Pete Bernhard's left index finger still hurts and that's a problem for a guy who makes his living playing lazer-quick guitar riffs. It's starting to heal, but it's been less than a month since The Devil Makes Three front man sliced the end of his finger while sharpening a knife.
"It's right where I push down on the string, so it's still painful," says Bernhard.
The band canceled only a few gigs immediately after the injury, but the trio had a massive tour ahead of them and didn't want to put that in jeopardy, so Bernhard improvised. In a relatively short amount of time, he learned how to play Devil Makes Three's rootsy throwback Americana tunes with only three fingers - pinky, ring and middle. Somehow, this approach has worked and fans have hardly noticed a difference in the Santa Cruz-based band's sound.
The Devil Makes Three is used to adversity - having soldiered on for the past half decade never finding major commercial appeal, but rather experiencing a slow rise into the indie folk consciousness. The band's 2009 record, Do Wrong Right, came out mostly under the radar, but has gradually gained attention and, for example, is a staple in the rotation of a couple of local restaurants' in-house playlists. Do Wrong Right, the band's second release on Milan Records after a well-received self-titled debut, features an even dustier approach to throwback blues and honky tonk music presented with a youthful, near-punk-rock (yet drummer-less) attitude.
"We've always experienced a slow burn. We've never had that big burst upward, but it feels like more people are coming out to the shows," say Bernhard, rolling through Texas on the way west to kick off what the band, which includes Cooper McBean on guitar and banjo and Lucia Turino on upright bass, has dubbed the "Three-Finger Tour.
In the year that followed the release of Do Wrong Right, the Devil Makes Three - finger injuries aside - has continued the "slow burn" that Bernhard references, hitting big festival stages this summer like Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Bumbershoot and a number of roots festivals. During this time, Bernhard also released a solo disc and toured with his own band. Also, Devil Makes Three was featured on the Independent Film Channel's Dinner With the Band, a cooking show that brings bands into the kitchen to cook, chat about music and perform live.
"Apparently, I didn't pay enough attention," Bernhards jokes about not taking away some culinary safety tips from the band's appearance on the show.
But where the band has gained its most momentum is as a result of its unique crossover ability. The band fits nicely on roots and Americana festival lineups, but is also at home in the aforementioned national rock festivals, drawing in a wide range of fans that includes both punk fans and acoustic music aficionados. In a way, this isn't all that different from what local boys Larry and His Flask (who open for The Devil Makes Three in Bend) have done.
"There are two totally different worlds that we've been able to get across to by bridging the gap between younger and older audiences," says Bernhard, who is only 30, but plays a style that was popular long before his birth. Bernhard and his band mates grew up playing and listening to punk rock, but soon gravitated toward more rootsy, country-inspired sounds. The result, Bernhard says, is solid acoustic music that pays homage to the great twangers, but is presented with a high-energy punk rock approach.
"It's been great that we've been able to expand our audience and bring younger kids who might be in to punk and indie into this music," says Bernhard.
The front man expects that finger of his to heal soon, but in the meantime he'll continue with his three-fingered approach, which appears to be working just fine. You probably won't even notice the difference when they hit Bend next week.
The Devil Makes Three, Larry and His Flask,
The Dela Project
8pm doors, 9pm show. Tuesday, October 5. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $17/advance, $20/door. Tickets at bendticket.com, Ranch Records and ticketswest.com.