After the success of their 2016 covers record Redemption & Ruin, The Devil Makes Three are back with an amped up album of all new originals called Chains Are Broken (out 8/24 on New West). Dive into our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One to find out what you can expect from the rowdy trio’s newest collection of songs, what it was like to work with producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys), where the album’s gorgeous artwork came from, and much more!
NoiseTrade: Being that your last album (2016’s Redemption & Ruin) was a cleverly-themed tribute record of sorts, how does it feel to be unleashing another batch of rough and rowdy self-penned tunes for Chains Are Broken (out 8/24 on New West)?
The Devil Makes Three: It’s always more satisfying to release your own music than to release covers. While Redemption & Ruin was a great way to show our fans where many of our influences come from and pay some tribute (we hope) to them, what we do best is create our own music. Sometimes it just takes a while to write enough new and worthy material for a full album, so a covers record seemed like a good idea in the meantime. We’re all really proud of this record and excited to be taking a new direction. The only rule we have for the process is that there are no rules.
NT: As far as leadoff singles go, “Paint My Face” is a powerfully impressive intro to the new album, both musically and lyrically. What sparked the writing of that song and how did it sonically come together since the band typically functions as a trio without an official drummer?
The Devil Makes Three: “Paint My Face” is like a letter to a friend or a child saying don’t be afraid of failure or rejection or even death – just go out and do the work and it will live on without you. Maybe people won’t understand it, even in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. There’s always the next lifetime. Success is not the goal. The work is the goal, whatever the work may be. Even if it’s just trying to be a free-thinking individual.
We’ve been playing with Stefan Amidon (our drummer) for a couple of years now. After releasing I’m a Stranger Here, which has a lot of percussion on it, we realized many of the songs didn’t work as well without the percussion. We missed these songs in our set so we looked around for the perfect drummer and found him right in our home town in Vermont. We didn’t necessarily set out to make a record with drums, but as we were working up these songs Stefan was there and the drums just allowed us to do a lot more. Pete, Stefan, and Lucia came up with the groove of the song and Lucia wrote the riff that starts it out. Later Cooper brought in the syncopated line that gives the song a different feel. It probably took a year for the song to come to its final version.
NT: The band’s songwriting has always been richly cinematic and literary in nature, but the songs on Chains Are Broken seem to really dial that narrative ethos up a notch. To what influences do you credit that creative approach, both in your overall catalog and specifically in regards to your new collection of songs?
The Devil Makes Three: Pete does the lyrical content and he reads a wide assortment of books from Philip K. Dick and Neil Gaiman to political philosophy like Machiavelli’s The Prince to George Saunders. Lyrics are the most important part of the song and it’s important to take the time to make sure that you’re saying exactly what you mean with enough ambiguity that anyone can hear it and it can mean something personal to them. That’s the the goal. Reading is a huge inspiration for that.
NT: Tell us about your experience working with producer Ted Hutt and what he brought to the table from his time recording punk bands like The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, The Bouncing Souls, and Go Betty Go.
The Devil Makes Three: Ted is British, so basically the band didn’t understand a word he said but it was good to have him there in the room. We developed a kind of cross cultural sign language that worked surprisingly well! But seriously now, Ted was really fun to work with. What he brought to the table has less to do with who he’s worked with and more to do with who he is musically. It’s not like he came into the studio saying, “Let’s make a punk record!” He has a great ear for song structure and has fun in the studio. He was constantly telling the band to do less and to take things out so that the song can build up to something. He also has great attention to detail. So we made sure each song had the correct tempo and made sure all the last little details like shaker or organ were right where they needed to be. A lot of the things he suggested, no one will notice until they’ve listed to the album ten times. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. We would definitely make another album with Ted.
NT: With a notoriously not-to-be-missed live show and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for touring, your band seems to truly understand the unique space of a no-holds-barred concert experience. How do you view touring and live shows from that side of the microphone and are there any bands or artists that you have drawn inspiration or insights from in regards to life on the road?
The Devil Makes Three: Most important is to take care of yourself. You can’t go out every night and put on a high energy show if you are run down. Each member of the band has their own way of doing that. For some it’s exercise and eating well. Others spend a lot of time sleeping or taking it easy. The show and the crowd are the most important things. It’s their night to enjoy the music and it’s our job to make that happen. Most musicians who have been touring a long time seem to have adopted this style eventually. We try to take a hint from Bruce Springsteen. He’s 68 and he plays for three hours a night! It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
NT: To close things out, I wanted to ask you about the intricately arresting album cover artwork for Chains Are Broken. First, could you give us the backstory behind the artist, what (if any) creative direction they were given, and the statement made by the finalized piece? Second, in an environment that continues to try to reduce the impact of album art down to a small digitized screen, what are some other examples of expressive album art that you have enjoyed and recommend our readers take some time to check out?
The Devil Makes Three: Alex Zablotsky did our album art. He’s an old friend of ours from LA. He played in a band called Old Man Markley and is also an animator and a tattooer. We have a lot of friends who are talented artists and love to have them design album art and merchandise for us. There are a lot of water themes on this record and also a lot of mention of electricity and light, so when were talking to Alex we mentioned this and gave him the unmastered mixes. The artwork is really for the vinyl. We know most people consume music digitally now, but we love actual records and always think about the artwork and the song order in terms of the vinyl. As for other peoples records with great art, the Grateful Dead had some really cool album art as did Jimi Hendrix and The Thirteen Floor Elevators. There’s a long and awesome tradition of musicians and artists working together on album art and stage set.