Stories of DIY bands abound, ramshackle groups that climbed to the top through hard work and determination. Most of the time its hyperbole and a last-ditch grasp at relevancy for a band that can’t find label support because they’re just not good enough. Well, that ain’t The Devil Makes Three, a wildly successful genre-jumping DYI trio that formed in 2001, first played SLO Brew in 2005, and over the last decade, grew their SLO County fan base to epic proportions, so big, in fact, that when they play next Friday, Jan. 30 (6 p.m.; all ages; $22.50 to $25; available online at ticketfly.com), they’ll be at the cavernous Alex Madonna Expo Center.
The band’s self-titled debut came out in 2002, and they followed up in 2003 with Longjohns, Boots and a Belt. In 2006, they released a live album—A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse—with songs from their first two records as well as five new tracks. Fans waited three years until the band’s next studio album, 2009’s Do Right Wrong.
- PHOTO BY PIPER FERGUSON
- FOOTSTOMPIN’ FUN: The Devil Makes Three—(left to right) Cooper McBean, Pete Bernhard, and Lucia Turino—play Jan. 30 at the Alex Madonna Expo Center.
The punk-Americana trio’s most recent album, I’m A Stranger Here, was produced by the legendary Buddy Miller (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Solomon Burke, Loretta Lynn) and hit the Billboard Top 200, which is pretty crazy for an indie band with no major label support, little radio play, and just their own tours to build fans.
Featuring Pete Bernhard (vocals/guitar), Cooper McBean (guitar/banjo), and Lucia Turino (upright bass), their sound is a crackling, propulsive, Southern gothic blues with an old-timey-meets-punk-energy feeling. The three all hail from Brattleboro, Vt., a rural town where their “hippie” parents exposed them to folk, blues, and jugbands—inspirations complemented by their own trips to nearby Boston, Mass., in search of punk rock shows.
Bernhard and McBean both liked to play acoustic music, with McBean introducing Bernhard to the likes of Hank Williams and Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. Turino learned bass to join the band, helped rhythmically by her years of dance training.
The band took off when they moved to Santa Cruz, going from early house concerts to small bars, punk shows, bigger rock clubs, theaters, and festivals such as Newport Folk and Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and on tours with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, and Trampled By Turtles.
New Times spoke to Bernhard via phone.
NEW TIMES Has your fan growth experience here mirrored your success elsewhere?
PETE BERNHARD Yeah, that is a pretty close mirror. We sold out two nights in a row multiple times at SLO Brew. In addition to SLO Brew, we played Pozo Saloon a bunch of times, with Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakum, and Willie Nelson. We opened once for Robert Earl Keen. One of the best was with Willie Nelson, after which he asked us to tour with him.
NEW TIMES I guess you guys are too big to play SLO Brew any more.
PETE BERNHARD We just can’t. I wish that we could, but we’d have to play four nights in a row.
NEW TIMES Well, the Madonna Inn Expo Center is pretty good considering it’s basically a big metal warehouse with a fancy façade.
PETE BERNHARD Big metal boxes are hard, but we’ll try our best.
NEW TIMES I saw Willie Nelson up there, and they do a pretty good job with the sound. You’ll be fine. So I understand after living in Santa Cruz for a while you and your bassist Lucia Turino returned to Vermont and that guitarist-banjoist Cooper McBean stayed in California.
PETE BERNHARD That’s right, we moved back, but Cooper moved to Austin.
NEW TIMES Has that been hard on the synergy of the band or have you been together so long it just doesn’t matter anymore.
PETE BERNHARD It really doesn’t matter at all. We’ve been a band for 12 years, and in any band’s career that lasts a long time, you have to face the fact that you don’t all want to live in the same town. I mean, we can’t share a house forever [laughs]. Cooper got married, and his wife owns a house in Austin.
NEW TIMES You do most of the songwriting anyway, right? So I guess you can do that anywhere.
