the boundaries of our music and our musical abilities. 

What has been your biggest challenge as performers?
A: RJ- Feeling comfortable on stage, Matt Kilroy - Talking to the crowd, Karen – Staying in the Moment, RobyJ – Overcoming nerves.

What was your first performance as a group?
A:In our current form with Matt Kilroy on Guitar it was January 17th 2014 at the Keynote Café in Jeannette PA.

Did you ever see a live show that inspired you to do this for a living?
A: Every time we have the good fortune to see other amazing musicians perform it renews our thirst for the musicians life.

What drew you to harmony as a big part of your musical style?
A: RJ and Karen have always shared a love of harmony in music and in life. This project started when Karen decided to add her harmonies to the music RJ was working on. You could say that harmony is the origin of Essential Machine.

Do you like to experiment with new instruments or musical styles or do you prefer to stay within a certain style?
A:We love to experiment. New instruments have long been an inspiration for RJ and Karen when writing new music. From bells to mandolin new instruments play a huge role in our sound. Our upcoming record will have a lot of electric guitar on it. RJ recently purchased a hollow body electric that he is playing fulltime in the band now. RobyJ has recently added an analog synth to his setup and Matt has recently added new effects pedals, a new guitar, and amp to his setup.

What are the band’s plans for the spring and summer months?
A: We are already starting to book shows for the spring and summer. We have plans to record and release a new record this year, hopefully by the end of summer.

Does the band have any performances scheduled in the region during the month of March and April?
A: We don’t have any gigs booked yet for those months but we keep our shows up to date on our website http://essentialmachine.com

Lovebettie Shares Insights On Becoming A Rock Band

Lovebettie is no stranger to the music scene in Greensburg, and has gained a national following for their “swagger rock” style of music. Band members C.J., Larry, Nick, and Alexandra have carved out a place for themselves through relentless touring and gigs, and saw its fame skyrocket after opening for Lifehouse a few years back. Lovebettie is planning to release a new album this year that they believe is some of their best work yet! The following is our full interview with Lovebettie. Photos taken by SkySight Photography.

Where did you meet each other and how did you decide to become a group?
A:  Alexandra and C.T. met in college and started writing songs together.  After one acoustic show, they were asked to open for Lifehouse at a sold out show.  Shortly after Larry joined on drums and the band began touring nationally.  Nick joined in 2014 and performed over 200 shows in 2015.

What is the process, or first step, you follow when writing the lyrics and music for each song?
A:  Our songs are written in a number of different ways.  Sometimes they start lyrically, other times from jamming on a riff as a band.  It really just depends on the song and how inspiration hits you.  Quite a few of our songs have been written on walks when C.t. will beat box and Alexandra will sing over it.  When we get home we put the guitar and piano to it.

What is the inspiration for your songwriting?
A:  Our songs are just based off of real life experiences.  Whether it’s something we are going through personally or someone we know, as long as it is a strong emotion.

Who participates in the process?
A:  We all participate in the writing process.  A lot of times Alexandra and C.T. will map out a skeleton or general concept and bring it to a practice to fill out and develop as a band.

What current projects are you excited about?
A:  We are currently working on a new album that we are very excited about.  We’ve written some of our best material to date and we really can’t wait to put it out there.  Our new single recorded at Philly Sound Studios and music video produced by Marcus Morelli of Skene 19 Films (of Greensburg) should be released by the time this article comes out, so it’s a pretty cool time right now.  Other than that, there is a lot of national touring and major festivals on our horizon this year.

Would you rather play in small venues or larger venues? Why? 
A:  That’s kind of a difficult question.  We get to do a lot a lot of huge festivals and we really feed off of big crowds, but there is something to say for the intimacy and personal connection you get at smaller acoustic performances.  Any time you get to make real connections with people, it makes it all worthwhile.

