The Devil Makes Three is an interesting contradiction in sound and style. The band's punk roots and upbringing, combined with an old school ragtime sound, saturated in a roughneck bluegrass ambiance, gives DM3 a sonic soundscape very different from bands with their toes in similar waters. Pete Bernhard (guitar, vocals) Lucia Turino (upright bass, vocals) and Cooper McBean (guitar, tenor banjo) are all so gifted that their live shows effortlessly glide between crowd-pleasing, old-time deep mountain bluegrass and an anarchic spirit where anything could happen.
According to Bernhard, The Devil Makes Three formed in 2002 in Santa Cruz, California, right after they recorded their self-titled album. "We migrated westward like slow confused birds after we got out of high school," says Bernhard, adding, "we are all originally from southern Vermont."
Their latest release, I'm a Stranger Here, takes that ragtime sound even further with some of their smokiest and booze-drenched lyrics combining flawlessly with their gorgeous harmonies and broken down yet hopeful bluesy vibe. Although the album has a few barnburners, it is most definitely a heartbreak album, focused on the ones that got away and the ones that stayed with no recipe for happiness other than substance abuse and music.
Their many influences are evident over every track, which is a huge reason why they are so hard to classify or put in a box. "To be totally honest with you," says Bernhard, "we barely draw from the bluegrass tradition at all. Anyone who plays bluegrass would tell you we are not a bluegrass band. The closest we come to bluegrass is being inspired by the great Doc Watson." Bernhard says that the band's influences fall under the headings of blues, old rock and roll, country or old time music. "We play the same instruments as a bluegrass band but we're inspired by different sounds," he says.
Watching their stripped down Salt Stage Sessions, it is amazing to see a band transition so easily from the huge whiskey fueled stage shows to something more intimate and focused. Those sessions show a band ready for anything as long as they can stay true to the roots that inspire them. According to Bernhard, they don't really have a preference as to what style of show it is. "Both are great in their own way," Bernhard says. "We like small shows and playing acoustic but we also enjoy a big theater filled with screaming people. As long as we still get to do both, we will remain the happy, semi-well adjusted, not-so-young people that we currently are," he says.
The Devil Makes Three plays a wide variety of music for a demographic that is always adjusting, changing and growing, but to think that the heartbreak tunes and old-time country sound is all they have on their mind would be a mistake. Bernhard has a lot on his mind, spilling into the band's lyrics. When I asked him what someone who had never heard the band before could expect from a Devil Makes Three show, his answer was so brilliantly worded and downright beautiful, it changed how I viewed the band almost instantly.
Bernhard said, "They can expect upbeat songs that sound happy and fun but if they listen more closely they may hear in the lyrics that capitalism no longer functions as a way of life on the planet Earth. They may also hear that if we don't find a solution we will destroy the planet and therefore ourselves as a species. They can expect to hear a little about how when the environment can no longer sustain future generations the idea of making money will seem pretty worthless. They may hear mention of the fact that the wealthiest one percent of the population in these United States possess 40 percent of the wealth and that the bottom 80 percent own seven percent. They can expect to dance, they can expect to sing, they can expect to have a drink poured on them by a smiling, inebriated local. They can expect the oceans to rise and the heavens to crack open. The corrupt fear us. The honest support us. The heroic join us."
What could anyone possibly add to that?
The Devil Makes Three
Saturday, Jan 16, 9 pm
Midtown Ballroom, 51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend, OR 97701
$25 adv., $30 door