The Devil Makes Three’s Pete Bernhard Talks New Solo Folk Album ‘Harmony Ascension Division’, Opening For Willie Nelson, & More

While many fans of The Devil Makes Three might be most familiar with frontman and guitarist Pete Bernhard’s more high energy bluegrass driven music, they may be pleasantly surprised when indulging in his new solo album.

This past spring, Bernhard released his third solo album Harmony Ascension Division, which displays his intricate acoustic guitar picking and moving lyrics under a microscope. In this stripped down no-frills folk album, you get Bernhard at his most personal.

If Bernhard’s album was a ship, you would have immediate trust in your captain from the moment you stepped onboard and started cruising. The album sets sail and reels you in with “I Knew You,” which seems to reflect on the delicate passage of time in a most endearing way. Nostalgia and sentimentality sweep early and often both through this song and throughout the album. With this track dare I say I even get a Marc Bolan B-Side demo kind of feel from the vocal delivery, and I love it.

Some tracks even have a Delta folk-blues essence to it in songs like the sophomore track, “Land of Milk and Honey” and on “Down The Line.” My favorite, though, might just be “Long Night,” which almost has a Nick Drake-like pickin’ to it with Paul Simon-esque vocals. Point being, Bernhard elicits a gamut of sound and feeling in just a guitar and a voice.

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If you’re someone who seeks out songwriting and meaningful lyrics in your music, Bernhard delivers in spades. He is a captivating songwriter with guitar skills to match, and taps into the human psyche so well. It is clear when listening to Harmony Ascension Division that he is a modern day folk troubadour worth recognizing as such. Bernhard provides hope that music in 2020 can still be as simple as a man and a guitar with profound effects.

We had the chance to talk to him about the new album, his roots in music, TDM3, and much more.

So I see you grew up in a musical family in Vermont. Do you recall your earliest memories of being enamored with music and realizing that too was your calling?

My earliest memories of music came from my family. I watched my father play guitar and sing when I was very young, but he was just one of many. My aunt, my uncle, my older brother and my father were all musicians. It was a family tradition. 

Was there a kind of family band dynamic where y’all would play together regularly, or was it more going on your individual paths?

My brother and my uncle would play together regularly, and whenever the family got together there was usually music of some kind happening. There was never a formal family band but, yeah, everyone did play together sometimes. It was casual for the most part. 

According to The Devil Makes Three’s Facebook page, the band’s hometown and current location is Santa Cruz. Can you talk about your changing of coasts and the inception of TDM3?

We keep Santa Cruz as the spiritual home of the band, but we are all originally from New England and our bandmate Cooper McBean now lives in Austin, Texas. Lucia Turino and I decided to migrate back East after 10 years in California to be closer to our families. 

Do you have any particular pastimes or atmospheres you seek out that aides in your songwriting process, or does it happen more sporadically?

It definitely is a sporadic occurrence for me. I do have a studio in my house and I try to make time to write music and play, but I’ve found that you just can’t force it. Being creative for me is something that happens to me not something that I can command. I think the best thing that I can do is to have experiences that lead to good stories. Good stories lead to good songs. 

Where was the record produced and who helped it come to life?

The record was produced in the mountains of southern Vermont at North Pond Sound and engineered by Bill Esses. Due to the COVID19 crisis I found myself with a ton of down time for once. With the newfound time alone, I was able to finish the album which I’d been working on for over a year. I’d like to thank my sister Margaret Bernhard, Bill Esses, Tyler Gibbons (bass) and Robin Macarthur (backing vocals) for helping the album to take shape. 

Did you have any particular inspirations and influences behind this record specifically? 

With this album, I really wanted to make a small stripped-down folk record. It’s also a chance for me to write much more personal songs than I have in the past. Some of my favorite albums are very sparse and I wanted to keep this album very simple; guitar, vocals, a little bass. After making bigger band albums with TDM3 it was nice to do a back to my roots kind of record. 

What might you say are the “pros” of stripped down acoustic folk songs like your album versus playing in a band?

For me, the pros of doing an acoustic folk record is really the ease of bringing the tunes to life. There is way less work in the studio once the song has been written. I also think that there’s no way to prop up a song in the folk setting; either it sounds good or it doesn’t, there is nowhere to hide in the arrangement. I think that approach can lead to better songwriting for me. 

What might be one of your proudest/most accomplished moments as an artist so far?

That’s a good question. I would say the first is opening for Willie Nelson followed by our first show at Red Rocks in Colorado. 

What might fans expect from Pete Bernhard/TDM3 in the latter half of the year?

Currently, I have no idea how to answer that question…. I think the only thing that I can safely say is that we will have to see what happens with touring in the next year. All of my solo shows and the TDM3 shows have been cancelled into next year at this point. I would love to do some small solo shows to promote this new record but we will have to see what is possible. 

What advice might you have for young artists looking to make a name for themselves in the folk and bluegrass world?

My advice is simple. 

Never sell the rights to your music or art. 

Maintain control of your creativity and your business.

Never give up. (unless you are starting to hate art and music) 

Most of it is about hard work, talent is just the beginning.

Lastly, I would warn young artists to avoid managers before they are truly needed. 

The music business has changed a lot in the last 10 years and I think that now artists need to be able to handle their own business and understand their own financial situation in order to succeed. Artists can, and should, have control over their careers 100%.

Lastly, what local establishments might you most look forward to frequenting and supporting again in full once it’s deemed safe and acceptable? (coffee shops, venues, restaurants, music shops etc.)

Really, at this moment I would just love to go out to a coffee shop and get a cup of coffee! We still can’t do that where I live unless it’s a coffee cart or they have a to-go window. Looking forward to doing that again someday. 

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