PETE BERNHARD Yeah, I do about 95 percent of the writing. Usually what we do is I come up with an idea and bring it to band, and we come up with the arrangements, harmony vocals, and all that. It’s definitely collaboration, but we get a lot done in a short time.
NEW TIMES You guys have a very distinctive sound but also a very far ranging, genre-jumping sound with a lot of room for creativity. Do you ever feel you’ll pigeonhole yourselves and think about branching off in a wholly new direction, or are you more interesting into sticking to this very distinctive groove you’ve developed?
PETE BERNHARD Well, I don’t see a big pull out of it. I mean, nobody can say exactly what we are. We’re obviously not a heavy metal band, but we combine swing, blues, jazz, folk, country, bluegrass—we can play whatever we want and still have a lot of space to move. Where I see us going is adding more people to our sound. On this tour we have a fiddle and cello playing with us, and in the future I could see adding other people and subtracting as the music dictates. We’re not married to the trio.
NEW TIMES You guys famously don’t have percussionist, but your sound itself is very percussive without a drummer. Whenever I see you guys, I can’t help but pound out the beat on the nearest table—your rhythm is just infectious. Do you ever think about adding percussion?
PETE BERNHARD I don’t think it needs it. A drummer seems not so much to add to as subtract from our sound, and I think a lot of people like you like to bang along, which for me is a pretty good indication why we don’t need a drummer.
NEW TIMES Your material is pretty wide ranging thematically and lyrically. I read that for your last album, your producer Buddy Miller was drawn to more of your darker material. I guess what I’m wondering is where your songs come from, what inspires them?
PETE BERNHARD To be honest, a lot of songs just sort of pop into my head. The best songs seem pretty spontaneous. The song “Johnson Family” was inspired by a book I read, and I’m inspired by a lot of other artists. Early on I listened to a lot of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, a lot of blues music like Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, a lot of fingerpicking blues like Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis—a lot of different artists. But the best songs just kind of pop into my head.
NEW TIMES Do you ever get writer’s block, where you just can’t come up with anything?
PETE BERNHARD Only when I tour too much. There’s just no space to do it on tour, but as long as I have time, it’s not a problem. Of course, I don’t put out as many records as a lot of musicians. If you’re on a record label, the label and maybe the fans want an album a year, but I think the quality can start to diminish. We don’t have to worry about label or industry demands, which make for mediocre product. I’d rather put out a really good record every three to five years. I think we try to give something that’s worth listening to. We could put out an album a year, but I don’t think it would be good so we avoid it on purpose. I just can’t get 10, 12, or 15 songs that are good in a year.
NEW TIMES Well, your fans seem to stick with you regardless of how long it takes for you to deliver a new album.
PETE BERNHARD We try to cultivate the sort of fan that’s going to stick around, and those are the kinds of fans that you want. We still sell a lot of our debut self-released album. It’s pretty cool to have a cult-like following, and to be true to that, we try to ensure we’re shooting for really good music.
NEW TIMES Has it come to the point where fans are recognizing you on the street?
PETE BERNHARD No, not at all. We’re the type of band who has tons of fans, and people like our records, but no one recognizes us. I also live n rural Vermont and no one gives a shit about what I do. When I do get recognized, it’s so seldom that it’s charming.
NEW TIMES What else do you want people to know about your upcoming tour?
- PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE PUG
- HUG PUG: Terrific Maryland-based singer-songwriter Joe Pug will open for The Devil Makes Three on Jan. 30 at the Alex Madonna Expo Center.
PETE BERNHARD On this tour we’re putting out two new songs that didn’t fit on record because they wouldn’t fit on vinyl release, so we’re selling them as digital releases and at as 45 on vinyl. We’re also releasing Do Wrong Right on red vinyl, and putting in one of those record golden ticket that will get the recipient into all club shows for free for a year.
NEW TIMES No way! Really?
