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"There's a road that goes out of every town. All you've got to do is get on it," Pete Bernhard says.
The guitarist/singer and his cohorts in the raw and raucous trio The Devil Makes Three have found their way onto that road numerous times since they first left their picaresque rural hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. Back then, they had no idea it would lead them to such auspicious destinations as the Newport Folk and Austin City Limits Festivals, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and on tours with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell and Trampled By Turtles. Along the way, they drew numerous accolades from a growing fan base and press alike.
With upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist Cooper McBean, Bernhard crafted a dozen tunes, part road songs, part heartbreak songs and part barnburners. While most bands are propelled from behind by a drummer, TDM3 builds exuberant rhythms from the inside out, wrapping finger-picked strings and upsurging harmonies around chugging acoustic guitar and bass, plying an ever-growing audience onto its feet to jump, shake and waltz.
TDM3's sound is garage-y ragtime, punkified blues, old n' new timey without settling upon a particular era, inspired as much by mountain music as by Preservation Hall jazz. "We bend genres pretty hard," Bernhard says.
The combination could only have happened via the circuitous route each of them took to forming the band. As kids in Vermont, "all raised by sort of hippie parents" who exposed them to folk, blues and jugbands, Bernhard says, they blazed a path to nearby Boston, Massachusetts in search of punk rock shows. They found venerable venues like The Rat and The Middle East, drawn to east coast bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Aus-Rotten. "It would be like 6 bucks for 13 bands, everyone playing for 20 minutes," Bernhard says. "I had so much fun going to shows like that. The energy coming off the stage makes a circle with the crowd and comes back. We were really attracted to that energy." Bernhard and McBean, a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, musical saw and bass, forged a particular bond. Unlike most of their mutual friends, they both liked to play acoustic music, with McBean showing Bernhard the wonders of Hank Williams and Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. They kept in touch after high school, when nearly everyone in their clique relocated to the west coast like the characters in Delbert McClinton's song "Two More Bottles of Wine."
For a band that made its bones with dynamic performances, recording an album is almost like coaxing lightning into a bottle, but Miller and TDM3 succeed on I'm a Stranger Here. Now they're continuing the journey that began when they found their way to the road that led them out of Vermont. "I can't wait to get onstage, I love it," Bernhard says. "Playing music for a living is a blessing and a curse, but for us there's no other option."