In their 20 years as a band, the Dirty Three have earned a reputation as one of the greatest instrumental acts in the world. From the intensity of their live shows to their eight meticulous studio records, the Three are known for their tumultuous ebbs and sprawling flows that juxtapose cinematic rock music with the sensibilities and spontaneity of jazz.
Formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1992, the band is now spread across three different continents. Each with his own side projects, distance and scheduling have made touring and recording all the more difficult.
“The Dirty Three has always been ongoing,” says Warren Ellis from his home in Paris. “But at any given time, one of us is doing something else. Any longevity is directly attributed to the fact that we have so many other things going on. The good thing about the Dirty Three is that we all go away and do other things and we all come back and bring new things from those experiences.”
Guitarist Mick Turner still lives in Melbourne, painting, performing solo and running the record label, Anchor and Hope. Jim White lives in New York and is one of indie rock’s go-to drummers for hire, touring with Cat Power and Bill Callahan. But it’s Ellis who seems to be the busiest. As Nick Cave’s right-hand man, Ellis is the violinist for the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, and also collaborates with Cave on soundtracks. On the recent and critically acclaimed “Lawless,” the two not only provide the score to the movie, but also perform as the Bootleggers, backing up guest vocalists Mark Lanegan, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson.
“I never really had a plan at the start. When we formed Dirty Three, I realized I met two other people that would be good to create a language with,” says Ellis. “Then other things came along. I don’t have priorities and nothing ranks above anything else. I see everything I do in music as something of an ongoing involvement in the story. But it’s hard to juggle everything at the same time.”
The power of Three
While making “Towards the Low Sun,” released earlier this year, the band noted the ongoing challenges of trying to remain an instrumental trio without sounding too familiar. They conquered these challenges by adding some abrasive avant-noise to Ellis’ smooth yet possessed bowing, some soaring guitar solos to Turner’s usual pluck and drone style, and giving more freedom to White’s gentle brush strokes.
“I think early on we realized the reality of our limitations, being a three-piece group and instrumental,” says Ellis. “Rather than augment the group over the years, we’ve added overdubs and keep the basic spirit of it as a three-piece and see how far we can go with it. It’s been a struggle to make this record. Not like a struggle to cure cancer, but you know what I mean. I wondered if we had said as much as we had to say. But in the end we made something that we feel real good about.”
If you go
Friday, 9 p.m.
Brighton Music Hall
158 Brighton Ave., Allston
$15, 18+, 800-745-3000