In the pace of our time

Last night, on a cool autumn evening, we played our best show yet for friends and family at the Jones’ Farm, part of Brent’s Quiet Earth project. Many thanks to Josh Wiener for joining Black Heart Machine on bass, Kevin Kennedy of the Marrieds and Dyadics for swelling his way along on guitar, and Howie Zowie for joining on theremin. And especially to Bob Breen of Armor Pro Audio for making it all sound so wonderful.

On Its Head is a product of the time we live in, of the chaos, but also the triumph of the progressive voices that are being heard. It is observational, but ultimately hopeful. We hope you enjoy it.

Special thanks to the Jones family for all their love and support.


Robert, Brent and Fil (Black Heart Machine)

On Its Head is completed—CD release set for Oct. 28

After nearly two years of work, our second album, On Its Head, is complete. Recorded at Quiet Earth Studios near Dorchester, and the Sugar Shack in London, and mastered in England, On Its Head is an album of multiple themes, both personal and political. From the quiet reflective opener, When Morning Comes, to the guitar onslaught of The Staircase, the album demonstrates a range of styles and sounds, while remaining true to the organic approach Robert and Brent took to making the album. And this is an album—nine songs linked both through their construction, recording, and lyrics, On Its Head demonstrates a cohesiveness in both sound and vision. Guests include producer and engineer Simon Larochette on pedal steel and bass, drummer Fil Beorchia, cellist Christine Newland, vocalist Jennifer Hale, violin by Kelly Wallraff, and French Horn by Josh Wood, and guitar by Roberto Lorusso.

The CD launch, which will include appearances by many musicians who contributed to the project, will take place on Oct. 28 at the Jones Farm.

New BHM songs on the way

IMG_8635Though we’ve only played a single show since the release of the “Ruins of Our Greatness” CD, I’ve been active in working through new songs. Plenty of them in fact. More than a dozen.

Some stem from sessions done at Quiet Earth outside Dorchester in late 2014, including a couple of songs I played at the CD launch, namely Decades, and Yellowing Pages, compositions that are largely acoustic with some electronic flourishes. More recently we’ve worked out a group of more electronic tracks—Beautiful Thing and Glory Survives—that I’ve had noted percussionist Jayden Beaudoin add his input to after writing them around electronic drums.

Both songs have some guitar, though Beautiful Thing is only the second song I’ve written that was not based on guitar, and actually is inspired by a Spoon song, though it has nothing really to do with the fine band from Austin.

Anyway, at this point the plan is to create an EP of electronic songs, and then a very minimal album of acoustic songs at Quiet Earth with my partner in crime, Brent Jones. The hope is to have one done by the end of summer, and the other early in the fall.


Celebrating Bowie

bowie_eyesWithout question one of the biggest artistic and musical influences on the music of BHM is David Bowie. I’m gutted that I won’t be anxiously awaiting a new Bowie album ever again. Broken even.

I’ve covered Bowie before—Queen Bitch in an early band, for instance—but it was Blue Jean, played when I sang in Licorice, that I’ve always been thrilled to work through when I grab a guitar.

Here is a stripped down version with my wonderful wife, Jennifer, channeling her own Margo Timmins for the harmony.

  • Robert

Introducing Black Heart Machine


logo_black_RFH8423Black Heart Machine—Ruins of Our Greatness

Who am I kidding? I’ve spent my whole adult life as a journalist, documenting and observing the lives and events of others. Given that, it is impossible to imagine that the first album I’ve recorded in two decades wouldn’t have a deep connection to the career I’ve had since university. And I’m not going to try to hide that I’m writing my own bio—who else would I trust it with? And there’s no point in playing some third-person obfuscation. So here we go.

