The Mavericks Live Up to Their Name: ‘We’re Too Country for Miami, Too Cuban for Nashville’



noun: a person who refuses to follow the customs or rules of a group

When the Mavericks were last in New York, they drove the crowd at Town Hall into such a state of jubilation that people were dancing in the aisles. The outdoor space at their free Lincoln Center concert on July 29 is likely to arouse as much cutting-loose, if not more. This come-join-the-party attitude is essential to what makes the band special, as is the singularity of their sound. Since the early Nineties, their music has evolved from country to something most aptly described by the name of the group playing it: It’s maverick music. It doesn’t sound like anything or anyone else.

“It’s almost like we’re too country for Miami, and we’re too Cuban for Nashville,” says singer Raul Malo, speaking by phone from the country music capital in Tennessee. “We’re in this little no man’s land, so it’s like we’ve made no man’s land ours.”

Labels that get bandied about in attempts to classify the Mavericks’ roguish style usually include neo-traditional or postmodern country, classic rock ‘n’ roll, Latin, big band, rockabilly…the list goes on. For their part, the band have embraced the eclecticism.

“We’re on our own little island,” Malo says, describing their approach, “so let’s just really make it our own island, and the heck with it, and at least have as much fun as we possibly can.”

Back in February at Town Hall, the pre-show festivities upheld this objective. I’d been invited by the band’s publicist to a meet-and-greet, where she said there would be a little toast. (Her exact words were: “little hello and toast.”) Perhaps she was referring to the size of the cups. When the band joined the small group of staff and V.I.P.s, out came a bottle of Patrón Silver. We all raised shots to the Mavericks. A few moments later, the band declared a second toast to honor the daring hot-pink pantsuit pianist Jerry Dale McFadden had selected that evening. A couple minutes of chitchat transpired. Then the band proposed a third toast, requiring more shots from the guy playing bartender. Things were getting lively. A megaphone appeared (it probably inspired a toast, too), available for photo ops with the band. The bartender produced a second bottle of Patrón, the first one having lasted about seven minutes. The second bottle disappeared as quickly as the first.

All this is to say that when it comes to having a good time, the Mavericks do not mess around. (Two bottles of tequila before the show? What do they do on their days off?) “Hey, listen,” laughs Malo when he recalls that night, “no matter what music you play, you’re still a musician. You still gotta get your groove on.” True to form, the band makes zero apologies for any lack of convention.

Three days prior, the Mavericks had released their eighth studio album, Mono, recorded literally in mono. Malo explains that idea was born partly in rebellion against a “world gone mad,” one obsessed with the pursuit of higher and higher quality sound. “I just kind of went the total opposite,” Malo says of bucking the sonic trend. “It’s such a ridiculous idea [to do a record in mono] that it has to be right.” But there was also a genuine reason for the choice, one rooted in nostalgia for bygone eras. “All the sound came out of one speaker” in the early days of vinyl, he recalls. “You didn’t need anything else. If you had two speakers, it would still be the same sound. And there was a beauty in that. The Beatles’ records sounded great. Elvis records sounded great. There’s a certain honesty in that there’s no trickery. You can’t really disguise much or lie about it much. There’s a beautiful and really compelling honesty to a mono recording.” And indeed, the record has become the Grammy-winners’ fifth to crack the top ten on the country chart, proving listeners respond to the music whether it’s in stereo or not.

Winning over live audiences is another Mavericks specialty, a skill they recognized they had early on in their hometown of Miami. More than once, they had to open for Marilyn Manson, who by then had a growing following of industrial-goth teens. Malo remembers one fateful night: “We looked out into this sea of, basically, kids [who] looked like Marilyn Manson. They all had the long black hair, and they had lunch boxes…I thought for sure stuff was going to come out of those lunch boxes, and they were going to throw them at us. We played our most country set. In those days, we were this hardcore, real rockabilly, punkish sort of country band, so we played every Hank Williams and Merle Haggard song that we knew. And those kids went nuts. I think after a while, they were just like, ‘All right, these guys are all right. They at least have a lot of balls, that’s for sure.’ ”

Ballsy, trend-eschewing, and genre-confounding, the Mavericks remain true to themselves. It must work some kind of magic, because audiences can’t seem to help but join in on their Dionysian fun. They may not give a damn about what’s hip, but that’s what makes them hip — and everyone’s invited to their party, from Miami to Nashville and everywhere in between.

The Mavericks play Lincoln Center Out of Doors July 29. The performance is free. For additional information, click here.