Greensburg family band prepares for album-release show at Mr. Smalls in Millvale
If you listen to the early recordings of Greensburg indie-rock band Essential Machine, and then listen to songs from its new record, “Wildfires,” you might not think it’s the same band.
Karen and R.J. Dietrich’s sound has evolved quite a bit over the past decade.
But not only is it the same band, the most recent member shares all of his DNA with the others: it’s Karen and R.J.’s son, Robert, 17.
“I already thought what they were doing was cool, and I eventually started playing this little MIDI keyboard,” Robert said.
As the family rehearsed on March 27 in their living room — in preparation for the “Wildfires” release show April 5 at the Funhouse at Mr. Smalls in Millvale — Robert had much more than just a MIDI keyboard. His setup has grown since joining the band in 2014, and his mother, Karen, has gone from being persuaded into singing, to playing a full drum kit.
“On our earlier EPs, there was a lot more of a folk-music sound,” Karen said. “Then we kind of moved to more pop, and the sound has really changed over the years.”
With Robert on keys (occasionally supplying a bass line), Karen on drums and R.J. on guitar and lead vocals, the band’s new sound has more of a digital, polished edge to it.
“You could almost call it synth-rock,” R.J. said.
Reworking the lineup turned out to be a necessity when it came to booking live shows.
“I did the other instrumentation on our early releases,” R.J. said. “So someone would call asking to book us and that they liked our music, and I’d kind of have to tell them, ‘Well wait, we’re not really the full band you heard on the record.’ People thought we were this thing that we weren’t.”
As Robert began playing on more songs and adding more sonic colors to the band’s palate, “I became a lot more involved in the songwriting process,” he said.
“Wildfires” will be the band’s sixth release, but its first full-length album.
They will be playing throughout the area in the coming months.
“We’re playing an April 13 benefit for the Women’s Help Center in Johnstown, we’re playing the Flood City Festival in Johnstown this summer, and I’m booking some summer dates in the Northeast as well,” R.J. said.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .