Dance with The Devil
Three-piece plays acoustic music for punks
For all intents and purposes, The Devil Makes Three plays acoustic music. The Santa Cruz three-piece’s songs are full of acoustic guitar, banjo and stand-up bass, easily conforming to the traditional, drummer-less lineups of the blues, ragtime and country legends the members grew up idolizing. But that’s where the familiar “acoustic band” tag stops.
“If you’re expecting a quiet, sit-down show with a band playing in the corner, you will not have a good time,” said guitarist/vocalist Pete Bernhard. “And I like that.”
The members revel in blurring and challenging old genre norms and traditions, combining classic styles, danceable rhythms and blistering live shows that have won the trio comparisons to the Violent Femmes and the White Stripes. The Devil Makes Three might not be easy to categorize, but the band sure is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Although the group prefers the stage to the studio, its members have recently adapted a new perspective on recording with their recent self-titled release on Milan Records, a raucous album full of tales of drunken parties ("Beneath the Piano"), hardened criminals ("The Bullet") and an ode to Jack Daniels ("Old Number Seven").
“I think early on it was just to have something to get us out there and now it’s changing shape and becoming more complex,” Bernhard said. “We are starting to have a plan instead of just going in and getting it done.”
The band’s roots go back to the early ‘90s in Vermont, where Bernhard and guitarist Cooper McBean met and bonded over music in the eighth grade. While many of their classmates were most likely high on the grunge and alternative scenes of the day, Bernhard and McBean were into musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie McTell.
“The influence came from our families,” Bernhard said. “I don’t know why I liked it so much, or why Cooper did; I think it had something to do with us being weirdoes.”
After graduating from high school, Bernhard and McBean both relocated to California and soon found themselves settled in Santa Cruz. After messing around in various projects together over the years, The Devil Makes Three really took shape when the two met Lucia Turino, a UC Santa Cruz student who would soon enter the picture on upright bass.
“All we really set out to do was to make acoustic music more fun,” Bernhard said. “We wanted people to have a good time and do away with some of the stuffy folk-music aspects of acoustic music.”
The Devil Makes Three’s songs are undoubtedly steeped in traditional roots, full of alternately finger-picked and choppily strummed banjos and guitars, and the hard, full thump of Turino’s bass. But the band is just as influenced by newer music.
“We’re like a sponge,” Bernhard said. “We incorporate all that we hear, as long as we like it.”
Bernhard claims that The Devil Makes Three shows share more in common with rock and punk scenes than with any thing else.
“We want people to have fun and dance if they want to, and that is more like a rock show or a punk show,” he said. “I want people to leave the show wanting to see the next one as soon as possible.”
As a result, The Devil Makes Three fans aren’t easily lumped into any one group. From rockabilly kids and punks to jam-band fans and traditional purists, the band’s lack of pretension and welcoming attitude makes them very easy to get into.
“We’re just happy to have people at the shows, no matter who they are,” Bernhard said. “I’m always amazed at the different types of people who come out.”
Some say there really aren’t any true original musical ideas left to discover and that sooner or later, everything is bound to repeat itself. About five years, three albums and hundreds of sweaty, foot-stomping shows into their career, The Devil Makes Three are proving that may not be such a bad thing after all.