Essential Machine
Gig Seeker Pro

Essential Machine

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | SELF

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2009
Band Rock Indie




"Local Trio Essential Machine Isn’t Your Stereotypical Family Band"

...Wildfires, the group’s sixth release overall but first full-length album, reveals the band with a sophisticated approach to songwriting. While songs like “Wasted” and “One Shot” have choruses that sound immediately accessible, “5th Ward” and the title track reveal a more narrative quality, that hints at Karen’s background and the way she and RJ work together...

...The group worked at their own pace over the past year, recording Wildfires with Jake Hanner of the band Donora. By taking their time with the songs, the 10 tracks touch somewhat on the more ethereal sound of classic albums on the 4AD — due to Robert’s keyboard work — while still relying on both a hard edge with the guitars and a pop sense that runs through them... - The Current

"Local Scene: Essential Machine, Chip & the Charge Ups are family affairs"

...The Greensburg-based trio is decidedly darker. It launched in 2009 with singer-guitarist R.J. Dietrich and his wife Karen, now the drummer, working in an acoustic folk vein before Robert emerged on keyboards.

Now, he’s a central part of Essential Machine’s big synth rock sound on the new debut album “Wildfires,” produced by Jake Hanner of Donora. The 17-year-old Dietrich adds a swirl of atmospheric textures behind R.J.’s soaring vocals... - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Digital Sampler"

Our single "The Outsider" was included in the Digital Sampler for Under the Radar Magazine issue #62 - Under the Radar Magazine

"Best of 2017"

The song "The Outsider" nominated for best single 2017 by Sound Scene Express Rock Awards. - Sound Scene Express

"The Outsider Review"

-Imagine a Springsteen rock ethic with a dash of U2 big arena style. Don’t you love it already? Yep, that’s the heart of the Pittsburgh band Essential Machine. We’re definitely looking forward to hearing these guys live some day soon. The song is lyrically satisfying and has that “close your eyes and dance like no one’s watching” vibe to it. Because honestly, no one is watching you anyways and we all feel like outsiders. - Ear to the Ground

"WYEP 91.3FM Names Top 5 Local Bands of the Year"

Essential Machine
Underneath the Earth (Silver Seed Records)

This Greensburg family band continues to mature and perfect its whimsically folk/pop sound on its third album, Underneath the Earth. This time around, husband and wife RJ and Karen Dietrich have added guitarist Matthew Kilroy and occasionally their son Roby J to the lineup. Essential Machine has also managed to capture the spirit of its live show on tape, which is often a difficult task for many recording artists. The earnest production, poetic lyrics, and breezy melodies make the record flow and call to mind Mumford & Sons, The Breeders (on the quieter tracks) and Belle & Sebastian. (CH) - 91.3 FM WYEP BLOG

"Concert Review"

Saturday was a night of fun music, pure and simple. Essential Machine opened with an up-tempo set that had the crowd dancing and singing along, not just milling about the bar and killing time like is so often the case with openers. RJ is the lead singer and his wife, Karen, plays the drums. RJ has a beard the Duck Dynasty guys would envy. A couple times I worried it was going to get caught in his guitar strings and the whole thing would end up looking something like this:

(Picture available on website)

Thankfully, nothing like this happened.

Check out the band's track "Les Squelettes" if you haven't heard it yet. I usually think that the xylophone is a gimmicky instrument but there's something very carefree and inviting in how its used in this song. - Pittsburgh Music Report

"DSR’s inaugural music fest has people wanting more"

As Essential Machine, the following act of DSR Fest made their way onto the stage, the number of Duquesne underclassmen seemed to dramatically increase as well. They couldn’t have picked a better time either, as the quartet from Greensburg had one of the tighter performances of the evening. The set was mainly comprised of songs from their 2014 EP, Underneath the Earth, which features a heavy folk/rock influence that equally matches their band aesthetic. The lead singer and rhythm guitarist, RJ Dietrich, looked like a member of Duck Dynasty, while his wife Karen led on drums. And while lead guitarist Matthew Kilroy wasn’t leading melodies on stage, he was adding intricate song elements via glockenspiel. Their performance provided a good mixture of soft and aggressive folk tracks, and arguably had one of the best sets of the night. - Duquesne Student Media

"The Ceiling and the Floor Review"

One could almost set their watch to an Essential Machine release — that’s how consistent the kids from Greensburg have been these last couple of years. “Mood Swings” and “Strange Body” provide a testament to their strong folk sensibilities. But for some, consistency breeds familiarity — and you know what they say about familiarity. (Especially in the land of cantankerous music critics.) No worries, though, as the Machine isn’t afraid to conduct a little house-cleaning from a song-writing standpoint with the grandiose chorus of “Canyons Between” that makes the quartet sound like a much larger ensemble. “I Miss Hurricanes” maintains a steady up-tempo introduction, keeping things poignant with the refrain “it’s only what you give up; not what you hold on to.” My clear favorite is the aptly titled “Examination” which has the band plumbing new emotional depths. - See more at: - Pittsburgh Magazine

"The Ceiling and the Floor Review"

Vocal harmonies are, arguably, the highlight of this Greensburg-based band's new release — and the band seems to know it. The fact that singer/songwriter/guitarist RJ Dietrich found a passion for such harmonies after meeting his wife, drummer/singer Karen Dietrich, is a focal point of the band's online bio. But there's more here than pretty voices, and this record becomes more rewarding with each listen. In the age of Avett and Mumford, too much indie folk is blandly slick. Here, the slightly gritty production sticks to the ears: Think My Bloody Valentine trying its hand at rootsy folk-punk. - Pittsburgh City Paper

"Underneath the Earth Review"