You have played countless shows all over the country. What is one unforgettable tour or show? 
A:  We have so many memories and cool stories after thousands of shows, that it is hard to think of just one.  But this past summer we got to perform at a giant midwest festival called Rocklahoma.  We got a second stage headlining slot right after Linkin Park.  It was going to be pretty much the coolest gig ever, until a tornado warning and insane weather shut down the festival right before Linkin Park and our set.  The festival was evacuated but all the people camping ended up under the tenting for our stage to seek shelter.  There were about 500 people under there that were so bummed that the festival was shut down.  We decided to rally and start playing acoustic without amplification at the top of our lungs, and started a sing a long of songs that lasted over four hours.  It was insane, and so amazing.  At some point after about 40 minutes, one of the sound techs rigged together a 2 channel mixer as a pa and used a monitor as a speaker.  They ran a line into our acoustic and a microphone to Alexandra, and suddenly we had a real show going on.  It was raining sideways outside of the tent while all this was going on, but it was one of the most fun and memorable experiences we have ever had.  500 people rallying with us and singing against the one of the biggest storms we had ever seen.

What was it like playing at the Warped Tour?
A:  Warped Tour is pretty cool.  There is such a unique family of artists on that tour.  It gets really hot around that time of year, and the shows usually turns into a sweatfest, but it’s a lot of good energy, and a fun time.

What was your best experience while on the road performing at clubs and festivals?
A:  We have performed at Summerfest in Milwaukee the past 3 years, which is a huge festival that generally draws between 800,000 and 1 million people.  We won the emerging artist series 3 years ago and got to perform direct support for Pat Benatar and Rick Springfield the following two years, so that festival is always one of our favorites. The people there are amazing and really look forward to discovering new bands, which of course is always great for bands like us!

What is your proudest moment as a musician?
A:  My proudest moments as a musician is when people tell me their stories about how our songs helped them through a tough time, or it’s the song that rallies them to finish big race they’ve been training for.  It’s really magical how music is such a give and take between us and our fans. It’s a relationship that I truly cherish.

What can people expect to see in your live performances?
A:  We like a lot of energy in our live performances and we don’t like to half-ass anything, so we really give it all we have on stage.  So I guess you can expect the best of what we have every time you see Lovebettie.  It means the world to us that we get to do what we do for a living, so we never take that for granted, especially with our live shows.

What is your favorite part of performing live?
A:  Crowd energy and reaction is definitely our favorite part of performing live.  We have developed so many relationships with so many amazing people from doing music, and we draw so much of our strength and passion from them.  And when you look out from the stage and you see people singing lyrics to your songs, there is no greater feeling in the world.

What do you value about the music scene in Pittsburgh?
A:  Pittsburgh’s a hard working city, and it really taught us that we had to work hard for what we wanted and to earn our keep.  Our network of musicians and fans helped us get to where we are, and really enabled us to get the footing to expand nationally.  Without them, we would have never gotten off the ground.

When you were growing up and becoming interested in music, what artists inspired you to make music?
A:  Each member has their different influences.   Alexandra was in love with Motown as a kid, and also artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Carole King and James Taylor. She also used to go to a lot of blues concerts with her father. C.T. was inspired by grunge music in his teens like Nirvana and moved on to everything from industrial to pop rock.  Larry loves a lot of prog rock like Dream Theater and Rush, but has performed in every time of music genre from metal to country.  Nick was inspired by a lot of classic rock from everything from Kiss to Jackson Brown, as well as Primus.

What was the best advice shared by another musician?
A:  We recently got to spend some time with our good friends in Halestorm, and as they shared stories they had from the venues we play now, they told us to stay the course and keep giving it all you got. Hearing them talk about how they miss doing the things we are doing now really made us think to appreciate some of the struggles we go through now because it’s some of the stories we love looking back on later. You can’t accomplish everything you set out to do in a day.  They are some of the most genuine and motivated people we know, so their advice matters a lot to us.

What do you wish you would have known when you started in the music industry?
A:  I think it would be that everything is accessible.  Don’t wait for someone to just hand you anything or “discover” you and give you a career…make one.  Every single thing you have seen another person accomplish, you can accomplish yourself.  It’s already been done even, so you know it’s not impossible.  Start digging for venues, start booking your own tours, make a ton of mistakes, and learn from them.

