The Mavericks, the Miami band famous for being able to cross so many boundaries between Americana, Country and Rock’n’Roll have this year added a new string to their multiple CMA and Grammy award winning bow. They have released a record entirely in Spanish. ‘En Español’ is quite simply The Mavericks in Spanish and is such a tour de force that it landed at #22 in the UK indie chart, #6 in the UK Americana chart as well as topping Billboard’s Latin Pop Album Chart. This incredible album is produced by the irrepressible lead singer Raul Malo with long time collaborator Niko Bolas, who has produced such greats as Neil Young, Prince and Sheryl Crow.
On the eve of Christmas with a superb new Christmas single out too along with a UK tour planned in 2021, it was with great anticipation that I got to chat with Raul Malo about ‘En Español’, the tour, the new single ‘Happy Holidays’ and his excitement about seeing the fans again. The Mavericks have been a force in music since 1989 and this record is a joy, a glimpse of the sunshine peaking through the dark clouds of a worldwide pandemic. Speaking to the man behind the music was a pleasure…
EP: So ‘En Español’ marks a bit of a departure; after all these years of English language records, what made you write and record a completely Spanish album?
RM: Well, for starters it’s my native tongue, it’s my first language as I am a first generation Cuban American and so it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and the band has too. We started in Miami and the Latin community and culture is very special to us and we’ve got a bunch of Latin guys in the band….Eddie Perez, our lead guitar player, is Mexican American, our accordion player is Mexican American, Michael Guerra and so the music has always been circling around us anyway. Even live, we’ve always played a song or two in Spanish and so to me this was just a natural evolution and something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and it just so happened that we finished it right when the pandemic was getting started and so the timing might be strange but it is what it is. That’s when it was done and we decided to release it anyway . Even though it’s a pandemic and we wouldn’t be able to tour it, if you’ve got music to release, put it out there and that’s what we did.
EP: For a lot of people in the UK, it’s been impossible to go on holidays or get away to sunnier climes and, for me, with ‘En Español’, listening to the record transported me to a warmer place and with this year’s Summer sunshine was almost like being on holiday. It was real wind the window down music, so I’m grateful you decided to go ahead with the release. When you were putting the record together, there’s a mix of covers, traditional music and original stuff; how did you decide what to include?
RM: Right, that’s always the challenge. You know, when we started we really had no idea where the record was going to go. We just started to record favourite songs and whatever originals that were getting written. As we had time from touring and whatnot we’d drop into the studio and record another song. They didn’t have to be classics or necessarily famous; we had no preconceived notion really. We just started to record and arrange songs we thought would fit our style or how we could record them where they would sound alright with us and the band would sound strong on it. We went through a lot of material and as the songs kept getting written, the record started to take shape.
For example ‘Sabor a Mi’ is a classic song recorded millions of times but when all is said and done, our fans don’t really know that song and so we just thought let’s do a version of this. It’s just one more beautiful version of a beautiful song and Julio Diaz, our trumpet player, played some beautiful solos on there and so that one ended up making the record even though that’s a classic, straight from the Spanish songbook. So on the writing side you are putting yourself up against some pretty heavy material so your songs have to hold up with all these great songs that are thrown in there. It was challenging in that regard but I feel because we took our time making this record and we didn’t think we’ll record this and be done in three months, or whatever, it worked. We’re gonna take our time and when it’s done it’s done and lo and behold it was done right when the pandemic was getting underway but that’s just how that worked out but here we are.
EP: it must have been difficult when you were writing the original songs on there, with the classic songs that you ended up including; there must have been a real pressure that you had this standard, this bar that you needed to reach. Was that ever a pressure? Did you ever consider just doing a covers record?
RM: Sure, yeah we considered that and that may still be an option on the table later on but I didn’t want it to be specific to one Latin genre or another because then you start to go…well is it a Cumbia record? Is it a Mariachi record? Is it a Salsa record?
It’s none of those things, it’s simply The Mavericks ‘En Español , The Mavericks in Spanish. That’s how we wanted to portray that and put that out there like that. I didn’t want it to be specific to one thing; to me it’s a celebration of all the Latin cultures that I grew up with. You know, I grew up Cuban American of course in Miami, but with Miami being such an international city, I had friends from all over the place. You had a Colombian community, you had Venezuelans, you had Peruvians, Mexicans, Chileans…everything…Jamaicans, Haitians…everything in Miami. You had this beautiful blend of all these cultures, all this music and it’s really a celebration of all that.
EP: That’s one of the things I was going to ask because there seems a constant need to pigeon hole The Mavericks and yet there are so many genres you bring together…Americana, Spanish music…do you guys consider yourself Americana, Country or something else, a melting pot of many genres?
RM: It’s like anything….you can ask ten different people what the band is and you’re gonna get ten different answers. I personally think of us as a rock’n’roll band. That’s what I think we are but not in the traditional sense like Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.
There are elements of all those bands in what we do. There’s Latin elements, Ska elements…we borrow a little bit from everybody, from everything and that’s how we’ve always approached our music and you know it’s been a fun journey, an interesting journey for sure. You might not be firmly entrenched in any particular genre. You might not be a solid for the Rock’n’Roll hall of fame or the Country music hall of fame or this hall of fame or whatever. You’re in your own no mans land but in a way that’s rock’n’roll…not belonging to any one thing is a very rock’n’roll attitude I think but that’s just me…
EP: Raul, that’s great. One of the mantras of the magazine I write for is that music should not be defined by genre or by putting everyone in a box…like life I guess. With the band, obviously you split up before and reformed again in 2012. Is it the experience of The Mavericks sweeter the second time round do you think ?
