The Mavericks, heading to the Gympie Music Muster
One of the great party bands has a new lease on life, writes Iain Shedden
THE Mavericks’ Raul Malo isn’t the first American singer to acknowledge a debt to Elvis Presley. You can hear the King occasionally in Malo’s easy croon, as much as you can detect Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis. Those music giants are at the core of the Mavericks’ infectious hotchpotch of Americana, Tex Mex and rock ’ n’ roll.
What is surprising is that Malo, 47, was reared on a diet of Cuban, classical, jazz and country music rather than rock and pop. That came later.
All of those disparate elements feature in the Mavericks’ catalogue, the bulk of which was created during a highly prolific period in the early 1990s, when albums such as From Hell to Paradise, What a Crying Shame and Music for All Occasions brought the Florida outfit to international attention and produced a number of American hits, including Oh What a Thrill, All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down and the Grammy Award-winning Here Comes the Rain.
Australian audiences will get to experience these songs and more firsthand for the first time when the Mavericks make their Australian debut next month with a show in Sydney and a headline appearance at the annual Gympie Music Muster in Queensland.
The visit comes as part of a Mavericks renaissance. The band broke up in 2004, after the relatively modest success of its self-titled sixth album. Since then Malo has pursued a solo career successfully with a string of albums and regular touring, including to Australia in 2011.
Soon after that the group reunited, initially for a run of dates in the US, but a new recording contract and a critically acclaimed new album, In Time, released in February, have given one of the great party bands a new lease on life. Reunions don’t always work out, but this one has thanks to the recording process, Malo says.
‘‘ We really felt like when we got back together that the music set the tone,’’ he says. The ‘‘ we’’ he refers to is Malo and bassist Robert Reynolds, drummer Paul Deakin, guitarist Eddie Perez and keyboards player Jerry Dale McFadden.
‘‘ When you are in the studio you don’t know whether people are going to like it, but we felt optimistic. The music had an energy to it. That helped guide us along.’’
Indeed there is energy and song writing craft in abundance on In Time, an album with all the musical hallmarks of its predecessors, but that in the quality of the performances on tracks such as Lies, Amsterdam Moon and the darkly ambient, eight-minute (Call Me) When You Get to Heaven raises it above and beyond the standard of many reunion albums.
There’s a spirit that was lacking in their selftitled sign-off album in 2003, when the band was disintegrating for a variety of reasons.
‘‘ At that point nobody had their heart or their head in it,’’ Malo says. ‘‘ We were spiritually and emotionally somewhere else and just going through the motions. There was no hatred or animosity ... it was just that everyone was exhausted, plus we got involved with someone who perhaps didn’t have the band’s best interests at heart.’’
Older and wiser, the band ‘‘ has a renewed sense of purpose,’’ Malo says. ‘‘ Plus everybody knows their role. Any interpersonal agendas are out the window. We’re all focused on making this record a success.’’
Malo, whose parents moved to Miami from Cuba in the early 60s, says he was lucky to grow up in a household where all sorts of musical genres from different cultures filled the airwaves and the record player.
WE REALLY FELT LIKE WHEN WE GOT BACK TOGETHER THAT THE MUSIC SET THE TONE RAUL MALO
‘‘ We listened to everything,’’ he says. ‘‘ My parents had just come over from Cuba. People don’t realise how close we [the US and Cuba] are, not just in geographical terms but in cultural ways as well. At the time, whatever was happening in the US was happening in Cuba. So when they came over to the US my mom was listening to all the latest records. We had all the American stuff growing up, a lot of swing music, a lot of opera that my mom loved and Cuban music as well. I didn’t think about it at the time but I guess everybody had a Celia Cruz in their collection, along with their Buck Owens and their Patsy Cline. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realised that what I had was a unique upbringing. To be around all of that music was a beautiful thing. My dad was a bit of a country music fan and a fan of Elvis, so we had it all.’’
It was from his father’s Presley obsession that Malo’s musical epiphany emerged.
Presley’s It’s Now Or Never, a hit four years before Malo was born, switched him on to the idea of being a professional singer.
‘‘ That was it for me,’’ he says about hearing the song as a teenager. ‘‘ It was like a lightning bolt. I knew right then what I wanted to do. I’ve been trying to imitate that ever since.’’
When the Mavericks started out they were playing anywhere that would have them around Miami, and supporting emerging artists such as Marilyn Manson when they came to town. Back then they had no great aspirations about making a career out of what they were doing.
‘‘ We were happy to pay our bar tab,’’ Malo says. ‘‘ I don’t know that we ever spoke about any aspirations. I wanted to be a successful entertainer. But when we started the band we never spoke of being bigger than the Beatles or anything like that. We looked at what was success, which was the gig itself . . . that you even have a gig. We looked at it as pragmatically as possible but still striving to be as good as we could be and to write songs the best we could write them.’’
The Mavericks are one of those rare acts that have defied being pinned down by any one genre. Being drawn from so many styles, there is a timeless quality to the material.
‘‘ I’ve always tried to write music that people will listen to 20 years from now,’’ Malo says. ‘‘ I’ve never gone after writing for the radio. I just want to do music that will always be around. That means more to me than anything else.’’
Encouraged by the success of In Time, Malo says there’s a good chance of another Mavericks album and most likely another solo album as well. More than 20 years after he started, he’s still confident about a long-term future. ‘‘ Somebody approached me about writing a memoir,’’ he says, ‘‘ but I think it’s a bit soon. I think we’re enjoying this more now than in the first go round.’’
In Time is out through UMA. The Mavericks play the Hi-Fi, Sydney, on August 23 and Gympie Music Muster in Queensland on August 24 and 25.
Raul Malo, centre, with the Mavericks, who have reunited after almost a decade