How has your music evolved over the years?
A:  Musically we have matured a lot.  We have really worked on songwriting, and settled into who we are as a band and people and touring as much as we do has really evolved the band musically.

What has been your biggest challenge as performers?
A:  It’s not always easy to be on the road as much as we are.  We miss our families, our significant others, and the friends we leave back home and in each of the cities we leave each night.  Sometimes we miss holidays and important events.  It’s not always a lifestyle for the faint of heart.  But we are fortunate enough to have the kind of support and understanding from everyone that makes it all worthwhile.

What was your first performance as a group?
A:  Our first performance under the name Lovebettie was performing a sold out opening set for Lifehouse at Club Diesel.

Did you ever see a live show that inspired you to do this for a living?
A:  If you have music in your blood, every amazing live show inspires you.  It lights you up inside, and you feel that feeling that only the ambiance of a concert can give you.  Our song “Alarm” was written about that feeling at a live concert when thousands of people are all singing along and dancing as one giant force of nature.

Do you like to experiment with new instruments or musical styles? Or, do you prefer to stay within a certain style?
A:  I think for us, we have always walked the line between a few genres and have experimented with mixing different musical styles together from the very beginning.  We never even considered saying “this is the type of music genre we would like to play”.  It was always, just start playing and see what come out of you.

How would you describe your music to a first time listener?
Our fans deemed it “Swagger Rock”, but I guess we would describe it as soulful pop rock.

What are the band’s plans for the spring and summer months?
A:  Massive touring, huge festivals, and a NEW ALBUM on the way!

Does the band have any performances scheduled in the region during the month of March and April?
A:  Ramada in Greensburg on March 5th and Latitude 360 in Pittsburgh on April 15th and lots of acoustic shows as well.

An Interview With Supper Break String Band

If you’re looking for a funky style of bluegrass music, Supper Break String Band might be the perfect fit for you. Brothers Josh and Zach Starrett, along with good friend Spencer Hall, have a chemistry that allows them to experiment and improvise together on stage to entertain the audience. Supper Break will be touring the country, even making a west coast visit, hoping to expand their fan base as well as gathering material for new songs. The following is the band members' responses to our questions. Photos taken by SkySight Photography.

  When did you meet each other and how did you decide to become a group?
Spencer Hall (SH) & Zach Starrett (ZS): Spencer and I became friends in high school. We had always jammed together with guitars, bass, hand drums you name it. Josh had been in a couple bands and playing solo acoustic shows when Zack picked up the mandolin in 2011. Perfect fit. Josh and I were practicing for our first duo show when spencer picked up a bass and followed along. Immediately it sounded good and we decided to move forward with it. That was actually the night we named the band too. 

Josh Starrett (JS): Chemistry is something not to be ignored; of course we had done our fair share of living room jamming and experimenting with different types of music and instruments, but the first time we hit the stage together it was obvious; we were going to be a band.

What is the process, or first step, you follow when writing the lyrics and music for each song?  What is the inspiration for your songwriting?  Who participates in the songwriting process?
JS:  We all participate in the songwriting process; Zack and I typically write lyrics and bring it together collectively once we sit down with each other.  

ZS: Sometimes it can start with just a riff or a lyric and we all work together to bring it to life. Other times individually, a song or most of a song is written. Either way, we all work together to finalize every original.

What current projects are you excited about?
JS:  Our upcoming national tours and the release of our debut album No Brakes.  We’ll be traveling all over the country this year and if there’s one thing I love to do as much as play music, its travel.  I feel very fortunate to be able to do both at the same time.

Zs: Touring and the next album. I’d like the next album to be a capturing of a live performance.

SH: Touring.  Progressing as a band musically. Getting tighter and more impressive from the crowd point of view.

