Pete Bernhard and Cooper McBean trust their instincts. When they met Lucia Turino, their third member, they took her on as bass player right away — even though she couldn’t play. “She wanted to play bass,” Bernhard says. “Cooper kind of taught her, and she picked it up really quickly. She was just meant to do it.”
Now, 10 years later, that trust has paid off big time. Turino slaps that bass with the best of ’em, the country-blues band spends more time on the road than they care to calculate, and they’ve got strong followings on both the West and East Coasts. Their secret? Make their acoustic performances feel like a rock show, with all the energy, dancing, and even moshing that comes with it.
The Devil Makes Three was born in Santa Cruz, Calif., although all three band members originally hail from Vermont. Bernhard and McBean first met in the eighth grade in rural Vermont, and bonded over their similar musical tastes. “We were interested in acoustic stuff when we were kids,” Bernhard says. Both boys were into blues and country, but since it was hard to find peers who felt the same way, the two cut their teeth playing in rock bands. “In high school we both played rock. The first shows we played were with punk bands, and that definitely influenced the way we play,” says Bernhard.
After high school, Bernhard and McBean moved west, eventually ending up in Santa Cruz, which is where they met Turino. The northern California music scene was hot at the time, and the three soaked up as much as they could. “Santa Cruz had an influence on us for sure,” Bernhard says. “It had everything going on, indie rock, punk, rockabilly. Santa Cruz is really the birthplace of the band.” It was fertile ground for the band’s developing sound, which is cleaner and nimbler than country and cheerier than blues, but still draws significantly from both genres. A lot of the bluesy side comes from guitarist and frontman Bernhard, who’s heavily influenced by singers like Bob Dylan, the Delta bluesman Mississippi John Hurt, Little Walter, and Willie Dixon. McBean, on the other hand, brings the country sensibility. “Cooper’s a big fan of the greats, like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash,” Bernhard says. “We have some bluegrass influence too — I love Bill Monroe and Doc Watson. But most of it is country and blues.”
You can hear those traditions not only in their music’s finger-picking and smooth rhythms, but in their lyrics too. Devil Makes Three songs range from odes to alcohol and getting drunk — always a popular topic for both blues and country writers — to full story-songs about criminals and outlaws. “I like doing both,” Bernhard says. “Most of the songs we write are from our experiences, but sometimes I like to take something from a book or a story I like and turn it into a song. The hardest thing is not to sound cliché. Especially in the style of music we do, everything’s been done.”
Though Devil Makes Three is an all-acoustic group, their shows are far from the sit-down affairs that many acoustic musicians prefer. The band’s on-stage energy is legendary, and their audiences have been known to scream, drink, and dance just like fans at a punk or rock show. And that’s just how they like it. “There’s nothing better than looking out and seeing that,” Bernhard says.
They saw plenty of that this past year, which had them touring almost constantly with a break of just two months. That’s not even accounting for a couple of solid weeks of rehearsal time here and there, since the bandmates live in separate states. “I live in Vermont, Lucia’s in Vermont, and Cooper’s in Texas, and it’s been that way for three, four years. These days we travel so much that it doesn’t really matter where we live,” says Bernhard.
Devil Makes Three plans to take some time off to record a new album in February or March, but those plans aren’t solid. If there’s any group that can’t resist the call of the open road — even if it’s to set down some tracks — it’s this one. Live performance just seems to be their calling. “We’re lucky that this is our full-time job,” Bernhard says. “We’re kind of living the dream.”