They say you have to know the rules before you can break them.
But who makes the rules anyway?
That’s what the members of Santa Cruz, California-based bluegrass/folk trio the Devil Makes Three asked themselves before stepping into the studio to record “Chains Are Broken,” which brings the band to the Knitting Factory on Sunday.
On “Chains Are Broken,” which was released in August, guitarists Pete Bernhard and Cooper McBean and bassist Lucia Turino decided to do a 180 from 2016’s “Redemption and Ruin.”
That album, a collection of covers of songs by the likes of Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters, Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt, featured a variety of guest artists including Emmylou Harris, Mickey Raphael, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott and Duane Eddy.
The band enjoyed the experience but decided that when it came time to record “Chains Are Broken,” they, plus touring drummer Stefan Amidon, would be the only ones to play on the album.
“We decided for this album we should … do a back to basics approach,” Bernhard said. “It was good in that it felt like we were really stretching to do stuff we haven’t done before, and trying to figure out ways to bring those sounds out that we wanted.”
Sticking with what they know – playing acoustic, recording live – would have been easy, Bernhard admits, but with 16 years of experience under their belts, easy wasn’t interesting.
So Bernhard, McBean and Turino brought Amidon into the fold and let the rhythm dictate where the songs went.
They also included electric guitar and piano on the record, knowing full well it might not sit well with listeners.
“It’s not interesting to keep doing the same thing over and over again,” Bernhard said. “It’s like everybody wants to go to McDonald’s and get a burger that tastes exactly like the one they had when they were four cities away. It should be creative so that doesn’t make sense at all.”
Lyrically, too, “Chains Are Broken” could have only been made once Bernhard had, as he sings in “Need to Lose,” a little dirt on his shoes.
The 11-track record is “an open ended letter to artists of all kind,” one that both sings the praises of and acts as a cautionary tale about the creative lifestyle.
In “Need to Lose,” Bernhard sings “Got some miles on the engine/No way to roll back the clock/I wouldn’t do it even if I could/I gotta play ‘til the music stops.”
And in “Can’t Stop,” he sings “I have felt the love of thousands/All I wanted now was the love of one/I grew up out on the highway/Listenin’ to that desert wind/Made some deals with the deceiver/I won’t lie to you, I knew that it was him.”
“I definitely wouldn’t have written this album 15 years ago,” Bernhard said. “It’s taken a long time to come to where I am now with playing music, and it’s always cool to reflect.”
Though still fully engrossed in the “Chains Are Broken” album cycle (the band has an East Coast tour planned for early 2019 and a stop at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in May), Bernhard can entertain the thought of the band’s next album.
Having already broken the rules once, Bernhard can see the band doing so again on future releases.
“Every record we’ve made we try to do something different and I think it makes some people uncomfortable but I think that’s what we have to do in order to keep making music,” he said.
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