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The Mavericks live up to their name

By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2015

When you call yourselves The Mavericks, you have a reputation to live up to.

The long-running country band may have addressed that issue from the get go with "Mono," their second disc since reforming in 2011.

For non-audiophiles, music is almost exclusively recorded in stereo, considered a higher quality sound.

"Honestly, I've been wanting to do it for awhile," says lead singer Raul Malo, while en route from an opening night show in Boston to New York City. "I read somewhere that this was a novelty, and it's hilarious (that) in this day and age, we're going to make a record in mono. That really wasn't the intent."

Malo said the idea came several years when he went to an audio store. "You go to the store, you look at what they have, and you realize there are no stereos any more. Everything is geared for movies."

The Mavericks - Out the Door in Boston, Feb. 19, 2015, opening night of tour

What we found in the process that in mixing it this way…you don't have to add a bunch of stuff," he says. "You don't have to overdub a bunch of guitars and fiddle and all of these perceived holes because the one guitar part is placed exactly where it should be and fills a nice piece of real estate."

"There's a real honesty to it," he says. "They're no lying. There's no deception. "It's about as truthful a representation of the band and our music as we could possibly present. That's really what it is. It was just a way to get back to the truth and delivering the music and about as an honest and transparent way as possible. That's why we went with it. Plus I think it sounds better."

He says that became apparent in the studio when the band would listen to the vinyl, mono versions of The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," the original Beatles, Elvis, Sam Cooke.

"If I hadn't said anything, I don't think people would have even noticed, but that's okay," he says.

There's one other key change this time around - bassist Robert Reynolds, who founded the band with Malo is no longer with the band. He got the boot in the fall to deal with what Malo says were substance abuse issues along with asking fans for money under false pretenses.

"At first, it was kind of strange, but you realize people don't realize what a draining energy that is to have," Malo says of playing without him. "You're always worried about him."

Malo says the group twice paid for Reynolds to be in rehab and was willing to do so again.

"I'll say this, it was difficult at first (playing without Reynolds), but honestly, it became very liberating after awhile."

Referring to Reynolds, "That's very taxing, very exhausting. It took a minute, and, of course, you go through the process of being sad and being hurt and being angry. You go through that because you're angry at him."

On tour, Reynolds was replaced by James Intveld, who had done work with lead guitarist Eddie Perez.

Malo minces few words about Reynolds – saying "He's an addict, and he's chosen not to get that" – but after awhile, he grows increasingly upset and wants to change the subject.

The Mavericks are pushing "Mono" on the Mono Mundo World Tour, playing almost the songs. The new disc runs the gamut from country ("Out the Door") to Latin big band ("What You Do To Me") blues ("The Only Question Is"), jazzy jump blues ("Stories That We Could Tell"), Roy Orbison ("Let It Rain (On Me)"), ska ("Summertime (When I'm With You)" and Tex Mex (Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty").

"I don't start out going, ‘today I'm going to write a country song'. A lot of times, a lot of late nights, the family is off to bed…, I'll be downstairs. That's my time. I'll sit at the piano, play a guitar, and I'll start riffing. Whatever happens happens. Sometimes a country song happens, sometimes a Latin song happens. Like our records, there's really no rhyme reason to it, but there is. It makes sense to me. It's just my world."

In a way, Malo reasons that The Mavs have benefitted from a lack of hits. The result is that the band is not encumbered by having to play the hits night after night.

"The overall majority enjoys the new material, which for us is great because that's what we want to play because we don't want to just go out and play the old stuff. We really haven't had massive number one singles like other artist had. People aren't relying on it."

"We are not reliant on any one song, any one piece of music. We still love playing ‘All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down'. It was our biggest single. Not only that, it's fun to play, and we enjoy playing it. As far as the other stuff, it never felt like we had to play it. We enjoy playing the new stuff, and it's new for us right now."

Malo maintains that the fans want to hear something new, not necessarily the case with a veteran band that is not going to all of a sudden enjoy radio hits and commercial radio play. "We've had the last three or four years where we've been touring extensively, and we played a lot of the old songs, at least the big singles. We've had this strange career. Our fans this time around really like the new music, the new material. They want to hear the new material."

The opening "All Night Long" developed as a jam that came from its inclusion in a song The Mavs would play in concert, "Sway." "At the end, we'd go into this jam and take it up a notch. We had this riff, and I don't know where it came from. Fans started inquiring ‘what song is this?' I thought maybe I should just get off my ass and write some lyrics. I couldn't find anything to work. I just couldn't figure it out."

Malo took the approach of his Cuban heritage, saying many songs were "tongue in cheek, more about the musical jam and making a mood. I went with that approach and just applying it…It's really a song about sex. It really is."

Malo described the late Sahm as a "sort of musical, spiritual mentor to the band." On the bus, inevitably, Sahm, who Malo met once at the Grammys before he passed away, would be on the iPod. "We tried (‘Nitty Gritty') at sound check one time. We put it in the set a couple of times just for fun, and we loved it. When it came time to make a record, the label's always asking for an extra song…we said let's record ‘Nitty Gritty'. That's a cool track…It's a nod to another musical inspiration for us. A guy who really blended a lot of styles."

"He was sort of a chameleon, but always great. He always made great records, and we love that musical restlessness," said Malo.

Malo makes it clear he's not looking to the past – except maybe when it came to recording style – musically or in the band's membership composition. "If I just had to play the old stuff, I probably wouldn't do it," Malo says.

Once again, The Mavericks do justice to their name.