The Devil Makes Three to play sold-out show in Breckenridge
October 7, 2016
BRECKENRIDGE — It's nothing unusual for artists to make cover song albums featuring tunes that pay tribute to the music that shaped their sound.
But "Redemption & Ruin," the new album by The Devil Makes Three, takes that idea to a new level. Not just a tribute or covers album, it's also a theme album, with one batch of songs built around the idea of ruin and the other about redemption.
This, according to guitarist-singer Pete Bernhard, added a layer of difficulty to the project that the three band members perhaps didn't anticipate.
"We were trying to not only find a song we liked and felt was a big influence on our sound, but also to fit on either the 'Redemption' side of the record or the 'Ruin' side of the record," he said in a late-September phone interview.
"It definitely did make it more difficult," Bernhard said of incorporating a lyrical theme to the new album. "I think, in a way, we sort of bit off a little more than we could chew."
But in the end, Bernhard and his bandmates, banjo player-multi-instrumentalist Cooper McBean and bassist Lucia Turino, stepped up to the plate and emerged with an album in "Redemption & Ruin" that lives up to the multi-faceted goals they had for the project.
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The Devil Makes Three will play a sold-out show at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge on Saturday, Oct. 15.
One primary goal of the band was to honor the traditions of American music.
"We have such an amazing musical tradition, and we really wanted to touch on all of the (traditions) because in the Devil Makes Three… we're very influenced by blues, very influenced by jazz, Dixieland, Western swing, like sort of gyspy jazz and the French swing thing, too," Bernhard said. "From basically all the way from blues to jazz and rock 'n' roll is in the story of our band. So we really wanted to put people in there, try to get all the way up to modern times, but start way back (in time)."
To that end, "Redemption & Ruin" includes inspired versions of songs by blues greats like Muddy Waters (an edgy take on "Champagne and Reefer") and Robert Johnson (a lively bluegrass-ish take on "Drunken Hearted Man"), folk legends like Tampa Red (the Dixieland feel of "I'm Gonna Get High") and Townes Van Zandt (a mournful version of "Waiting Around To Die"), country icon Hank Williams (the solemn "Angel of Death"), gospel artists like the Sunset Jubilee Singers (the twangy and celebratory "There'll Be A Jubilee") and more contemporary artists like Tom Waits (a perky country-gospel rendition of "Come On Up To The House").
Storytelling in song
Lyrically, the contrasting themes of ruin and redemption reflect the long tradition in American music of telling hard luck stories and tales of overcoming life's troubles and challenges and emerging stronger than ever. The gospel element that's woven into the album, particularly on the "Redemption" side, was a facet the group especially wanted to represent.
"We always loved gospel music, but we're not really deeply religious people, or anything like that, so it felt like a full gospel album wasn't really right," Bernhard said. "But it has been a big influence on our sound, so we definitely wanted to showcase it and let people know that's part of what we love.
"I also like the sort of open sourced aspect of it, like folk music and Woody Guthrie and that whole thing," he added. "It was like Woody Guthrie stole so much of his music from Lead Belly. And Lead Belly probably stole so much of his from somebody else. And that's kind of like what the American songwriting tradition is all about."
The love Bernhard and McBean have for vintage 20th century American music stretches back to when they were teenagers and met each other in middle school in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Both came from musical families and were beginning to explore blues, folk, jazz and other vintage and purely American forms of music.
"I've got to say, a big part of it is my family, listening to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie," Bernhard said. "My brother introduced me to Chess Records, with Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and all that stuff, Elmore James, the blues greats (like) Robert Johnson. So I really, my family is the reason why I got into it, and I'm sure Cooper would say the same thing.
"We were lucky to find each other, find two people that were interested in that music," he said. "I can't speak for him, but I know for me, I just heard something in that music that felt like it was forever. Their shared tastes in music made starting a group rooted in that music a natural step for Bernhard and Cooper. They migrated to the West Coast after high school, playing as a duo, when in 2002, a gig brought them to Santa Cruz, California. That's when they crossed paths with Turino, who ironically enough was another student they knew in high school in Brattleboro.
She volunteered to learn bass, and soon the group was officially a trio, basing itself out of Santa Cruz and trying to build a do-it-yourself career.
A first self-released album, a self-titled effort, arrived in 2002, followed in 2004 by "Longjohns, Boots, and a Belt."
Picking up speed
It's been a slow climb much of the way, but things began to accelerate when The Devil Makes Three signed to indie label Milan Records, releasing the studio album, "Do Wrong Right," in 2009 and a live album, "Stomp and Smash" in 2011 on Milan. The momentum has only grown since, and the band's popularity has reached new heights since signing to New West Records and releasing the studio album, "I'm A Stranger Here," in 2013.
Now The Devil Makes Three is hitting the road to tour in support of "Redemption & Ruin," bringing along a drummer and fiddle player-guitarist to fill out their sound. Fans can expect a wide-ranging set of music.
"We're playing, I'd say, about three new songs that are not on any album," Bernhard said, noting that those tunes represent the start of the next Devil Makes Three album. "We're playing like six songs off of the new record ("Redemption & Ruin"). …the rest is some really old stuff and some stuff off of our last album. So it's a pretty good mixture of all of our stuff, but leaning toward the new album and some new material we've got for our next studio record."