PETE BERNHARD Yeah, actually there are three golden tickets in the albums we’re selling during the tour and three in records you can buy online. In terms of other projects, we’re hoping to record tribute album to some of our heroes—classic country and blues stuff to pay homage to those we love to hopefully get people interested in the artists who inspired us. We were able to get over to Nashville this last summer and recorded a few songs, and we’re trying to sneak in some of those songs this tour, but between playing stuff off our new album and playing some of the older stuff that people want to hear, it’s been hard, but we may sneak in one or two new one.
In addition to their back catalog, the band will release Draggin’ Chains, an EP of two songs available on 7-inch vinyl, featuring “Draggin’ Chains” and “This Life,” both produced by Buddy Miller. Joe Pug will open the show.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF TROMBONE SHORTY
- PHAT SOUNDS: New Orleans jazz star Trombone Shorty plays Jan. 23 at SLO’s Performing Arts Center.
Cal Poly Arts and Otter Productions, Inc. have teamed up to bring you a great night of New Orleans-style jazz when Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with special opening act The Record Company play Friday, Jan. 23 at SLO’s Performing Arts Center on the Cal Poly campus (8 p.m.; all ages; $36 to $62; available by calling 756-4849 or online at pacslo.org).
Trombone Shorty has played our area before and draws a great crowd attracted to his mash-up of traditional New Orleans style and contemporary funk and hip-hop. NPR hailed the dynamic performer as “New Orleans’ brightest new star in a generation,” by NPR, and he’s been the closing headliner for the New Orleans Jazz Festival, appeared in a Lenny Kravitz documentary, released the acclaimed Say That to Say This, and made regular appearances on the acclaimed HBO series Treme. Last May he blew away the crowd at the Avila Beach Blues Festival. Oh, and he’s been nominated for a Grammy Award to boot!
L.A.-based rock/roots/blues trop The Record Company will warm up the crowd with an opening set.
The SLO Blues Society has a hot show cooked up for you this Saturday, Jan. 24 when the Sugaray Rayford Band plays the SLO Vets Hall (8 p.m.; 21-and-older; $25 at the door or in advance at Boo Boo Records and Cheap Thrills).
- PHOTO COURTESY OF SUGARAY RAYFORD
- DEEP BLUES: The Sugaray Rayford Band play Jan. 24 at the SLO Vets Hall for the next SLO Blues Society dance concert.
Like a lot of the blues greats, Texas-born Caron “Sugaray” Rayford began his musical career in church, playing drums at age 7. You can still hear the gospel inspiration in his sound, and his gravely voices hints at his impoverished and challenging childhood.
With an “old school blues and soul vocal style, with echoes of Muddy Waters or Otis Redding,” Sugaray’s sound feels immediately comfortable. According to his press materials, “In the late 1990s, Sugaray left Texas, moved to San Diego, and realized that the blues was where his heart and soul belonged. He became lead vocalist for R&B band Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz, which earned second place in the 2006 International Blues Challenge (IBC). He moved to Los Angeles where he hosted a regular blues jam at Cozy’s in Sherman Oaks, which exposed him to the LA blues music scene. He formed his own band in 2010 and released Blind Alley. By the next year, he was the lead vocalist for the Mannish Boys. His performance on their Double Dynamite CD won Best Traditional Blues Album at the 2013 Blues Music Awards. His band’s second CD, Dangerous (Delta Groove, 2013), debuted at No. 2 on the Blues Debut Chart and reached No. 2 on the Living Blues Chart. Rayford made his stage debut in 2012 staring in the Tony Award-winning play Ain’t Nuthin’ But The Blues with the New York Broadway cast for a six week run in Portland.”
This is clearly an artist on the rise! Local blues heroes Code Blues will open. Come at 7:30 p.m. for some free dance lessons for ticket holders.
Santa Cruz-based party band The Expendables mix rock, reggae, ska, ’80s synth sounds, and more into a surf/skate laid-back sound that’s well represented in their new album Sand in the Sky.
The record opens with “Starry Nights,” a synth/rock guitar-driven song with a subtle ska/reggae beat and lyrics that gently ruminate on the beauty of the night sky. “Music Move Me” features infectious harmony vocals and is a real slice-of-life head bopper.
