The Americana trio plays the House of Blues tonight with songs of Saturday night and Sunday morning from its album, "Redemption & Ruin."
[Updated] “Cooper’s dad introduced him to his first jug band,” says Pete Bernhard of his bandmate Cooper McBean, as if learning about jug bands is a modern American rite of passage like getting your first car or signing up for Tinder. Both Bernhard and McBean—who along with Lucia Turino make up The Devil Makes Three, a dark, no-frills country/folk/blues band performs tonight at House of Blues—grew up steeped in 1920s and 30s Americana before falling hard for punk rock. But their love for the former never died, and after a winding post-high school journey through separate states, Bernhard, McBean, and Turino reconnected in Santa Cruz and formed a trio that fuses the spartan beauty of folk with the DIY ethos and wet-socket voltage of punk.
“It was sort of a natural thing to combine the two,” Bernhard says. “A good punk show has lot to do with the energy of the audience. We really wanted to create that, but then also try to open people’s eyes to this traditional music that we loved so much.”
What followed was several years of slogging it out across the U.S. (and Turino teaching herself the double bass) without a manger, booking agent, or label. “I think we were DIY longer than we haven’t been,” says Bernhard. “And really it was hard. We slept in a van and made no money. We played pretty much every gig we could get. We had a lot of fun. I mean, it sounds bad, but we were actually having a great time!” And it paid off, leading to a growing number of die-hard listeners (“Such a good time seeing them. See more devil makes three shows” wrote one fan on their Facebook page, in what’s either a very gentle form of marketing or an interesting attempt at self-hypnosis) and success on the Bluegrass, Americana/Folk, and Vinyl Billboard charts.
Their latest album, 2016’s Redemption & Ruin, is a collection of covers—half songs of gleeful, destructive, desperate, drug use, and half subdued, tentatively hopeful gospel. Most of the covers, like those of old-time classics “Champagne and Reefer,” “Waiting Around to Die,” and I Am the Man Thomas,” are criminally catchy, reducing your train of thought to a single guitar or bass riff that will bounce in your head for three days straight. The track list is cleanly divided into six songs each of vice and hope, but undercurrents of jittery optimism and somber reckoning run through both, leaving both halves with almost equal portions of unsettling energy and comforting reprieve.
“As opposed to the ‘everything’s great’ gospel songs,” says Bernhard, “the ‘backsliding’ gospel songs, those are the ones that appeal to me the most. They make the most sense. It’s a little bit more real.”
Though thankfully, not reflective of The Devil Makes Three’s current reality. The band has a lot to look forward to, from headlining Red Rocks this May to expanding their own label, Kahn Records, to possibly producing a radio show. All of which has made possible for the band to fight its bootstrapping tendencies and loosen the reins a little bit. “Eventually it was like Yeah, this is not really doable anymore and we hired somebody to help us,” Bernhard says.
“I still have a hard time with it,” he explains later. “I think it’s hard to have somebody else take that over if you’re used to doing it yourself. It’s difficult. But I’d say it’s 80 percent just a huge relief.”
Updated at 12:12 p.m.
The House of Blues show is not the first on the tour as the story initially said. The text has been changed to correct that assertion.