There’s a certain romance that surrounds the Mavericks. Maybe it’s their Latin-tinged party sound. Maybe it’s Raul Malo’s enveloping tenor. Or maybe it’s just because somewhere right now, babies are no doubt being made to their music. Whatever the reason, the Miami-born, Nashville-based group is arguably the Last Great Romantic Band.
“Yes!” shouts guitarist Eddie Perez when that moniker is floated. He mimes a mariachi guitar strum.
“Resistance is futile! You too will fall,” says Malo, breaking into a warm laugh.
With chilled Patrón poured in plastic cups, the mood at the Mavericks’ “clubhouse,” an inviting space in a Nashville warehouse out of which Malo’s wife Betty operates her jewelry business, is decidedly light. The guys — Malo, Perez and drummer Paul Deakin and keys man Jerry Dale McFadden — sip their tequila, crack jokes and quote lines from the Jack Black Mexican wrestling parody Nacho Libre.
It’s a much different vibe than when Rolling Stone Country last sat down with the band. In December, they revealed that founding member Robert Reynolds had been dismissed from the Mavericks for an addiction to opiates. Since the story was published, they have not heard from him. “We’re still hoping that he finds his path to where he needs to be,” says Deakin.
With that unfortunate matter behind them, the band members have returned reenergized, releasing the vibrant, lively album Mono this week. Mixed in mono, the record has a breathing, organic sound, as full of life as the Mavericks were onstage during a recent tour preview in Nashville. Last night, they kicked off their Mono Mundo Tour in Boston with a 27-song, two-hour-plus performance, opening with the album’s debut single, “All Night Long.”
An infectious, groovy jam, the song originated from just that: an improvisation. (Watch the band’s recent performance of “All Night Long” on Late Night With Seth Meyers below.)
“We kept playing it and every time we played it, it was the same reaction. People were just going nuts. It really grabs ahold of you. At first, when I was singing it, I wasn’t even saying words, it was just gibberish,” says Malo. “And it didn’t matter, because people were singing along to the chorus chant anyway.”
For a band like the Mavericks, however, one that truly defies categorization, the idea of a “single” is a foreign one in this age of genre-specific radio. It’s a notion that isn’t lost on the members, although they don’t consider it a problem.
“What does that mean, a single?” muses McFadden, who during the Mavericks’ hiatus in the early 2000s played with pop group Sixpence None the Richer. “I know it’s the song that everybody is like, ‘Oh, this sounds good,’ so that’s a good thing.”
“We’ve always been realistic about the fact that radio is a shrinking market. They have to target their markets and be more specific about their playlists,” says Deakin. “Ultimately, we are artists, but we know it’s a business.”
Malo takes it one step further.
“The problem isn’t radio — the problem is us,” he says matter-of-factly. “‘Cause if you ask 10 different people what the Mavericks mean to them, you’re going to get 10 different answers. And then you’re going to hear our records and hear one song, and you’re going to think this band is like this. Then you’re going to hear the next song, and go, ‘Holy shit, this band is nothing like that song that I just heard.’
“To us, it’s not a big deal,” he continues. “But in the real world, where everybody else lives, where there are boundaries and genres and nice little categories, we have a hard time fitting in. And that’s ok — it’s always been like that.”
The Mavericks’ vocalist is right. To even try to categorize the band is a maddening exercise. On Mono alone, they explore Fifties Elvis-era rock & roll, weeping country ballads and bossa novas, nearly all of it augmented by bright horns. And looking at the group’s past catalog fails to paint a clearer picture. One of their most well-known hits, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” was a conjunto-influenced dance song with accordionist Flaco Jiménez.
However, Perez, whose son graces the Mono album cover, says dance is precisely where the band’s sound lies.
“If you define this band as a country band, then that’s a whole different thing. Especially when it comes to radio. But if you define this band as a pop-dance band, which most of our fans do. . .,” he says, smiling. “That’s the common theme. When people who come to our shows can’t do their thing, which is get up out of their chairs and dance, it becomes an issue.”
“Even if they haven’t seen the band before,” says McFadden of the Mavericks’ eclectic live show, “they’re like, ‘I don’t know who these guys are, but there is a thing going on here.'”
Unlike most artists in Nashville, the Mavericks don’t subscribe to preproduction. Nor does Malo share work tapes with his bandmates before entering the studio. They build the songs together from Malo’s ideas. Mono was recorded almost exclusively live in the studio with all the players in the room.
“It’s equally artistically fulfilling and horrifying,” says Deakin. “Because you’re going in scared, and then at the end, you’re going, ‘Oh my god, we just did this. We succeeded.”
One of Mono‘s greatest successes is also one of its most subdued. The gorgeous ballad “Pardon Me” follows in the grand tradition of lonesome touring musician songs — think Seger’s “Turn the Page.” But with Malo’s spine-tingling delivery, the song has universal reach.
While composing the lyrics, he tried to imagine a story Kris Kristofferson would write, looking to Nashville’s golden age of songwriter for inspiration. “There was a period where all these great songs that became standards were coming out of here. That was the era that I was thinking of,” he says.
As Malo sings “a steady round of one night stands from one town to the next/how long has this been going on, can’t even start to guess,” the weariness and temptation of a life on the road comes into stark view. Malo says the song is not necessarily autobiographical but doesn’t shy away from the lyrical truths.
“It is about as honest of a song as I have ever written,” he says. “I think anyone who travels for a living and has lived this kind of life, has at one point felt that way. How that guy feels at that moment, where it’s very tempting to be here and hang out with you lovely ladies or have drinks with you, but it’s time to go to bed. Because I miss my family, I miss my dog, and I miss being at home on the couch. It’s that kind of very honest sentiment.”
Above all else, honesty is what has defined the band these past few months. While some of it has been painful, the group refused to let it dampen the spirit of Mono. Even “Pardon Me” is ultimately redemptive and full of compassion. Malo says such an upbeat attitude is by choice.
“Music is very subjective. It’s at our whim. If we want to make it a painful experience we can, and that’s the beauty of it,” he says. “But this [album] felt like it needed to be pleasing to the ear. Maybe there are many, many reasons for that.”
Including an unspoken need to cut through today’s white noise. Malo calls it the “pop culture buzz.”
“I think that informed where we went with this, and where the music went. Because we wanted to go to a summer place, and I know it’s a bit corny and cheesy and a bit square, but it’s OK,” he says. “It’s a fun little place to visit.”