“Anti Social” sounds like NOFX-style punk that moves into a ripping guitar solo and then ska beat. There’s a lot of texture in this track. “Up All Night” is an outside-the-box love song. “That Spark” sounds like a spunky pop rock song replete with hooky anthem chorus.
- PHOTO BY SLY VEGAS
- NEW MUSIC!: Fans of The Expendables get ready for new music when they play Jan. 25 at SLO Brew to promote Sand in the Sky.
The band slows its roll with “Weather Man,” a slow groove that promises “I will shelter you.” “Take Me” is about a seductive witch with dangerous curves. Think succubus—beautiful and dangerous!
“Zombies in America” will “eat your heart alive” and shows the band’s sense of humor. “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do” features a classic ska rhythm and bright guitar work. It’s a sweet love song, a real back porch toe-tapper replete with “woo woos”—sort of a Jack Johnson vibe.
“Black Heart” has moody vocals, and I can imagine The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, or The Smiths singing these same lyrics with a different melody.
In short, The Expendables have a great new album and a show to promote it this Sunday, Jan. 25 at SLO Brew (7 p.m.; all ages; $23 presale or $25 at the door). Fortunate Youth will open. Check out slobrewingco.com for a complete listing of this week’s shows.
“We are beyond excited to finally release Sand In the Sky,” said the band in promo materials. “We know our fans have been waiting for new music and we can’t wait for everyone to hear it! Go grab ‘Starry Night’ for free to hold you over until January and then get ready for us. This year’s Winter Blackout Tour is going to be insane, and we’re stoked to come to your city and rock your faces off!”
- PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTTY O'GRACI'S SOUL EXPLOZION
- DISCO DELIGHT: Scotty O'Graci's Soul Explozion promises to elevate Frog and Peach to new dimension on Jan. 22.
Scotty O'Graci's Soul Explozion promises to elevate Frog and Peach to new dimension this Thursday, Jan. 22 (10:15 p.m.; 21-and-older; free). “I'm back with the new band and having a blast!” said front man and saxophonist Scott Andrews. “Head out to San Luis Obispo Thursday night, take in some Farmers Market, grab a late dinner, then join Scotty O'Graci's Soul Explozion for a Disco-Funk Dance Party that will take you to another dimension. Featuring Scotty O'Graci (AKA Scott Andrews, formerly of Burning James & The Funky Flames, Lenny Blue & The Otter Guys, and BODY, who is also the Founder of SLO Jazz Festival), you get a chance to hear a local master of funk practice his craft as well as sing some songs you're bound to love. You will discover that The Soul Explozion brings a powerfully heavy funk sound, yet Scotty mixes it up when joking with the crowd and keeping the mood light and festive.”
Catalina Eddy and the Blue Keys, a blues/rock ensemble led by Ted Waterhouse (aka Catalina Eddy) on bottleneck guitar and vocals, make a rare appearance on Friday, Jan. 23, at the Cambria Pines Lodge (9:30 p.m.). The band features keyboard wiz Chris Anderson on piano and organ, Johnny Johnson on harmonica, Karen Wilkins on vocals, and the crack rhythm section of Bruce Willard on bass and Brett Borba on drums. They’ll cover territory form Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Little Feat as well as a bunch of Mr. Waterhouse's award-winning originals.
Americana singer-songwriter Chris Jamison plays Friday, Jan. 23, at Luna Red (10 p.m.) to support his fourth album, Sleeping with the T.V. On. Expect thoughtful and powerful songs from this performer whose album was on Austin Chronicle’s Top Ten List of 2013.
Zuhg returns to the area with two free shows this week: Saturday, Jan 24 at Frog and Peach (10 p.m.; 21-and-older); and Monday, Jan 26, at Otter Rock Café (6 p.m.; all ages).
Keep up with Glen Starkey via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey or myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at [email protected].