The Mavericks Strip Down for Mono

Bursting out of a musically diverse scene in Miami in the early '90s, The Mavericks found crossover success with a roadworthy blend of Latin rhythms, classic country, and a liberal dose of rockabilly attitude.

Led by songwriter and vocalist Raul Malo, the band's currently enjoying a creative renaissance. The band's new album Mono is named for the way it was mixed, down to one channel, how Malo's favorite big band and Elvis records were. In an age were audiophiles configure massive speaker setups, it's nearly a revolutionary exercise in addition-by-subtraction. Malo spoke with New Times about blending music and cultures.

New Times: What inspired the decision to mix the record in mono?

Raul Malo: I've always thought there was a beautiful honesty and simplicity about mono [records], you know? When we got into the studio, every day we'd start the session by listening to some of our favorite records. The thing they had in common, whether it was a big band/Duke Ellington record or a weird Santo and Johnny record, or a Beach Boys, Beatles, or Elvis [record], is that they all sounded great. I honestly hate the sound of modern recordings. I just hate the sound of modern recordings, so we were already using [vintage] ribbon mics on all the instruments and the vocals. The album was starting to take this sonic hue -- it's hard to explain, but when you're in there and you're hearing it, you're going, "Oh man, this is the way this is supposed to sound." [Producer] Niko Bolas turned to me and asked me, "Hey, do you wanna do this in mono?" I didn't even hesitate, because I was so sure it was the right decision, even when people thought we were crazy.

You guys mix so many sounds -- Latin, country, rockabilly -- so there's something to be said for mixing it down to one speaker. It has a certain cohesion to it; all that stuff is mixed down into one thing.

That's right. All that went into the decision making part of all this. It just made so much sense on so many levels. The thing about mono we discovered as we were going through the process is that there's no trickery. Every instrument, if it's going to make the cut, has to find its little sonic real estate, because it's all coming down one channel. In a way, this record is probably the most honest representation of what this band is like live that we've ever had.

"Fascinate Me" is such a killer song. It's so haunting and gorgeous. Was that inspired by some of those records you were listening to before the sessions?

Man, sometimes music to me paints a picture, and sometimes that picture inspires a song. I would start playing this little melody and I would just sing these words, these simple phrases. It sounded like the song the band would be playing at the end of the night as the bar closes. That's how I wrote it. We tried to convey that imagery. It's the last song of the night. He's not singing about anybody and he's not singing to anybody -- it's just a song, which I think makes it even more beautiful, because then people can make their own connections to it. It's not even really a love song. If you think about it on hippity dippity sort of cosmic terms, you could apply that same sentiment to a stranger next to you, or flowers, or whatever completes you, whatever fascinates you.

You cover Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty" on the record. Like your music, his style really blends a lot of sounds -- not just mixing styles, but also synthesizing them. Where does that desire come from for you?

I didn't really discover Doug's music until my 20s, but I've always said that Doug is like the spiritual father of The Mavericks. Musically and stylistically we both come from pretty dynamic places. You criticize Texas all you want, and you can make all the jokes that people make about it, but musically, culturally, and dynamically, Texas is an amazing place. Doug was a child prodigy, and you can see him taking in all these things as he grew up and found his voice -- there's western swing, rock & roll, the hippie movement. You can see that he was a bit of a musical chameleon, not unlike what The Mavericks were doing early on in Miami, living down there. There was so much music I grew up listening to: a lot of Caribbean music, a lot of Latin music, a lot of R&B and jazz, and not to mention country music. I think it was a combination of a unique place and time.

The Mavericks are scheduled to perform Friday, May 15 at Livewire in Scottsdale.

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