A dance with the Devil Makes Three in Aspen
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
What: The Devil Makes Three
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Tuesday, June 2, 8:30 p.m.
Cost: $35 GA / $50 reserved
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
A boyhood friendship, a quirky taste for throwback acoustic music, a little lucky timing and a lot of talent have helped make The Devil Makes Three a leading live act in the ongoing boom of bluegrass and string bands.
The trio, which plays Belly Up Aspen Tuesday night, released its first album 13 years ago. But its roots go back to an elementary school in southern Vermont, where singer/guitarist Pete Bernhard befriended banjo player Cooper McBean. They started making music together in high school in the 1990s and formed Devil Makes Three with upright bassist Lucia Turino around the turn of the millennium, after hooking up in California.
Bernhard, who has also undertaken a handful of side projects and solo albums, said he’s on another level when making music with McBean.
“It’s always a lot harder [playing with other musicians], because we’ve been playing together so long and we know each other so well,” Bernhard said from a recent tour stop outside Minneapolis. “We don’t have to talk. There’s a mental telepathy that takes place after you’ve been playing together so long.”
In high school in Vermont they were playing punk rock, but were listening to a lot of Johnny Cash, doo-wop, old country and blues.
“We’d sit around and listen to that stuff when no one wanted to hear it,” he said.
Gradually, they found themselves playing old-time string music, which may be wildly different than punk in style but, Bernhard notes, not in substance.
“In punk music, there are a lot of tales of things not working out, heartbreak, true life stories,” he said. “And, of course, that’s what blues music and country music is all about, too.”
By the time they found their third member and formed Devil Makes Three, the world was ready to hear their new spin on the old stuff. As the band released its eponymous debut album in 2002, a drummerless trio playing a contemporary fusion of old time country, blues, and rockabilly was not a niche act but moving somewhere near the mainstream. It came on the heels of the unexpected blockbuster success of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, when suddenly music fans across America were flocking to see bands with standup basses and banjos. The genre’s popularity has continued and helped fuel the success of The Devil Makes Three.
“It’s definitely a trend and it’s been really good for us,” said Bernhard. “My hope is that it doesn’t water down what’s great about the music. It’s great that people are interested in the genre, but by that same token, I like the music that we learned from – Doc Watson and Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters and all of our heroes. My hope is that if someone likes our band, they’ll go back and listen to the bands we like.”
The local show is among the Devil Makes Three’s first headlining sets since coming off of a tour opening up for the popular Nashville outfit Old Crow Medicine Show. Bernhard and his mates are eager to return to playing full sets instead of truncated openers. The trio has recruited an extra fiddle player – and maybe a fifth touring member on mandolin – for the solo gigs.
“It’s going to be nice to play a little longer of a show, getting back to what we usually do, and stretching out a little,” said Bernhard.
It’s been two years since the band’s last album, “I’m a Stranger Here,” which was their fourth studio record (Devil Makes Three has also released two rousing live records that offer a taste of what’s to come at Tuesday’s show). But Bernhard said they’re not in a rush to release new music at this point, as the band attempts to resist the feed-the-beast mentality of the entertainment industry.
“I like to wait until we have something to say to put out a record,” he said. “Which is not the popular, record-label model. But I think when bands put out an album every year, they’re not very good. Yes, people want an album every year, but that’s not why an artist should make an album.”