With a hectic Devil Makes Three touring schedule and a new studio record to promote, one might wonder how Pete Bernhard, the primary songwriter and lead singer of The Devil Makes Three has found the time to write solo material, assemble a band, and self-produce a record. Well, he has done it, and from it has come an exciting record that is full of a variety of genres, influences, instruments, melodies and emotion topped off with his unmistakable voice – a defining element of The Devil Makes Three.
On his second solo album, Straight Line (his first solo commercial release), Pete lays down a set of his more driving numbers. He focuses on songs that he felt needed drums and weren’t suited for the all-acoustic old-country/blues/punk outfit The Devil Makes Three. His solo set has a no-holds- barred feel about it and lyrical fearlessness that one only finds in the truly liberated – feeling no pressure of fitting into a mold. There’s folk, funky New Orleans soul, blues, rock and other genres craft fully melded into a seamless and natural combination that is, like The Devil Makes Three, extremely difficult to place into a single genre. This may be the biggest similarity to Pete’s primary band – the music crosses many boundaries. You feel it, you relate to it, it’s like an old friend you’ve never met before. You have no idea what it is or what to call it.
Pete’s lyrics are thoughtful and inquisitive, often with painted with his well-known sarcasm and irony. He questions the status quo frequently, most notably on his song “Orphan”. Would you rather be an orphan or a slave? Some might go through their entire lives obliviously, never asking or answering a question like this but Pete has no interest in shirking life’s tougher dilemmas. “I got to thinking how everyone has some idea about how you should be and what you should and shouldn’t say. Trying to pay attention to all that can be demanding. It’s about how people are never satisfied,” he explained. “Pray For Rain” shines a spotlight on the mindless, sheep-like mentality of those who worship at the altar of consumerism. Straight Line is almost exclusively original compositions, with one cover, “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold” from the great Townes Van Zandt. He reinvents the folk classic with wailing B3 organ and arrangements that bring to mind the best of The Band.
Pete hails from a small, liberal community in Vermont with a family rife with musicians. His father played guitar and wrote songs, his brother attended Berklee School of Music and plays guitar and an aunt who was a folk musician. Immersed in music, he was drawn to older, traditional blues from a young age, and also studied the style and aesthetics of music traditions like New Orleans R&B and country while simultaneously getting caught up in punk rock. He headed west as a young man, first to Nashville, then on to Washington State, where he formed a band with a childhood friend and hit the road. When they broke down one day in Santa Cruz, California, they stayed with a fellow Vermonter who was in school – The Devil Makes Three was born.
The Devil Makes Three has developed an audience that encompasses just about every kind of music fan from punk rockers to Deadheads, bluegrass barflies and rockabilly fanatics to indie rock kids. “We’re not really a genre-specified band,” he concludes, “I’ve actually had people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t listen to anything but hip-hop, but I love The Devil Makes Three.’ I think we’ve always tried to keep our songwriting honest and natural, I guess that ends up making it difficult to really define our band. That always keeps things really exciting.”
With a successful band and limited free time, one might wonder when Pete Bernhard has time to work on his solo music, but that question is easily answered, he told Santa Cruz’s Good Times. “Before, we were all working jobs and playing in the band and that took all my time. Now we don’t work, so going solo keeps me busy. When The Devil Makes Three goes off the road for a month or two, it gives me time to try something new with my solo songs. I have no interest in stopping.” He will continue to both question and reveal the truth through his songwriting, on his record and on the road.