RM: Oh yes. I think you’ve been through it, you know what to expect and so I think you’re better prepared to enjoy it. The first time around you don’t really enjoy it because it’s all happening so fast, it’s all so new…it kinda goes by. So I think the second time around gives you a chance, you’re a little more prepared for it I think. You get to stop and smell the flowers a little more often and enjoy it.
EP: So with the pandemic interrupting things…the tour, the promotion of this record, how have you managed to keep in touch with your fan base?
RM: Early on in the pandemic I started doing quarantine videos on my Mellotron at home and they started as a lark. I didn’t really think anyone would pay any attention but they became such a thing that people were really looking forward to them and they became a really fun thing to do. I did all kinds of music. The whole thing started as just me doing songs by myself on the Mellotron. I thought I’d get maybe 5 or 6 songs out it and it turned out I got thirty songs out of it and so that was a fun musical exercise and a great way to stay connected to fans.
Then as the pandemic raged on The Mavericks obviously couldn’t go on the road so we were able to put together these pay per view TV shows on a streaming platform and those have been a really fun way to stay connected with the fans, to play new music and keep everybody safe in a safe environment…all our crew, our band, our auxiliary guys and it was a great way to play music, to stay connected but in no way does it replace touring or the experience of being in a hot sweaty room with a bunch of people dancing and screaming to your music. But at least it was something, it was a way to stay connected and we’re still doing them.
As a matter of fact, we have a Christmas one and a couple more at the beginning of the year and I’ll do some more ‘quarantunes’ stuff from my studio. I’ve just got to come up with more songs to do on my Mellotron. We’ll continue to stay connected in that way until we can hit the stage.
EP: Away from ‘En Español’, you’ve just released a beautiful Christmas song, ‘Happy Holidays’, with a brilliant video. How did you decide to approach that song in so different a way from the original. I recently chatted with Wesley Schultz from The Lumineers and he really believes a cover should bring something new to the table, The Rule Of Wesley, and your incredible version certainly does that….it feels like a new song ! How did that come about?
RM: I’ve got to give credit to this amazing instrument, the Mellotron, the new one that they’ve made now, a company out of Sweden; they still have the sounds of the original one from Abbey Road and stuff but the rhythms in this machine are amazing. So I started messing with it and I came upon this little waltz rhythm and started singing ‘Happy Holidays’, the Irving Berlin song, and it felt unnatural and it felt strange but it felt beautiful to me for some reason and it made these silly lyrics take on a different vibe altogether and there was something about it that I liked. I still can’t quite put my finger on it but I’m glad it made the record. That was a track that I recorded at home completely on the Mellotron and it’s almost like a little music box Christmas song to finish the album with.
EP: At the end of a year that has been so affected by this horrible pandemic, Irving Berlin’s original jaunty arrangement seems almost like the wrong vibe. Your version seems so much more tuned into the Christmas we will all end up having.
RM: Thank you. That’s exactly the sentiment and that’s why we thought that this would be the perfect single for this year seeing as how a lot of people are at home and cannot see their loved ones. It’s a difficult year for sure, to say the least, but I think in the end it also gives us a little glimmer of hope.
EP: I think if the pandemic has proved anything, it’s proved the importance of live music to the fans. Do you think, as a major recording artist, that it’s proved to you guys how important that sweaty room filled with dancing, screaming fans is to you?
RM: We’ve always known that. You know, I think every touring musician knows that. I think for sure it’s been amplified and it’s not just going out on the road, not only going out playing but everything else that goes along with it. The travelling, the packing, the unpacking, The this and that. The trials and tribulations of life on the road that you’ve been working your whole life and gearing yourself up to dealing with every year, year in, year out and to put the brakes on that has certainly been a challenge. I know it has for me, but it has for everybody who does this for a living but that’s ok. We’re coming out better for it and I think when this opens back up it’s gonna be glorious.
EP: I think everyone certainly appreciates each other more and appreciates the bands they love and that opportunity to go see live music again is the light at the end of the tunnel…
RM: I think you’re right about that, I think fans to a certain degree are things that we could have taken for granted. We no longer can or should we. So let’s take care of each other and let’s take care of what we love from this point on.
EP: I think absolutely that lots of fans might have taken live music for granted which means It will certainly be a party atmosphere, a reunion when you get to tour ‘En Español’. I bet you can’t wait!
RM: Oh man! I don’t know that words can describe what we’re felling. It’s excitement, apprehension, euphoria, madness…we’re just itching to go. It’s gonna be fantastic!
EP: I can’t wait to see you play next year. I really hope that by that time things are more normal. Raul, thank you for sharing your thoughts, taking the time to chat. Have a lovely Christmas and I hope that the record continues to be a success. It’s a fantastic release!
RM: Thank you very much Steve, thank you for the time. Stay safe man and I’ll see you on the other side of this madness. Merry Christmas!
EP: Merry Christmas, thank you for the music.
THE MAVERICKS EN ESPAÑOL UK 2021 TOUR
10 September Manchester Bridgewater Hall
12 September London Palladium
14 September Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
15 September Bath The Forum
Tickets are available here.