The Mavericks: "We're Having So Much More Fun Than Ever Before"
In 1989, the year the Mavericks first convened, the divide between pop and country was still relatively wide. "Americana" was a term that hadn't entered the popular lexicon just yet, and Nashville was by and large still off-limits to any artist who arrived sans a cowboy hat and a good-ol'-boy attitude to boot.
Not surprisingly, then, the cultural expanse was larger still for the Mavericks -- a band from Miami, boasting a lead singer of Hispanic heritage. Their odds at achieving successes seemed slim. Still, the group's singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Malo's obsession with American icons like Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Elvis Presley eventually prevailed, and within six months of the release of their eponymous debut on the small South Florida independent label Y&T, they landed a contract with MCA Records. Between 1991 and 2003, they landed 14 singles on the Billboard country charts and produced a string of successful albums, among them From Hell to Paradise, What a Crying Shame, Music for All Occasions, and Trampoline, each a showcase for their unlikely blend of country, Latin, and pop. They took the country-music world by storm and left an increasingly diverse musical landscape in their wake.
"The Mavericks deliver a rich blend of pure Americana. Here's a band that mixes country comfort with rock 'n' roll attitude, a group that also proves that soul music can reach beyond the streets of Detroit or Philadelphia." I actually wrote that in the liner notes for that album. Looking back, the choice of verbiage seems to suffer from overreach, but happily, the Mavericks' music never did.
In 2004, the band underwent a bitter breakup, frayed at the seams from internal strife and pent-up animosity. Each of the members went their separate ways, indulging in side projects and sessions that allowed at least momentary fulfillment. Malo was the most prolific, issuing six solo albums that gleaned everything from his love of traditional Latin melodies to his admiration for classic American standards. In a 2010 interview, he told me that a reunion with his former colleagues was clearly out of the question and that anyone who still hoped it might someday transpire would do best to buck up and move on.
It was somewhat surprising, then, that in 2012, the band opted to reconvene. Original members Malo at the helm, Paul Deakin on drums, and Robert Reynolds on bass were joined by longtime keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden and the group's most recent recruit, Eddie Perez on lead guitar. An EP, Suited Up and Ready, preceded the release of their comeback album, In Time, an effort that was lavishly praised and given an apt title, especially considering the decade of inactivity that preceded it.
We recently caught up with Malo at his home in Nashville and asked him about the current state of the group and what led to the reunion. Seemingly relaxed during a rare respite from a touring schedule that had them on the road the better part of a year, he was casual, candid, and optimistic about the Mavericks' future.
New Times: Last time we spoke, you completely dismissed the idea that there would ever be a Mavericks reunion. So what happened?
Raul Malo: It's just life, ya know? It was really like a perfect storm scenario. What happened, at least musically, was that these songs were starting to come out that really sounded like they needed to be on a new Mavericks record. And this was before I talked to anybody or there was any inkling of anything. I'm saying to myself, ya know, this does sound like a Mavericks record. If ever there was a chance to do a Mavericks record again, these songs would be perfect... At least in my mind.
Fast-forward. My manager at the time said we had this offer for the Mavericks to play a couple of festivals. And I thought, "Really? That sounds interesting." And the reason I thought it was interesting is because I know this business doesn't operate on nostalgia or feelings. So when money gets put on the table, there's a reason for it. So I started thinking, if a promoter is willing to do this, maybe there is money for real somewhere -- not enough money for us to retire on or anything -- but that maybe a record label would be willing to put up some money for us to make a record. So I asked my friends over at Big Machine Records if they would be interested in a Mavericks album, and they were like, hell yeah. So that changed everything, because what my manager wanted was just to go out and do some summer festivals and then call it a day. But that's not what we were thinking, or at least what I was thinking.
So it wasn't just about the money?
In all honesty, I figured if the Mavericks came back, it wouldn't be for a paycheck and then to call it a day. I'd rather have left it alone at that point. I respect other bands that would do that, but the Mavericks were always about a lot more than a paycheck. If we're going to bring it back, then we're going to make some music, and hopefully we'll make some important music and some relevant music as it pertains to our career and what we've done. It was the music that steered the thing, and once Big Machine said yes to the project, then everyone was up for it. And that was it. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. We made the record and boom, here we are now.
So was there an elephant in the room once you guys reconvened. Was it awkward in any way? What was the vibe like?
It's like anything. I think time heals old wounds. So you throw that stuff out, forget about it and kind of put it aside, learn from it and then move forward if you want to do it. And we all really wanted to do it. We really wanted to make the record, and we knew that the record was going to be a special record. We didn't know why, but we knew there was a lot of energy around it. There were high expectations, of course, but everybody's energy was there. And we knew we had to have a special energy for this thing to work. We tried to make the best record we could, and lo and behold -- without trying to sound like I'm bragging here -- I think it's one of the best records we've ever done.
It really sounds like no time has passed at all. It sounds like you guys were right back in the proverbial groove.
That's pretty much how it went.
So was it just like old times? Did everyone just transition into their roles?
Yeah. In the past we'd always do a whole bunch of demos and do a lot of preproduction and all that kind of stuff. But this time around, I told the guys that this time I didn't have time to make a bunch of demos. I just wanted to go into the studio. Initially, we were going to go in for just four or five days and do a couple of songs to get the group going, but by the second day we had recorded five songs. So there was definitely a lot of positive energy and thinking that, yeah, we're back. That's kinda of how it was.
Was there any lingering resentment?
