The world may be going to hell, but the Mavericks have some advice.
“No matter what’s going on, you can still shake your ass,” says the Grammy-winning group’s singer Raul Malo. “And sometimes that’s the only escape you need.”
On Brand New Day, the Mavericks’ first studio LP released on their own Mono Mundo Recordings label, the band beckons listeners onto a dance floor where are all genres are allowed. Album opener “Rolling Along” is a stoner’s polka that nods to Willie Nelson in the lyrics and boasts the first banjo ever used in a Mavericks song. “Easy as It Seems” is a blast of Sixties pop straight out of Austin Powers. The single “Damned (If You Do)” grinds along with come-hither sex appeal. And the title track recalls the majesty of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
It’s such wild musical journeys that make classifying the Mavericks a futile endeavor, even after eight albums. But that doesn’t keep fans and critics from trying. While the group has had their most success in the country and Americana fields, Malo and his bandmates – drummer Paul Deakin, guitarist Eddie Perez and keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden – see themselves simply as a rock band.
“Rock & roll in the larger, all-encompassing definition,” clarifies Malo. “I grew up listening to a lot of different artists, from Elvis Presley to the Jam to Funkadelic, and it was all rock & roll to me. But people are going to call us whatever we mean to them and I love that about the band. It used to be a hindrance, and it probably hurt us in our overall marketing, but now it’s a selling point and a strong suit.”
Musical ambiguity certainly didn’t do the band any favors while signed to Big Machine Label Group, a Nashville powerhouse where radio play is king. Malo looks fondly on their relationship with BMLG head Scott Borchetta and credits him for helping put the Mavericks back in the public eye after their 10-year hiatus, but he says it’s difficult for a niche band to co-exist with mainstream commercial artists like Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Rascal Flatts.
“This isn’t a regular band where they’re going to put out a record, run it up the charts and then you’re going to tour X amount of dates. That model doesn’t work for us,” he says, citing distribution in smaller markets as a key problem. “We weren’t getting our records in the little record stores near the theaters we were playing. I get that that’s not their world, but it’s what we have to worry about.”
After releasing and touring behind 2015’s Mono, the group amicably parted ways with Big Machine and set about developing their own custom-made label home. The result was Mono Mundo Recordings, the new outlet for all things Mavericks, including any solo albums the members may put out. For Brand New Day, the band enlisted Thirty Tigers to handle distribution and promotion, and together they’ll target Triple A and Americana radio.
In light of all the changes in the Mavericks’ camp, the album title takes on deeper meaning. But Malo, who criticized President Trump’s travel ban as being “mired in racism” in a February op-ed for Rolling Stone Country, admits the hopeful phrase can also be applied to the dysfunctional state of U.S. politics. “I think we’re definitely aspiring for a brand new day,” he says.
Malo isn’t a doomsdayer, though. While he is dismayed by the policies, or lack thereof, of this administration – he frequently lets loose on Twitter – the Cuban-American entertainer maintains his faith in the system.
“I know this sounds idealistic and perhaps unrealistic, but I’m not one of those guys who thinks we’re at the end of the world,” says Malo, who will travel to Cuba to film a PBS documentary on that country’s music this year. “But we do have to be vigilant and if we have to protest and stand up for what we believe in, we will. I’m confident in the American people and in democracy in general. Maybe this is a wakeup call that we so need.”
In “Easy as It Seems” he slyly weaves in some sharp topical lyrics: “building walls between us doesn’t fix a thing.” Paired with that groovy, almost goofy beat, however, the Mavericks ensure the message goes down easy.
“Every once in a while I’ll write something that might be a little lyrically pointed, masked in this silly, melodic, fun song,” says Malo. “If you’re a parent, you want your kids to eat their veggies, so you put a little butter on it. This is kind of like that.”