Photograph by Gabe Meline
ALL HAIL: Pete Bernhard says the key to his band's success is constant touring.
The Devil Leaves Town
A three-person band stays on its game by staying on the road
By Anna Schuessler
Ask Pete Bernhard why the Devil Makes Three have been on an eight-year streak, and he'll tell you it's because the trio's been able to leave town every now and then. Known for razor-sharp, witty lyrics and a punkgrass country sound, the band has found that sometimes a simple change in location is the best way to keep it fresh. "It helps to tour in new places; I think that keeps it kind of fun," says Bernhard.
Together with guitarist Cooper McBean and upright bassist Lucia Turino, the Devil Makes Three have made sure to keep it fun for their listeners as well. The group's sound, which often includes a banjo or fiddle, is less defined by a genre and more defined by the reaction it elicits from those who come to see the group perform. And it seems like the band hardly has to encourage any sort of reaction from its fans—when the three are playing, bodies are moving.
Between the true-to-life character sketches that Bernhard incorporates into his lyrics and the pulsing rhythms that rock their concert venues, the Devil Makes Three attract a crowd that spans all age brackets. Bernhard attributes the group's ability to hold a younger audience to its upbeat tempo and rock-show atmosphere. "We put on a fun live show," he says. "We play a lot of fast songs, [and] the environment of our show is kind of like a punk show."
Bernhard may classify the style in which the band performs, but characterizing the Devil Makes Three's genre is another story. Blogs and fans laud the group's sound as the perfect combination of "Gypsy-folk, pirate-camp and whiskey whore" or a "blend of bluegrass, primitive country music, folk, rockabilly, Piedmont blues, ragtime and a hint of punk." Which may be why the frontman is reluctant to say exactly to which musical genre his band pledges its allegiance. "It's nice to not be grouped. I think it makes people more interested in seeing us," he says.
So far, defying the confines of any category has worked well for the group, which also enjoys the small-scale pleasures of a realistic tour schedule. "We're sort of a do-it-yourself kind of band, [and] we have a small record label, so we get to decide when we want to play and when we don't want to play," Bernhard says. Wary of the 200-plus gig tours that result in many a band's burnout, the singer says the group is able to continue churning out feet-stomping tunes by keeping its yearly schedule to no more than a hundred performances. "It's still a lot when you think of it in months, but it's not too much," he says. But it's enough that the Devil Makes Three are leaving towns all the time, though. Let's just hope it's not for good.
The Devil Make Three burn down the house on Friday, Oct. 1, at the Phoenix Theater. 201 Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $15. 707.762.3565.
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