All Aboard For Fun Time:
Raul Malo and the Mavericks Are Back Together Again
Raul Malo is laughing.
Calling from Nashville, where he’s lived for the past 20 years, the singer-songwriter and frontman of the recently revived Mavericks is cracking himself up describing the genre-busting band’s latest recording project.
“Oh man,” Malo says. “We were asked to do a song for a tribute to Motley Crue, if you can imagine such a thing. We said we’d give it try. And we did. We recorded our version of ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Hopefully it will make the album, but who knows. It might scare them too much, you know, because we did it our way.”
It is pretty funny thinking about Malo wrapping his uncannily soaring Roy Orbison tenor around the Hollywood sleaze metal saga of dealer dudes like “Rat-tailed Jimmy.” But as the Mavericks continue to celebrate 25 years with a 2013 album, In Time, that ranks among their very best, and a tour that will stop off in Atlanta in late April, it’s clear that Malo is back with the band to have good time this time.
More than decade after their last studio album, one of the most successful, critically acclaimed and exciting live bands of the ’90s is offering up two and a half hour sets featuring a repertoire of hits and favorites, plus a big dose of new material every night.
The joyfully diverse In Time opens with “Back In Your Arms Again” – a rollicking country song about the taint of recycled romance, punctuated with Tex-Mex-tinged horns.
“Once I said I’d never want your love again,” Malo sings at the start. “You showed up tonight and proved me wrong. Things I said I’d never do since you and I were through. But here I am, back in your arms again.”
Of course, the lyrics could easily be a sly acknowledgment of the fact that like some crazy couples the Mavericks have divorced and remarried a few different times. And that Malo, who set out on a solo career around 2000, has sometimes declared he would never rejoin the band.
The current lineup includes drummer Paul Deakin, multi-instrumentalist Robert Reynolds, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and guitarist Eddie Perez. How they came together in 2012, Malo says, was a combination of circumstances and developments.
“I found myself, especially on the last couple of solo records, really missing making music with the band,” he says. “There came a point where I was saying more often than not, ‘Man, I wish the Mavericks were playing this song or that song.’
“Fast forward, and a friend who was managing me at the time said we had offers from these festivals and asked if I wanted to get the band together to do a tour. I wasn’t sure about that. I always felt that if we were going to put the band back together, it was going to be to make a new record. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right. We weren’t just gonna do it for a paycheck in the summer.”
During his solo years, Malo who was born in Miami, explored his Cuban heritage and worked with the likes of Los Lobos, Rick Trevino and Los Super Seven, while straddling the Nashville songwriter and Americana scenes.
“I had the time of my life,” he says. “It was stuff like that that kept me playing real music. Musically I was on a quest. I was diving into all sorts of projects and playing with whoever I wanted to. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about music and recording, a lot about everything. I think that experience informed the new version of the Mavericks. In a way, it really helped being away from the band for about seven or eight years.”
When the Mavericks finally decided to record again, Malo already had a stockpile of songs for In Time, which moves effortlessly from the like of the Sir Douglas-style rave-up, “Lies,” to the Orbison-style weeper, “Born To Be Blue,” to the operatic eight-minute-plus Latin-gospel epic, “(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven.”
“I happened to have a batch of songs that were really sounding like a Mavericks record,” Malo says. “I think the band was so excited to be back that everybody went into the studio with a real purpose. We knew that if we were going to make a record, it had to be the best record we could possibly make.
“Most of the time you feel like your latest record is your best one. But that doesn’t always happen. As time went on and we lived with the music for a little bit and we found ourselves playing it live, we realized it really was a good record and we were back musically. It was a different feeling than anything we’d done before.”
As far as the musical shifts on the new album, Malo says that’s not new, just maybe more true to the Mavericks original sound and roots in the post punk scene of late ’80s Miami.
“We’ve never really been ones to shy away from trying stuff. And now it just kind of feels like we’ve earned the right to do whatever we want to do. We’re gonna make the music we’re gonna make, and luckily we have a great loyal following.”
Certainly, Malo’s unmistakable voice has always defined the sound of the Mavericks. And it’s as powerful as ever on In Time. But it begs the question: Has it ever let him down?
“I think I’m just a naturally strong Cuban man,” he says, laughing again. “It is a pretty strong instrument for me. And it hasn’t really ever let me down. But I try not to abuse it. I don’t smoke cigarettes. And I try not to yell at anyone on the day of a show.”
That leads to another question: What’s it like being on tour with the band again? Are relationships that were problems before, still problems now?
Malo’s answer grabs a familiar comparison from some of his songs about men and women.
“All of the sudden you start remembering,” he jokes. “You forget why you hated her in the first place. And then you get back together and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah.’ But seriously, it’s been great. Everybody is a little older, let’s not kid ourselves, and hopefully with that, a little wiser.
“There’s a big world to fight and we can’t do it if we’re fighting ourselves. When we focus and we stick together, and leave all the silly bickering and bullshit behind we can do whatever we want and we can set ourselves up to comfortably do this for the rest of our lives.”
As for what fans can expect when they buy a ticket and come see the Mavericks on tour, Malo says they should look forward to a lot of fun.
“We’re celebrating 25 years as a band so there’s a lot of music. A lot of fun catalog stuff. The album is still fairly new, so we’re still introducing that to people. And then we always have a couple of little surprises. It’s nice in that you’ll get to hear a lot of music and a lot of different kinds of music. It’s a fun show, for sure.”