By definition, a maverick is a nonconformist. When taking in the circuitous backstory of alt-country outfit The Mavericks, the quartet’s voyage fits neatly into their narrative, starting with their origins playing punk clubs in the very un-country music environs of Miami to the most recent decision to launch their own Mono Mundo Recordings imprint with the release of “Brand New Day,” the band’s ninth studio album.
Following in the footsteps of fellow iconoclast Lucinda Williams, the quartet is embracing a DIY approach toward recorded music while the imploding music industry is staking its revenue stream in downloaded songs and a phasing out of the CD format. Despite this reality, frontman Raul Malo said it was important for his band to head down this entrepreneurial path.
“It’s a better business model for artists like us,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Artists who have a following and can sell X number of records and aren’t necessarily playing the mainstream country radio game. My theory is that if we make music valuable to people again and make it worth something other than being a free download, which you offer as well, people will buy it.”
For “Brand New Day,” the Mavericks (Malo, guitarist Eddie Perez, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and drummer Paul Deakin) once again teamed up with producer Niko Bolas (Neil Young, Warren Zevon) for a collection of songs that reflect the band’s wide-ranging stylistic palette. Those with a taste for musical adventure will delight in going from the mambo-inspired “Easy As It Seems,” with its cascading piano fills or the grandiose wall-of-sound-flavored title cut to the dirty Tex-Mex shuffle, “Damned [If You Do].” Most striking is “Rolling Alone,” which resonates as a Tejano-meets-bluegrass mashup.
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Malo’s exposure to bluegrass may have come from watching “Hee Haw,” but it was later, real-life exposure to this kind of music that solidified his love for it.
“I didn’t really come to appreciate [bluegrass] until I moved to Nashville and we’d go down to the Station Inn on a Tuesday night and have a cold beer while watching people like Sam Bush jamming. I remember one night in particular, and it was Sam again with his friends, and what I mean by friends are people like Jerry Douglas,” Malo said with a laugh. “Then none other than Bill Monroe gets up. I remember that night, it gave me a profound and deep appreciation for the genre and the power of that music. I obviously realized that I was seeing the best of the best. But it’s a heck of an introduction.”
Malo and his crew’s embracing of diverse influences is a big part of how a country act from Miami fronted by a Cuban-American singer succeeded within the conservative environs of Nashville. Malo’s own musical tastes incubated as the son of Cuban immigrants during the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“Miami is a pretty varied and dynamic place, so there was always a lot of different kinds of music,” he said. “You just turned on the AM dial and you could hear the Mamas & the Papas, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra in the span of about 10 minutes. Then you throw in the Cuban music along with all the tropical stuff – the ska and the reggae that was all around in that era, and I just grew up really loving an appreciating a lot, if not most of it.”
During the Mavericks’ first incarnation, 1989 to 2004, the neo-traditionalists scored 14 singles on the “Billboard” magazine country charts, while winning their fair share of Grammy, Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards.
An eight-year hiatus that found members pursuing different projects and Malo alternating between solo albums and working with the all-star outfit Los Super Seven ended in 2012. Cut to the present day and the Mavericks have been touring steadily with audiences being treated to a mix of songs from the new record, older favorites and interesting covers ranging from Roy Orbison and Willie Nelson to Pink Floyd and KC and the Sunshine Band.
Over the nearly three decades The Mavericks have been together, the foursome has continued being cornerstones of the Americana music movement, a term Malo is happy embracing.
“I feel that label is about as close as we can get to being labeled. The only other one left is rock and roll and to me, that’s the truest one, but that’s where I blur the lines,” he said. “Americana, in many ways, is a bit of rock and roll as well. But there’s no denying that country music is a big part of our DNA. I love country music, and we play all these old country songs all the time and we’re always talking about how we want to do one of these old-school country records just for the heck of it. That’s the kind of stuff we can do now because it doesn’t really matter. So that’s the upside of anonymity.”