The Devil Makes Three may be touring in 2015, but the band sounds a bit like it could have been lifted straight out of the Depression. Lead singer Pete Bernhard grew up listening to blues music, then fell into the punk scene in Boston, all of which lead to a band (bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist Cooper McBean are the other members) that mixes Americana with the punk DIY mentality.
“I don’t even think I did it completely intentionally. My family introduced me to acoustic music, and then when I found punk music and the punk DIY scene, I was just so totally taken with it. When I started a band, those were the tools I had available to me,” says Bernhard.
He has a lot of praise for the punk scene generally. That core DIY mentality proved very helpful for the members of the band as they slowly built their way up into a healthy following. “I think that without it, we wouldn’t be a band,” says Bernhard. “I think that the fact that our band was generally confusing to most listeners when we started made it so that we didn’t have any support — no outside support, no label support, no tour support. Nothing like that. We really had to learn to do it all ourselves.”
The slow, grassroots model has also proved fruitful creatively, as their latest album, “I’m a Stranger Here,” takes some inspiration from all that time on the road.
“I don’t think we had a busier year than the year before we recorded that album. We had just spent so much time on the road and a lot of material that snuck in is from that experience, for sure. You can’t help it, the life we live,” says Bernhard.
The album generally is darker thematically than prior efforts, which Bernhard says had a lot to do with some rough times the band went through. “It was not a great time for the band, not as a musical unit, but we just had a hard couple of years with a lot of friends passing away, and things just sort of falling apart. And whatever’s happening in your life usually ends up on the album,” Bernhard says with a laugh.
But touring that heavily does take its toll. “It’s not always easy. I think you have to love the music a real lot. Because a lot of it is not very fun to do. As long as you love the music and you believe in it, it all seems worth it,” says Bernhard.
The case of the missing percussion section
The Devil Makes Three is fairly unusual in that they don’t have a regular drummer, though they do sometimes play with one onstage. “We started out with a drummer,” explains Bernhard. “He had to leave the group, but he was such a good musician, we had a hard time replacing him.” So they didn’t. They went on as a three piece, and Bernhard says it’s turned out to be beneficial to their sound. “I’m not a big fan of drums. I think that once you have a drummer, it’s just so easy to say what you sound like. Not having one kind of keeps people guessing. You don’t need drums to have rhythm.”
And of course, there’s one particularly big benefit for a band that was very DIY for years: “You don’t have to carry all that drum hardware, which is really heavy.”
The band got their start playing in clubs around Boston. Though Bernhard grew up in Vermont, he spent a lot of time as a teen driving into the city to see punk shows (for “shows where there were 19 bands and it cost like six bucks and lasted all day”), and one of the first places they played was at Cambridge institution the Middle East, where they began first in the Upstairs venue before moving Downstairs. “That was a great place. We actually played with Trampled by Turtles there way back when,” says Bernhard. “We met a lot of good bands there and had a lot of great shows there. That was the beginning for us. We went from there to the Paradise.”