Calgary Folk Festival: Raul Malo and The Mavericks following their unique muse
“We’ve always been fuelled by the muse, and wherever the muse takes us, that’s where we go,” says Raul Malo from veteran American act The Mavericks, before laughing.
“And luckily it hasn’t really led us off the cliff yet.”
Even if it did, likely there would be many who would follow them. They are a band that elicits and deserves devotion, thanks to a genre-defying career that has made them true country music outsiders.
From their heyday in the ’90s to their current reunited run after a decade of dormancy at the beginning of this century, they’ve done it their way, winning people over and earning acclaim with their mix of traditional western and early rock, Tex-Mex and other world elements, and, most importantly Malo’s voice — one that could woo you, bed you, wake you and melt the butter for your breakfast.
Prior to the band’s Mainstage closing appearance this Sunday night at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Malo spoke with the Herald about the band’s latest album Mono, taking Canadian country singer Whitney Rose under his wing, the dismissal of founding member Robert Reynolds last year due to what they say was an addiction to opiates, and what keeps the rest of The Mavericks going.
Q: The last time we spoke was last year prior to your Flames Central show where you had Canadian singer Whitney Rose opening for you (Malo would go on to produce and appear on her gorgeous new album Heartbreaker of the Year). I missed her that night but have since fallen in love with her.
A: I’m so glad. I think she’s great. She’s just beautiful, she has that old-school swagger about her, and her songs are clever and they’re not derivative. Because some people they think they’re old school and they write in that certain style and then it all sounds like all the same crap anyway. But she doesn’t. She really puts her own twist on things and I just can’t say enough about her. I really enjoyed working with her and seeing people really fall in love with her, and fall in love with her music. As a producer and her friend, it really warms my heart. I love that people are catching on to her.
Q: I get the sense that there’s a kinship there, that you saw in her something similar to you, and perhaps you helped nurture that?
A: I think in many ways we’re kindred spirits, artistic spirits in that way, in that we kind of have an idea of who we are — we know who we are, she knows who she is and you just follow it and to hell with everything else.
There’s a price to pay, of course, but there’s also great rewards, too, and the main thing — and I love this about her — the main thing for her is always the music. She always says that about me and The Mavericks, and it’s true, with us music is really the most important thing, aside from business and all the other stuff you’ve got to do, the music is really important. And I love that about her.
Q: OK, that’s enough blowing smoke her way.
A: (Laughs.) Sure. Let’s get back to me.
Q: Again, since we last talked, you released the album Mono, which I think is another wonderful record in The Mavericks canon. This album, what you do, it can make any bad day better. And it can make any good day better.
A: Thank you, man. I appreciate that. We put a lot of work into the record and we always try to put our best foot forward and if the music takes the listener somewhere and takes them on a little ride, that’s really what you want, that’s absolutely the goal, the mission.
Q: I know a lot of people focus on the fact that it was recorded in mono, but the songs themselves, you have such a broad sound that is so much your own, it seems as if it’s a playground for you guys.
A: It really is in many ways. I think it’s part of the advantage of operating in this sort of musical no man’s land that we’re in. We’ve made this no man’s land our own, in that we’re not really country, we’re not Latin music, we’re not this, we’re not that, and yet we’re all of it all at the same time.
I love when you ask 10 people what the band sounds like or what it likes and you’re going to get 10 different answers. I used to think that that was detrimental to our career, and I think for a while it was, it really was difficult, even though we had country music we never really quite fit in with country music — we certainly don’t fit in with it now. But I think as the years go on and you survive the cut, I guess … and you keep doing it you cultivate your audience and just work on that, before you know it, your little piece of the pie is yours and nobody can take it away …
So we’re having more fun than ever now, at this point in our lives.
Q: Well, hating to bring things down, but I think I have to ask about Robert and how he’s doing.
A: The sad truth is that we haven’t hear a peep from Robert. Nobody knows. His brother hasn’t spoken to him. Our guess is he’s still living in Indiana with his girlfriend. And that’s the last I heard.
Q: That’s an absolute shame.
A: It’s unbelievable. At the very least it’s a shame. It’s borderline tragic, honestly. But, you know, I honestly feel that when it comes to that we did everything we could and then some. Some people just don’t want to go on the ride with you, and that’s really what it comes down to. At the end of the day, he didn’t want to come on this ride, so he’s going to have to miss out.
Yeah, it hurts, but people always ask was it hard to let him go, but the sad answer is that by the time that it got to the letting go, it wasn’t hard. The hard part was before, that was hard, and that was hard to see and hard to fathom, that here was your friend, your partner, the guy that had been with you, the guy that had been waiting for this for years, and getting the band back together and come out swinging like we did, it wasn’t enough. It’s that other thing, it’s a horrible thing, people have no idea how strong that addiction that is and how incredibly life-altering and overwhelming it is. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around alcohol and drugs my whole life, pretty much, and I’ve seen people kick everything. I’ve yet to see anybody kick this …
All we can do is wish him the best. And our hand is always out to him, it’s not like we shut him off, it’s still open to him … There are conditions he has not met and I don’t think he’s going to meet by now.
Q: I had to ask because I hadn’t seen any updates over the past several months, and maybe I was hoping for a happy ending or that there was something positive there.
A: Some development? Yeah, no. Other than I guess that we can rejoice in that he’s alive. I’m happy about that. Or at least hopeful that maybe there is a chance.
(This interview was edited for space and clarity.)
The Mavericks perform Sunday night at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. For tickets and information go to calgaryfolkfest.com.