The latest from Essential Machine comes tinged with familiar harmonies and lamentations that one would expect from RJ and Karen Dietrich; the husband and wife duo has expanded the act to include keyboardist RobyJ and guitarist Matt Kilroy. Laced with taut harmonies and arrangements, "Underneath the Earth" recalls snippets of the band's previous release, "Lonely Telephone." Unlike Machine's 2012 recording, there resides a haunting tapestry of lush sounds pervading this offering; thus the album has a Flannery O'Connor influence that nods to some of the band members' formative time spent below the Mason-Dixon line. The DIY aesthetic, with dense lyrical prose, also reminds me of Lancaster hush-core duo The Innocence Mission. Essential Machine still has a knack for keeping things light, however, as the dance-y lyrical guitar work in "Road Trip" can attest, making this the perfect soundtrack for just such an occasion. - Pittsburgh Magazine

"Underneath the Earth EP Review"

EP of cute (though not always happy-go-lucky) folk tunes from the local band — based around husband and wife, R.J. and Karen Dietrich, who play with a full complement of instrumentalists now. Well-constructed songs, good vocals and nice production makes this one a fun listen and marketable to boot. Not totally sure about the spoken-word track, but it doesn't take away from the rest. Recommended! - Pittsburgh City Paper

"Lonely Telephone Review"

Although Essential Machine released Lonely Telephone back in February, there is little doubt that the eight songs comprising this latest effort could be enjoyed in a moon-lit backyard in the throes of a mid-summer heat wave. And while the remains of various grilled foods atop paper plates and napkins would make way for that inevitable (and hopefully, bottomless) barrage of after-dinner mixed drinks, Lonely Telephone would provide the perfect soundtrack for those endless evenings. From opening track “Broken Record,” with its Magnetic Fields-y vibe, to the somber “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” (which was surely a ploy to tug upon the heartstrings of every self-respecting music scribe) to the quirky and endearing “Half Nelson (Flying Mare Mix)”, the Machine knows how to play to its strengths with rich boy/girl harmonies meshed with mandolins and glockenspiels, reminding one of UK upstarts The Boy Least Likely To. Yes, this is most certainly Gin & Tonic music. - Pittsburgh Magazine

"Lonley Telephone Review"

This is just pretty folk pop. I’m not even sure how else to describe it. Right from the opening twinkle of “Broken Record”, you get the sense that this duo (I think?) has fun with their music, no matter what they’re singing and harmonizing about. If you’re feeling happy, the instrumental track “Instrumentally Insane” will only bolster your mood; and if you’re feeling down, the strummer “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” will really help, I think. Dig it, and download it at their Bandcamp page. - Draw Us Lines


Wildfires LP -- Released April 5th 2019

Poison Control EP -- Release January 5th 2018

The Ceiling and the Floor EP -- Released May 26th 2015

The track Les Squelettes from Underneath the Earth is currently in rotation at 91.3 FM WYEP 

Underneath the Earth EP -- Released April 1st 2014

Underneath the Earth (Single) -- Released March 4th 2014

Lonely Telephone EP
Released February 26th 2012

The Single "Paper and Stars" was featured on London Burning's Top 12 for October 2012.

The Single "Broken Record" was featured on the podcast Kevin Allison's RISK! in September 2012

The Single "Broken Record" is currently in rotation on London Burning internet radio.

"Broken Record" was selected for London Burnings
Top 12 Tracks Countdown for August 2012.

"Broken Record" was selected for 's Best Indie Playlist July 2012.

"Broken Record" was selected for 's Playlist for July 2012

Find the Harmony EP
Released June 23, 2009.

The single "Away" was played on WYEP 91.3 FM in Pittsburgh, PA in 2009.



There’s some precedent for a married couple comprising a good indie rock band: You’ve got Low, for one thing, and The Weepies, and there’s Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina’s duo The Evens. By the same token, there have been some decent acts involving a parent and their child: Jeff Tweedy took dad-rock to the next level when he and son Spencer teamed up as Tweedy.

​But when you venture into forming a band that includes mom, dad and son—well, you’re treading on thin ice. The phrase “family band” often conjures something hokey, like the Partridge Family setting out on the road in their multicolored school bus.

Essential Machine, it’s safe to say, doesn’t fit the profile of your standard family band.

 The indie three-piece, which calls the Pittsburgh suburb of Greensburg home, has always been the vehicle of married couple Karen and R.J. Dietrich; they put out their first record under the moniker in 2009. But a funny thing happened in 2014, after the duo had already been recording and playing together for years: They incorporated son Robert into their act, on keyboards.

​It’s worth noting, when we discuss Essential Machine as a family band, that it wasn’t created by a musical mom for didactic purposes, or crafted by a stage dad looking to establish a pop-music phenomenon. It was established by Karen and R.J., for Karen and R.J., and happened to grow organically to include their son. The core of the band still revolves around lyrics that both bring and melodies the two craft. Karen is a published author of poetry and a memoir, and her first novel is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing in February 2020. (Now, as a three-piece, the band's writing process is more diffuse, but the primary duties remain largely the same.)

​Essential Machine’s latest effort, Wildfires, due out in April 2019, marks a milestone of sorts for the band: Recorded with Jake Hanner from Donora, in his project studio, the LP is the first full length record for Essential Machine. The tracks are cinematic in tone and texture, no doubt the result of Hanner’s craft and influence. Robert’s synth work features prominently within the soundscape of Wildfires. This expanded timbre, laden with warmth, creates movement throughout the album.  

When you listen to Wildfires, you’ll likely get lost in the world the band builds with music; one thing you probably won’t be worried about is whether the band shares a last name. It’s one thing to be a family band, with all the trappings that might entail (the matching outfits, the bonding on the road, the Partridge Family bus, if that’s what you want). Essential Machine, though, could be considered something else: a band that also happens to be made up of a nuclear family.

Band Members