When we initially got together, everyone said their peace. We made sure that the miscommunication and the lack of communication and the lack of openness that had happened before within the band didn't happen again. There had been a lot of third parties communicating for us, and that's never good. It's never good in any communications, because then you'll end up with a stalemate. Part of the problem back then was that we were younger, and, honestly, I was burned out. I didn't want to hear from anybody; I didn't want to hear from anything. I was just as burned out and fried as I could possibly be. As was everybody.
We didn't really take care of our business. We let others do it, and that was a big mistake. It was a big learning curve in that we realized that no one can take care of your business as well as you can. So there was all this stuff going on back then that really led to the breakup. I think this time around, everybody is more aware. Everybody wants this to work, and we're having so much more fun than ever before. That's really the big difference now.
What are the audiences like?
The fans are going nuts, and not only that, we're seeing a younger audience too. They're discovering the band through their parents. We're getting into that echelon of elder statesmen [laughs], and it's cool, because we're seeing those different demographics in our audience.
The music business is fickle, and when you're away ten years, it can seem like a lifetime. But from what you're saying, it sounds like people didn't forget and they hooked into it right away. Was that the case?
It's unbelievable. Certainly during those years in-between, I was still out there doing my part to keep the Mavericks name alive. As I told the guys, no matter where I went, no matter who I was making music with, no matter what groovy little project I was doing, the conversation always turned to, when are the Mavericks getting back together? What about the Mavericks? At first, I was like, aw geez. Give it up already. It's over. But I think that after awhile, it was maybe because they were such relentless pains in the ass, it just eventually influenced my sentiments. It was like, OK, what about the Mavericks? Why aren't we doing stuff?
Looking back on it now, I think that had a lot to do with it. I'm just being honest. How could it not when everywhere you go, people are asking about it. It's not that they didn't like my solo stuff and/or they didn't like what I was doing. I don't think that was it at all. It's just that the Mavericks meant something to them. They meant something to a lot of people. That's nice to finally realize.
So how has this affected your present mindset?
All those things, all the emotions, all the bad blood, all the mistakes, the apathy or whatever you want to call it, makes you stronger and a better musician. At this point, we're feeling we can do anything we want. We don't have to play the game. We don't have to cater to radio or adhere to trends or whatever. We can do whatever we want, and our fans kind of expect that. We can be a little more carefree.
In a sense, it seems the time was right to reconvene. When you started out, you were ahead of the game. You guys broke the barriers. Yes, there was the underlying country flavor in your music, but you broadened the scope, and these days that seems to be the norm in general.
Absolutely. And not only that, sociologically, things have changed. The industry is more open now than we were say, 20 years ago, when we first arrived. Imagine, a Hispanic lead singer named Raul. They couldn't even pronounce my name (chuckles). I think that plays into it as well. We're seeing so many young Latin people coming to our shows. It's amazing, because I've always considered this band a truly American band. It's a blend of all these things and a blend of all these cultures.
We embody that in many ways, and nowadays our audience is so vast. It's fun to watch and it's fun to see that. We love it. Everybody's welcome at our shows and it just runs the gamut. We're loving that part of it too and we want to make a statement. We want this band to be a band for everybody, as it should it be. That's the way we see ourselves and we're enjoying it, because it's proven that we were on the right course all these years. After all these years and all the hard work, it's very gratifying.
So how long will you guys be out on tour? How long have you been on the road since reuniting?
It's been about two years. When you think about that first festival which instigated this whole thing, that was about two years ago. That first gig was the Stagecoach Festival in 2011, and since then it's pretty much been nonstop. We haven't been on the road continuously since then, but almost. The band is a well-oiled machine. We're booked into next year already and we have plans to make another record. The plan is to go into the studio in the next couple of months and start recording and hopefully have something done by September or October so we can have something to release in March.
It sounds like the Mavericks are now an ongoing concern, at least for the near future. You're back and this is now business as usual.
Well, at least for another record for sure. We'll see where it goes from there. The thing about it now is that everybody realizes we can do the Mavericks, we can do the solo stuff, we can do all the little things we want to do. The main thing for me is that I like to do a lot of different things, and if I get stuck on one thing for too long, I'm going to get bored and I'm going to want out. So if I can try different things, and everybody does their things every now and then -- as we all will -- there's still no reason why we can't do those side projects and do the Mavericks as well. So that's the goal.
So what is the status of your solo career? Do you have future plans in that regard?
Not right now, because I'm so involved with the Mavericks thing right now. But at some point, that will be part of the equation.
At that point, will it be a challenge in determining which material goes to the Mavericks and which songs are reserved for your solo outings?
Right now the Mavericks are so at the top of their game. I don't think that will be an issue. You just know. As the writer, you know which songs will work best for the Mavericks and which songs will work best for a Raul Malo solo project. I think that becomes apparent. But honestly, some of the songs from my solo career that we play live find the Mavericks just killing it. When the Mavericks play something, there's something special about the Mavericks. Those guys are just amazing. So we'll deal with it when the time comes, but again, right now I have no plans for a solo record. The Mavericks are pretty much occupying all my time.
Your upcoming Fort Lauderdale date marks the first time the band's has played South Florida in some 14 years I believe.
It's been a long time, yeah.
So what kind of emotions does that stir up for you? .
There's a little bit of trepidation, nervousness. You hope there's a good reaction and people walk away from it feeling good. We want to do the best we can, but it's also one you think about maybe a little more than you would an ordinary show. You want it to be good. You're going to have friends there you haven't seen in awhile, family... So there's going to be an emotion-tinged air to the proceedings there that night. But the trepidation is there just on our side. You just hope people really enjoy the show. It's like, sorry we haven't seen you in awhile, but it's not like we haven't wanted to.
The Mavericks, 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $34.50 to $54.50. Call 954-763-2444, or visit parkerplayhouse.com.
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