The Mavericks is a band that – after 30 years – needs no introduction. It is a band that has refused to be defined by any genre or singular musical style. The band just released an album of covers entitled The Mavericks Play the Hits as a way to celebrate 30 years of making music. By phone lead singer Raul Malo discussed the new album, the band’s longevity, and creating their own genre.
Americana Highways: How did you go about choosing the songs for the new album?
Raul Malo: They’ve all meant something at some point or another to us, to me. When we were going through the process, since I’m singing the songs, they have to sound believable. I have to sound convincing on them. I’ll get the last word in the creative process, but nonetheless, everybody chimed in on the song selection. They deferred to me as to whether I feel comfortable singing them. That’s usually how it works with us. These songs have all meant something at one point or another. For example, “Before the Last Teardrop Falls” – that was one of the first songs I remember listening to with my dad, driving around in his car on an 8-track. Listening to that as a kid and feeling really proud that there was a Latin-American man singing a #1 song, not only on the country charts, but on the pop charts. That was an important record for me and my family. It meant a lot. It turns out – talking to Eddie (Perez) and Mikey – they grew up on the west coast, where that song was part of their childhood as well and their upbringing and their social circles. The process is not scientific. It’s more emotional than anything else. That’s OK. That’s what music is. They represent something from our past that has inspired us or meant something to us.
AH: Why do you think The Mavericks has lasted so long?
RM: (laughs) Boy, there’s probably a lot of reasons for that. I know that one of the reasons we’re still around is we took that break in 2002 or 2003. Everybody went their separate ways. When we got back together, everything that we had done in that time musically. I call it my musical quest years where I went on a journey. I learned a lot. I threw myself into situations like Los Super Seven that was a Latin supergroup with members of Los Lobos and Calexico. I threw myself into that situation, which led me to playing with all these great Cuban musicians. My Today record, my solo record. All these musical collaborations opened up my world musically and creatively. I think all that and everything the guys did in that time off – all that wealth of knowledge – it all informed this new version of The Mavericks. I think the reason we’ve been around is because we like to keep it interesting for ourselves. When we got back together in 2012, I told the guys I didn’t want to get back together and play the old stuff and collect a paycheck. That wasn’t what interested me. What interested me was making new music. I think that if you have that attitude, that’s going to carry on to your fans, your live performances, and into what you’re doing now. Always looking for the muse, for that different combination. Always listening to music and find a way to do stuff differently. Or to find something that inspires you. It’s that quest, that thirst. That’s what’s kept us going.
AH: You kind of touched on it, but how did it help you to work with other artists before returning to The Mavericks?
RM: I look back on those times as so inspiring. Getting thrown into those situations and seeing how other artists work, and how they come about arrangements, and listen to music. It was an eye-opener. I loved every minute of it. A lot of times in life, it’s finding out what you don’t want to do. The Mavericks represent the place where we can indulge all our musical peccadilloes. We can do whatever we want. To me, that’s a very powerful position to be in. Even if it’s just perceived power. From within it allows us to be as indulgent and creative as we want to be.
AH: It says a lot too that you’ve been together 30 years, and you’ve basically created your own genre.
RM: (laughs) I guess so. The hardest question always is “What kind of music do The Mavericks play?” We always kid about that with fans. We know that we haven’t always made it easy on them. I told somebody this the other day. We’ll never be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’ll never be in the Country Music Hall of Fame or any other sort of hall of fame. At some point along the line, we betrayed both of those ethos. We didn’t stay true to any one of them. We did what we wanted. In a way I guess that’s kind of the rock and roll approach. That’s what rock and roll always was: just a blend of R&B, gospel, jazz, swing. To me that’s not too far-fetched from how we approach things. We don’t care where it comes from. If it sounds good in our song, we’re going to use those elements. It’s a beautiful gumbo.
AH: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
RM: This is going to sound weird, but at one point I was actually going to be a marine biologist. I grew up on the ocean and I love the ocean and beaches. I like science too. I thought that would be fun – cleaning up beaches, saving animals, and saving the planet, that sort of stuff. Music took me away.
The Mavericks Play the Hits will be available everywhere on November 1. Order your copy here.