Like any good story, let’s start with the facts. My return to writing music wasn’t my doing. My lifelong friend, Brent Jones, asked one day if I’d bring my guitar and a bottle of wine to his studio. I acquiesced, but I didn’t have songs or a voice. But Brent has a way of coaxing it out of you; he lives an artistic life, and challenges you to connect with the music. He also offered to sing, play piano, and generally coach something out of me in a collaborative process. I’ll leave it to the listener to judge the level of success. Heap any blame on me.

Here’s the background paragraph that fills in the details some may not know.

Many of my friends have no idea I spent my formative years in dodgy, grimy clubs playing a Fender Mustang in front of sparse crowds—in bands with names like Lavender Disaster (ouch), Atmosphere (like you some Joy Division records, kids?) or Licorice Fix (the last word added only after someone threatened to sue us)—or that I was eventually kicked out of the final band I started as I tried to play guitar with a broken hand while struggling through graduate school. By then it was time to cut off my bleach-blond hair and grow up. I’d like to say the music never left me, but that would be a lie. I tried playing in a couple of groups after moving to Toronto, but I had to play with other musicians. Musicians are terribly unreliable personalities. I decided to retreat to writing, but the kind without musical notation.

There’s no roadmap for when one returns to music after decades away. You could join some cover band and rock out like your third decade never happened, or you can recognize you’re not the same person you were when you first grabbed a beer and turned up the volume on your Fender Twin. I decided to try the latter, though it also involved playing an acoustic guitar. I didn’t want to compose songs that could be sung around a campfire. I’d always thought acoustic guitars meant folk music, something I’d always been distrustful of, even after falling in love with everything Elliott Smith ever wrote. So I wrote sparse, contemplative songs that utilized Brent’s piano, an instrument that I’d never incorporated in my songs previously.

Brent—for more should know about his talent—is a songwriter, singer, producer, and community leader. He’s recorded a bunch of great albums (for he believes in that format), all of them worthy of your time. He runs a collective called Quiet Earth. He is also shares a lot of the blame for the creation of Black Heart Machine. It wouldn’t exist without him.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s the graph that explains what the album is about.

Ruins of Our Greatness is the culmination of years of experimentation in mood, atmosphere, and structure. The goal was to integrate sound and theme, and bring those elements together in songs that explore mortality, murder, and madness. From the central figure in “Failure That’s Perceived,” whose remarkable intellect belies any persistence or patience, to the struggle of seeing the promise that isn’t fulfilled in “December to January,” or the quiet documenting of the discovery of a body of a murdered girl on “In Plain View,” the album tries to offer its own unique narrative.

For instruments we used guitars, a grand piano, mellotrons, broken synths, MacBooks, and some fine drumming by the remarkable Fil Beorchia. It isn’t bedroom symphonies, but that’s what I was trying to accomplish. And it isn’t folktronica, though there are elements of that.

If you go on the Internet and read about writing music bios, you’ll recognize the pundits all say to keep them short. I agree. So I’ll end here.

On Ruins of Our Greatness I was trying to capture sparse melodies and write lyrics on topics that captured my imagination.

I hope it captures yours as well.


—Robert Thompson

October 2015

Twitter: blkheartmachine



Album release on Nov. 7 at Arts Project in London

Finally! The album release for Black Heart Machine’s debut (is it possible to call it a debut when there are songs on the Internet?) will occur on Nov. 7 at Arts Project, a gallery on Dundas Street in London, Ont. Mammoth Gardens opens. We have a full band for this show, with BHM being joined by Roberto Lorusso on guitar/bass, and Jesse Nestor on a variety of instruments to make sure we reproduce the recording with some authenticity. All are welcome. Show starts at 7 pm and will be wrapped by 9 pm.

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Welcome to

Just a quick note welcoming you to the Black Heart Machine website. Been a long time coming, and certainly a work in progress, but please take a look about. You might be surprised what you find. I’ll be adding some demos (which came out demons as I typed it, which may well be apropos), some rough edits, some video and news on our upcoming album release, which is planned for London in late October.

Black Heart Machine, with Scott McCleary on guitars (all the way

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