Would you rather play small venues or larger venues?  Why?
JS:  I enjoy the interaction and closeness of smaller venues, but the greatest feeling in the world is walking onto a stage and looking out to a massive crowd that’s just ready to throw down.  The atmosphere of a show like that is pretty awesome.  

ZS: Size of the venue is sometimes irrelevant. We have played small bar shows with a lot of great crowd interaction and bigger venues for even as few as 3 or 4 people. But the more the merrier, when we have had to chance to play for big crowds, we really feed off of the positive energy they supply. 

SH:  I enjoy both equally. Some of my favorite bands haven’t become too big to play a small venue.  Regardless of how popular they are due to their love of music (more than money).  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fill large venues with our fans.

What is one unforgettable show you’ve played (or show memory)?
JS:  Our win at the Palace Theatre’s Battle of the Bands and the release of our album.  Both were nights I’ll truly never forget.

ZS: Having our buddy, Uncle Jesse from New York, sit in and play banjo with us at a benefit. The first and only time we have played a set with a banjo player. And that boy can pick..

SH: Hemlock Groove. A festival we have been invited to every time since its conception. They do 2 every year. We know many musicians there and have gotten to experiment our style of music with up to six other musicians on stage with us at the same time. Everything from keyboardist to jazz flute players and a drummer.

I notice you sometimes cover artists like Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd.  What do you enjoy about performing covers and do you have a favorite cover or musician?
JS:  I enjoy playing covers because those songs and bands are some of my favorite, and its nice to put our on twist on something that the audience may already be familiar with.  Its also an amazing feeling when the crowd is singing along, sometimes louder than the band.

ZS: Adding our own twist to it is my favorite part of covers. I like to covers that may not sound anything like the original. Taking a non-bluegrass song and giving it a bluegrass rythem is endlessly fun. Any song can be made grassy.

On your Facebook page, you listed Oscar the Grouch, Buddha, and Jesus as some of your influences. How do these people inspire your music.
JS: Our list of inspirational/influential people was largely meant to be humorous; a lot of people take things too seriously and humor can be a good medicine for a lot of different ailments.  There are certainly names in there that have helped us tremendously, but overall, the attitude of the message was meant to entertain.

ZS: hahahaha

SH: hahaha

What was your best experience while on the road performing?
ZS: All of the moments that go along with meeting new people and musicians and having new experiences. Hard to put a best to it. Every trip is different. Fun sure is fun.

What is your proudest moment as a musician?
ZS: The turnout for the CD release was huge. People asking for covers and singing along to them is something I think every musician loves. 

SH: We held our CD release at a local brewery. Four Seasons is an amazing, up and coming brewery in Latrobe, PA. We have been playing there since they started and they have always supported us. It was incredible to release our album at a place with that kind of connection to us. We broke their sales record that night too.

JS:  My first tour; we had booked a southern tour to promote the upcoming album, and at the last minute circumstances were going to force us to cancel the tour.  I decided to play the shows solo, and got to travel through the south to Nashville, Charleston SC, Charlotte, Virginia Beach, and other amazing places.  The realization that I was on the road living my dream was by far my proudest individual moment as a musician.

What can people expect to see in your live performances?
JS: Expect to be entertained.

ZS: Fun, positive energy.

SH: The unexpected.

What is your favorite part of performing live?
JS: Interacting with the crowd and feeding off of their energy.

SH: The non verbal communication we can have with one another on stage. Improvising and nailing it. 

ZS: Agreed.

What do you value about the music scene in PA?
JS: The comradery. We wouldn’t have been able to get where we are now without other musicians and bands in our corner. 

ZS: Its kind of like we are all competing, but on the same team. In all of PA and neighboring states like WV and MD, bluegrass and folk do very well. Its all Appalachia and we play an Appalachian kind of music. 

SH: The general public seems to be very supportive of local music. People around here seem to really enjoy folk and bluegrass styles of music.

