When the Mavericks called it quits in 2004 there was a collective feeling amongst fans that this band was too important and too good to be over and done with. Ever since founding in Miami in 1989 they had been winning over fans that found their catchy melting pot of country, rockabilly and Latin music irresistible. The Mavericks seamlessly blended these styles into music that was lively, charming and danceable. All of this was enhanced tenfold by the unmistakably smooth and at times Roy Orbison-esque vocals of the band’s lead singer Raul Malo.
In 2011 the Mavericks announced their return and fans rejoiced at the possibility of hearing hits like “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” and “What A Crying Shame” performed live again. Instead of simply milking Nineties nostalgia, they even released their first new album in over ten years, 2013’s In Time, which received nearly unanimous praise from critics and fans eager to have the Mavericks back in their arms again. Given the reunited band’s success, it was unfortunate when, in December 2014, they announced that founding member and bassist Robert Reynolds had been forced to leave the band due to an opiate addiction that had pushed him beyond the realm of being able to contribute to live shows and recording. However, despite making the decision to publicly out Reynolds in Rolling Stone, the Mavericks have charged on and are kicking off 2015 with one of their strongest albums to date, Mono, which will be followed by a world tour. Taking a break from tour rehearsals, lead singer and songwriter Raul Malo took some time to reflect on the Mavericks past, present, and future.
Were the songs on this record ones that you wrote between now and In Time, or were any songs that had been waiting around for a bit?
I think there may have been one or two that may have been played with a while ago, but I never really stockpile songs. First of all, I’m not that prolific, but most of these songs were written between the last record and now. I know I was fooling with “Out the Door” for a while. You know what? “All Night Long” – the first song – came out of a jam we were doing live. We would play that old song “Sway” and then we morphed it into this other thing that never had any lyrics, it wasn’t a song, it was really just more of a jam. So, yeah, those two we’d been toying with but everything else was written in between albums.
Some of the songs on this album seem to recall older styles of music. Were there certain styles you found yourselves particularly drawn to on Mono?
There’s nothing in particular. I think what happens now is honestly like, I have a big “I don’t give a shit” factor and I’m just going to write whatever I feel like writing. To me we’re at a point now where creatively we can do whatever we want, and if it sounds good to us it’s gonna go. We don’t really worry about that. It’s a fun way to operate, but obviously it’s a double-edged sword because if nobody likes it, well, then nobody likes it. That’s the risk you take, but there’s really not a lot of thought that goes into the particular styles of the songs. They just kind of morph into whatever they become. I play them for the band as we’re learning them and then the band turns them into Mavericks songs, so if it sounds like something else we don’t really worry about it.
Was the recording process different than previous albums for Mono?
Well, instead of giving everybody work tapes or demos to follow, I didn’t really make [any of those]. I basically played everybody the song on the acoustic guitar in a room and then we’d hash out an arrangement. You work faster that way because you don’t end up copying a demo or mimicking a lick or something like that, so it’s really kind of freeing and it works better for the band to do it that way.
On your end, is it true that you didn’t go back and re-sing any of the parts?
It’s funny what a big deal is made out of that. I guess it just doesn’t happen often or maybe ever anymore. We sat around and when we record the songs I’m singing to the band and all the vocals on [the recording] are all live vocals, they’re performances. So very seldom do I go back and repeat something because usually by the time we get to recording I’ve already sang it a couple of times or I kind of have it in my head how I want to do it. You really spend a lot more time arranging the songs.
The album closes with a cover of Doug Sahm’s “Nitty Gritty” (1973). Whose idea was it to cover that song and why did you feel it was a good album closer?
I think we can safely say that Doug Sahm is probably the spiritual and musical father of the Mavericks. We really love Doug Sahm and all his bands and music. We’re close to all those Texas Tornado guys. How we came about recording the song is, every night before we go onstage we have a little ritual, you know, you’re on the bus, getting dressed, you might have a shot of tequila or something to get you in the right vibe, and there’s always music playing. What was funny is that no matter who was playing the music – and it’s usually Jerry [Dale McFadden], Eddie [Perez] or I – and it always seemed that no matter who was playing the iPod before we went up onstage “Nitty Gritty” would always come on. I don’t know if it was coincidence or divine intervention but it happened more often than not, and we’d be like, man, that’s a great song, it sounds like a Mavericks song. We were like, we need to record that song or we need to play it. At one soundcheck on the road we were like, hey let’s play this, so we worked it out and we loved it. When it came time to record we had recorded all our songs. The label’s always asking for an extra track , so we recorded “Nitty Gritty” with that in mind. It wasn’t going to be on the record initially but the label loved it so much – and we loved the way it sounded – so we put it on as a bonus track. It’s representative of the history and DNA of the band.
It sounds great and it’s cool to see people honoring Doug Sahm even these days.
He’s a bit under appreciated, so that’s an added bonus to doing it.
When the band embarks on a huge tour like this, and now being reunited with two albums under your belt, how do you go about planning a setlist and balancing nostalgia with the newer stuff?
That’s always a difficult process. Luckily for us, what we’ve found getting back into this thing is that people really love the new music and they’re excited for the new albums. It was like that with In Time and it feels like it’s like that with Mono. I love our fans – there are always a couple that’ll be upset if you don’t play one of the old songs – but that’s really a small minority. You have to balance the old stuff with the new stuff, and we’ve been together a long time, so I don’t necessarily want to play songs from our first record. Life goes on, and some of those songs are important to us and those remain, but we definitely focus on the new material, which I think makes for a better, more exciting show. It makes it relevant for us, and in turn I think the fans have a better time, because if we’re having fun, they’re having fun. I think we’re in a unique position, and a lot of that has to do with our fanbase, thank goodness they love the new music.
Has it been difficult to plan out this album and tour considering one of your longtime members (Robert Reynolds) had to depart back in December?
The hardest part about all that was really just dealing with it and seeing your longtime friend go through this and then having the resolve to really do the only thing left to do – kick him out of the band and let him go. That was hard, but I think it would have been harder to try and keep it all together and then have it fall apart, because that’s where it was going. And it’s not fair to let it fall apart because one person chose to not participate the way he’s supposed to. That’s really what it comes down to, and as much as it hurts your heart, it would’ve hurt worse to keep him in and see him destroy himself and us with it. I think that’s probably as fair and as honest a statement as I can make about that.
Absolutely. Better to deal with that early on as opposed to the middle of a tour.
Yeah. The thing about that situation is that there’s no right move, because no matter which way you go it’s a shit pile, it’s just terrible. So you have to eliminate it once and for all. The hope now is that he will come to the realization that he has to get treatment, and real treatment, because it’s serious. His situation is awful and all we can do is sit back and pray for him. We’ve done everything we could; we’ve offered to send him to rehab, pay for it, the whole bit. He hasn’t taken us up on it, and that’s his choice. That’s all you can do.
Is this a new era for the Mavericks and do you see it going for at least the next few years?
Man, I sure hope so. That would be amazing, and I think everybody is excited to do this. We’ve always been guided by where the music takes us, and I think if there’s more Mavericks records to make than we will make them. I really feel right now that we can do this for the rest of our lives. The way we’re setting it up, when you’re in control of your own destiny you can pick your place on the map and go there. We’re in charge of it, and if it means more records down the line than by golly we’re gonna go that way. To answer your question, I hope so!