The Mavericks are the Swiss Army knife of bands, capable of doing everything from rock & roll to Tex-Mex to jazz and soul. Now approaching their 30th anniversary, singer Raul Malo and co. breathe new life into the holiday season with Hey! Merry Christmas!, their new Christmas album.
Far from a tired genre exercise, the new LP — released earlier this month on the band’s Mono Mundo Recordings — features eight original songs penned by Malo and a handful of cowriters, plus covers of Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday.” This isn’t Malo’s first foray into Christmas music, as he released Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites in 2007. “I already put my voice on [the classics],” he says. “If the Mavericks were going to jump into this, we thought it’d be cool to do it our way, and at least add some songs to the repertoire that are our own.”
One of those new songs, “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again),” has a fresh new video out today with the Mavericks playing a colorful holiday party. Rolling Stone Country spoke to Malo about the new record and the band’s upcoming 30th anniversary.
What inspired you to tackle a holiday album?
We took it as a personal challenge to try and write some Christmas songs. My cowriter and I wrote “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again)” and we thought, “Man, that’s a pretty good song, but I don’t think we’re going to do that again.” I don’t think people realize what a difficult task it is to write Christmas music.
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What’s most unique about that challenge? It’s a very particular formula, but it’s also been done to death.
That’s exactly it. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and stuff like that, there’s a reason they’re standards, there’s a reason we love to sing them year after year. Part of the reason they’re so popular, too, is they have history on their side. They’ve been in movies, they’ve seeped into our culture. It’s not really fair to compare anything you’re going to do to that, because there’s not a comparison. Maybe in 50 years there will be an equal comparison, but not now.
Have Christmas songs been particularly influential to you over time?
I’m personally a fan of Christmas music and I love the holidays, I love the whole pageantry of the holidays. But I also like to think that people tend to be a little bit nicer during the holidays — maybe not in the parking lot of Walmart, but if nothing else you can reflect on the year and be grateful for what you have.
At the same time, someone like Phil Spector fits right into the Mavericks’ lane.
It’s a Christmas record, after all, so you can be as indulgent as you want in the studio, and literally get away with all the bells and whistles. To me, all those records, I loved the Elvis Christmas record, and Bing Crosby, all the classic stuff.
There’s also a long history of a Latin influence in holiday music, and not just with “Feliz Navidad.”
Well, “Feliz Navidad” is one of the greatest songs ever written, period. It’s so easy and so brilliantly simple that anybody can play it, anyone can sing it — and in two languages! If ever you were keeping score on a song, it’s batting .1000. And certainly the Latin influence, for us, is going to be a part of it. There’s nothing we can do about that.
Do you feel you were motivated by the current political climate to do something fun and unifying like this?
I think there’s a little bit of truth in all of that. Who’s to say if it pushed us into it because of tensions and divisiveness? You turn on the news everyday and it’s so heartbreaking, especially after that last shooting [at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California]. You hear the father grieving for his 22-year-old son, and it’s like, man, that could be my son. I have a 22-year-old son. We try to make everyone feel welcome, we try to speak up when we need to speak up, and we’re not afraid of doing that.
The Mavericks’ 30th anniversary as a band is approaching. Do you see Hey! Merry Christmas! as a segue into celebrating that milestone?
I know that we’re going to be finishing a Spanish language album that I’ve written a few songs for. Maybe there will be another live record here pretty soon, and there’s talk of an instrumental album and a straight-up country album. We’ve also got a Cuban band signed to Mono Mundo, the Sweet Lizzy Project, and they’re getting ready to release an album next year. So we’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now.