Photo by Giles Clement.
Cooper McBean is guitarist and banjo player for The Devil Makes Three which, along with guitarist Pete Bernhard and upright bassist Lucia Turino, has become one of music’s more reliable and successful touring bands. Mixing bluegrass, rock, country, jazz and blues, the band continues to attract a diverse audience willing to support them in their exploration of sounds and styles. Life In A Kilt caught up with Cooper a few days before the release of “Redemption & Ruin,” the seventh album from The Devil Makes Three and we tossed out a few questions.
LIAK: You’ve been performing with The Devil Makes Three for almost 15 years. How do you keep everything artistically and creatively fresh?
CMcB: We are always working on something new, and in between always, we try to mess with old things until they are new again.
LIAK: Tell us about the upcoming release, Redemption and Ruin.
CMcB: Redemption and Ruin is sort of a concept record. It’s all covers of our heroes, half songs about ruining your life, and half gospel songs about putting it back together.
LIAK: The name “McBean” certainly has a deep presence in Scottish lore. Have you ever researched the history of clan MacBean? Do you feel a connection with your Celtic heritage?
CMcB: The McBeans (or MacBeathains if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts) were a small Highland clan who were eventually lumped in with Clan Chattan. Our bass player Lucia is a MacLeish, so we are allies from way back.
LIAK: Have you ever owned or worn a kilt?
CMcB: I have never owned a kilt myself, but many of the guys in my family do, though they mostly only come out for weddings and funerals.
LIAK: Early TDM3 albums were often categorized as “bluegrass” but the band seems to feel it is more “rock” than “bluegrass.” I think I heard one of you once describe TDM3 as an “American version of The Pogues.” Is that an accurate description?
CMcB: I’ve never been able to come up with a description for our music that I felt was just right. I think that we share an irreverent love for traditional music with The Pogues, so in that sense I suppose it fits.
LIAK: What is your favorite beer?
CMcB: I’m a big fan of Lagunitas Daytime right now.
LIAK: For those not familiar with your other band, Cooper McBean and Vested Interest, tell us about the band’s history and why you decided to start another band?
CMcB: The Vested Interests was a side project I started with some friends to stay busy between tours, and to play songs that didn’t make the cut for The Devil Makes Three.
LIAK: Many bands couldn’t survive 15 years with the same members. How do you three spend so much time together without wanting to punch each other out?
CMcB: Wanting to punch somebody, and actually doing it are two different things. We’ve had our disagreements over the years, but it has never come to blows. We’re all very old friends, so we’ve figured out ways to reconcile our differences.
LIAK: How would you describe each personality in the band?
CMcB: Stinky, Ugly, and Loud. I’ll leave it up to the readers to figure out who’s who.
LIAK: Who is your favorite tattoo artist and how often do you update your ink?
CMcB: My fiancee is a tattooer, so she’s definitely my favorite. She thinks I’m a giant sissy for not getting tattooed more often.
LIAK: What song do you think would be much better with the addition of banjo?
CMcB: I just played for a band called Miss Lonely Hearts on their new record. We did a cover of Breaking The Law by Judas Priest. Banjo was a real improvement.
LIAK: In addition to being a master musician, you are also an accomplished leatherworker. How did you get into that art form?
CMcB: I have a list of hobbies at least 400 miles long. Leather working is just one of them.
LIAK: I can imagine several Life In A Kilt readers drooling at the thought of a custom-made Cooper McBean kilt sporran. Do you take custom orders?
CMcB: I have a pretty insane waiting list right now for leather work, but I’m always up for a new challenge!
LIAK: What classic artist has influenced you the most and what contemporary artist inspires you the most?
CMcB: Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis were two of my biggest influences when I was first discovering folk music. Does Kris Kristofferson count as contemporary? ‘Cause that dude is TOPS.
LIAK: Would you prefer a sturdy pair of boots or good pair of sandals?
CMcB: Boots all the way, although I’m wearing sandals now…
LIAK: What is your preferred social media outlet to keep up with family and fans?
CMcB: I have an Instagram account, but that’s it. I’m not super big on the whole social media thing.
LIAK:I counted several marriage proposals on one of your social media accounts. Have you ever dated or married a fan from the Internet?
CMcB: I’ve never dated ANYBODY from the internet. Have you even heard how people talk there?
LIAK: Describe your ideal tour.
CMcB: The next one!
LIAK: Of the instruments you own, which is your favorite to play?
CMcB: That changes hour to hour. Today I’ve been playing my Telecaster and my musical saw.
LIAK: Have you ever tried to see if you could play banjo better after an entire bottle of scotch?
CMcB: Yes. It didn’t work. But I’ll always give it another try!