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

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