The devil’s music made them
The Devil Makes Three grow world of their own from Americana and punk roots
The Rolling Stones might not be the first band that comes to mind for those who’ve witnessed any of The Devil Makes Three’s many Chico shows and the high-energy genre-defying sound that the Santa Cruz-based trio brings to the stage.
But, for his part, guitarist/frontman Pete Bernhard said he feels that there are some strong parallels in how The Devil Makes Three came to pursue its style of acoustic music and the way the Rolling Stones developed their legendary blues-informed rock sound.
“I especially loved old blues music,” Bernhard said. “I was really into finger-picking blues music, Chess Records and the Chicago blues of that period. And that’s really where all of my musical interests came out of. And so I always wanted to play kind of similar music. Then when [banjoist/guitarist] Cooper [McBean] and I started playing music together, a little bit more of the country influence came in because he had a little bit more background in that kind of thing than I did. … It’s like the Rolling Stones listened to all of that kind of music. … We kind of did the same thing. Our influences were just more diverse, I think.”
Bernhard and McBean have been friends since the eighth grade, and they actually got their first live-music experience playing in punk bands.
“Cooper played in some in Vermont and in Olympia, Wash. And I played in one in Santa Cruz,” Bernhard said. “And we would go to see some shows together when we were really young in Boston and New York. We still played acoustic guitar and liked acoustic music. [But] punk music was way more exciting, and the show atmosphere was also a lot more exciting. And I think that’s what we thought we’d end up doing. Somewhere along the way, we started playing acoustic music.”
It may be acoustic music, but the band’s “slightly punky perspective on vintage American blues,” as they describe it, makes for a show that is not conducive to being politely experienced from the comfort of a chair—kind of like the Stones.
Both Bernhard and McBean moved to the West Coast not long after high school and formed the band in Santa Cruz in 2002, after standup bassist Lucia Turino was recruited as the third member.
Since then the band has released three studio albums, with its most recent—Do Wrong Right—coming out more than three years ago. The focus in recent years has been on the road, and the months leading to the current national tour have seen The Devil Makes Three on stage at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and NPR’s Folk Alley. After the current tour, the band plans on returning to the studio to record an album to be released sometime next year.
In the down time between albums, the band did put out a live disc, 2011’s Stomp and Smash, which was recorded during a two-night stand at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma. Bernhard said the CD was an attempt to capture the live energy and personality of the group with better sound quality than the group achieved on a previous live recording (2009’s A Little Bit Faster and A Little Bit Worse).
“We got a great engineer and had our sound guy there and had a great crowd,” Bernhard said. “We didn’t try to make it perfect. We just wanted to capture the moment. … I think this is the closest we’ve ever come to capturing what we do live.”
It certainly sounds like the band got it right. The sound quality on Stomp and Smash is solid, and tunes like a full-throttle version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” the humorous “They Call That Religion” (which gets a boost from guest fiddler Chojo Jacques) and the energetic “Black Irish” are especially lively thanks to the crowd being whipped up by the band’s secret ingredient—that slightly punk-informed approach to rhythm.
“It’s like we’re not in the country world because we’re maybe too weird for that,” Bernhard said. “We’re not really in the bluegrass world either. We’re not in the rock-’n’-roll world. And we’re too fast for the folk world. So we occupy a world of our own, I guess.”