When growing up and becoming interested in music, what artists inspired you to make music?
ZS: Such a wide variety of inspirations. Since I can remember, I’ve loved the idea of being a musician. Toward my later years of high school is when I started actually playing instruments, bass was first, and I loved the funky and heavy rock stylings of Incubus. In those days it was also Tool, Metallica, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, 311, Sublime, etc.  I had also just started listening to bluegrass and jam music like String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band,  and The Disco Biscuits to name a few. The jam and bluegrass realm is what I fell into so to speak, but I have tons of love for metal, classic rock, hip hop, blues, electro stuff, soul, funk. All sorts. 

SH:  I agree with all of those bands. When Zack and I became friends, music was probably the most common ground between us and since then, that still holds true. We still have our own tastes, but they’re definitely very similar. 

JS: Our dad, he is an amazing musician. We are also heavily influenced by countless artists who have helped shape our sound and performances.

What was the best advice shared by another musician?
JS: Don’t suck. No matter what – if you’re playing for barstools or thousands of people, give it 1000% every time.

ZS: Find the pocket. Find the groove.

SH: Know when to play loud, know when to quiet down.

What do you wish you would have known when you started in the music industry?
ZS: The stress and conflict. The fact that it would test our friendships.

SH: If you want to be serious about being a musician, you have to sacrifice a lot. 

JS: No matter what, you’re going to have critics. Early on, you’re feeling especially vulnerable every time you take the stage, and can sometimes dwell on the fact that not everyone is going to be a fan.

How has your music evolved over the years?
ZS: The more we play, the better we get, the more we learn the structure of music. A better understanding, and more practice help us progress.

SH: We are finally starting to create a sound that is truly unique and our own. It takes years to have a proper foundation and we have been a band for about 4 years now. 

JS: I feel like our arrangements have gotten, much more (for lack of a better word) professional. We didn’t start out as a garage band, we started as a living room band. The more we play, perform, and record, the more “professional” we are becoming.

What has been your biggest challenge as performers?
JS: As with any band, each member leads his own priorities outside of music. As we are evolving into a more professional act, learning how to budget time for things outside of music can be incredibly challenging, but necessary.

What was your first performance as a group?
JS: A little hole-in-the-wall bar in Ligonier, PA, called Cool Springs.

What was the first live show that inspired you to do this for a living?
JS: A Dave Matthews Show when I was 14 or 15. The atmosphere was almost tangible. I was hooked for life.

ZS: All Good 2005, String Cheese Incident Saturday late night set.

SH: All Good 2010, Yonder Mountain String Band Saturday late night set.

What drew you to string instruments in the rock/bluegrass style?
JS: Our father had always been a phenomenal vocalist/musician and he was a banjo player. Bluegrass, blues, and folk music are quite literally in our blood.

ZS: The fun-ness of it. The whiskey drinking, pretty girl chasing, outlaw attitude was immediately attractive to me. Also, the prettiness of string music. String instruments can really conjur up emotions. It’s powerful.

SH: It’s about the coolest arrangement of sounds when it comes to music in my opinion. It very comforting and I can relate to it more than any other music.

Do you like to experiment with new instruments or musical styles in your records or do you prefer to stay within a certain style?
ZS: YES! New instruments, new styles, we love new! “At the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” –Krakauer

What are all your favorite instruments to play? How young were you when you started?
ZS: Mandolin when I was 24 and I just recently added a baritone 5 string electric mandolin to the mix. Also picked up a banjo recently and love playing it. 

JS: I found an orphaned acoustic 6 string guitar at my dad’s house when I was 7 or 8 and haven’t set it down since. 

SH: Been playing guitar since about 16. Settled in with the bass guitar about 5 years ago.

What are the band’s plans for the spring and summer months?
JS: Heavy touring all over the country.

ZS: Touring and festivals.

Does the band have any performances scheduled in the region during the months of March and April?
JS: We’ve got a lot of local shows coming up in the next few months before we hit the road in the spring/summer for tour. Our schedule can be found on Facebook and Reverb Nation. 

ZS: Around April is when we would like to start a tour from our hometown to the western and northwestern states and basically anything we can link together. Still planning it.