At home on the road
Pete Bernhard of the Devil Makes Three makes the rounds in a straight circle
When Pete Bernhard was a young man, he began an adventure into the unknown, taking to the road with an old friend, Cooper McBean, starting in Vermont and heading across the United States. They passed through Nashville and Washington state before winding up in Santa Cruz, where they met up with another Vermont native, Lucia Turino, and gave life to a band: The Devil Makes Three.
And, for a man born and raised in Vermont but who has lived the remainder of his adult life in Northern California, it’s a surprise that Bernhard so eloquently embodies the sound of, say, a Montana saloon. But after a decade in TDM3, a bluegrass/country/rockabilly act, he’s established himself as a hardened veteran in the music industry: The band has put out three studio albums and one live release, and has played a ton of West Coast dates.
“[California] was the farthest point away from where I was born without leaving the United States,” Bernhard reflected in a recent phone interview. “When I graduated high school, I just wanted to go somewhere where I had never been before. I drove out to California because it seemed like the furthest point.”
The story of Bernhard’s new solo album, Straight Line, is similar to the tale of adventure that set TDM3 in motion: He never really meant to record it in the first place. Much of the album was an improvised adventure to seek out music that would satisfy their needs.
“I just had some friends over and was like, ‘Let’s just mess around,’” Bernhard said. “We had no plan of making a record. It was like, ‘You play drums, and you’re in town for a little while, you play bass.’ It was really just to have fun. When we started playing, we were all just kind of drinking beer and having fun, but after a while it started to sound really good.
“The record was almost an accident.”
Bernhard says songs would be completed, but there’d be no lyrics—and vice versa—but that the whole thing came together in the end. “Pretty much everything we did was really spontaneous, which I think made it a lot of fun,” he said.
Although Santa Cruz is TDM3’s so-called home, all three members currently reside in Davis, where Bernhard’s solo album was recorded. Guests on the album include Max Gaier on pedal steel, bass organ and vocals; Jason Chase on the drums; TDM3’s Turino on bass; and Jessica Cooke, a tattoo artist from Davis, singing backing vocals. The album becomes available to the public September 15—the same date as Bernhard’s local show—on Milan Records, who released the last TDM3 album as well.
Straight Line is sincere. It doesn’t try to pretend to be anything except what it is, and that’s music your father and grandfather can appreciate, but you can love, too: classic country-western honky-tonk and blues. Bernhard’s voice is true to the styling established with TDM3 over the past decade, but the lyrics are stronger and more sober.
The key difference between his aforementioned band and his solo work is the lack of the rockabilly edge that brings in TDM3’s punk audience.
Currently, Bernhard is in Vermont with his family, gearing up to promote Straight Line. “We’re going to tour the whole country in October,” Bernhard explained. “Starting in San Diego and going all the way to New York and the South. Pretty much as soon as I get back to California, we’re going to start doing a couple of things. We’re going to do Bumbershoot, were going to play a couple local shows and then we’re going to go on tour.”
If anything, Straight Line proves one definitive point: Bernhard walks it. And will do so for the remainder, whether through his band, his solo work or simply as a songwriter. And who knows where his travels will lead him next.