The Mavericks are out on the road celebrating the band's 25th anniversary, but it has been a choppier ride than that would suggest.
The band, which formed in Miami and broke into the country scene in the early '90s, took a hiatus at the end of that decade, due to burnout, and then again between 2004 and 2012, while frontman Raul Malo pursued a successful solo career.
He told the Post-Gazette during that period, "You know, once you free yourself of the confines of the group, you can pretty much do whatever you want," although to hear The Mavericks play, you wonder what they can't do.
Still, to everyone's surprise, The Mavericks re-emerged last year with a long-awaited seventh album, "In Time" (on Big Machine), that spotlights the singer's Roy Orbison-style pipes and the band's versatility with Tejano, Cuban and Tex-Mex styles. The band, once embraced by the mainstream country establishment -- enough to win three Academy of Country Music awards in the mid-'90s (along with a Grammy) -- now seems pretty far removed from that scene and yet much closer to traditional country than the guys with cowboy hats who are filling stadiums and amphitheaters this summer.
In advance of the Mavericks return to Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall, we talked to drummer and founding member Paul Deakin.
So, I caught you on the New Orleans Jazz Fest stream. You guys seem to be having a great time. How was it?
Amazing. The crowds are amazing. It was the second year we played there. It's in New Orleans and you're not in the middle of a field, so it doesn't [stink]. One of the highlights for us is we look side stage and Robert Plant is watching the whole show, so we're like, "My god, the golden voice is watching this show!" After the show and after he played, we were outside our trailer and he was walking off stage and he ran up to us like, 'Oh my god, that set was brilliant! You guys are a brilliant band and your last record was one of my favorites of last year,' and we were just dumbstruck. I don't think my feet have touched the ground since then.
Didn't you guys actually tease a Zeppelin song ['Whole Lotta Love'] in there?
We did. Eddie [Perez] does his little guitar riff thing, so he played a little piece of that as a tribute. Sometimes he does "Rebel Rebel" going into "La Bamba." He'll do a couple snippets of things. I'm sure that was a nod to Robert being there.
The range you guys have is stunning. How has that grown over the years?
Somebody said last night, "You have so many different styles." I said, " 'Cause all we do... before the show, we're listening to music, after the show we're listening to music.' We're all audiophiles. From the beginning, the start of the band, 25 years ago, our first gig was playing country music with a Cuban-American lead singer in an English pub that only played live punk bands in Little Haiti. So, it was all wrong, but somehow it worked and it set the tone of what The Mavericks were to be, and as we've grown and listened to things, a lot of the Latin influences come out.
It's strange to think that you guys were once accepted in the mainstream country scene.
Not anymore. We kind of snuck in the back door. I think we got signed because we were kind of "the credibility band" that some of the labels wanted at the time. We put out an independent that got four stars in Billboard, stuff like that, so they came knocking and we signed a major label record deal. Scott Borchetta was the guy who broke us at country radio when he was a lowly promotions guy at MCA. Fast forward to now and he started and owns Big Machine. He had one act to start it with and it was Taylor Swift, so he chose wisely.
Back then it was obviously easier and I'm sympathetic to radio's plight in that it's shrinking and they have to really watch their revenue dollars and their target markets get smaller and smaller, so their playlists get smaller. We don't fit into that anymore. Especially young country.
We played a festival in the middle of Florida opening up for Brantley Gilbert and literally there were people there but every one turned around and just left when we were playing. It was like, this was weird. We couldn't win the young redneck crowd over too well, but we have a lot of young people who grew up with their parents listening to us. I think our elements of country -- traditional country -- are still strong, but we have a lot of other elements in there.
Country is all beer and trucks now. Do you hear anything you like there?
Sure. Kacey Musgraves has a good record. I always liked the Dixie Chicks and some of Taylor's songs are fine. It all has a place. I don't really have much of a heart for the kind of male -- the mimbo music out there.
Oh, Big Machine is putting out a country tribute to Motley Crue, so they asked us. Well, I've never been a huge Motley Crue fan, but my wife was. She's like, "You gotta do it." I went to the Country Radio Seminar, they had a party, and Vince Neil was there and Brantley Gilbert was up there and I was watching, thinking, "What does Motley Crue have to do with country music?" And Brantley Gilbert played and it was, honestly, the production of country music right now is very similar to the production of Motley Crue in the '80s, so I was like, "Oh, OK, now I get it." We said the only song we could see doing was "Dr. Feelgood" because it was about a Mexican cartel guy. We did it as a cumbia and they flipped out over it. That was our little offering.
So, while the Mavericks were away, you were doing carpentry work. What was the experience like of going into that and back into the band again?
It was great. You know, the grass is always greener no matter where you are. When we stopped in 2004, I had some offers to do some tours, but we had young kids and my wife kind of lovingly revoked my touring pass. So, I'm like, "I gotta do something." I said, "As glorious as this has been, I've been on the road for 12 years and seen the world and played for so many people, it's been great but it's slightly unproductive, and so I was like, 'I just need to do something.' " And you know, the band had done well in the '90s and the early millennium, so I was like, "I always wanted to be a carpenter. I'm gonna have to buy some tools," so it was man Christmas for like a full year. I used the same method as in high school where I was not a very good drummer but I owned a PA so I got in a band. So I was not a very good carpenter but bought all the right tools and got hired.
I still went out and played [with other bands], but my limit was two months out of the year, not 10. So, I started doing that. Started at 15 bucks an hour. You go in at first, and they're like, "Do you know how to hang a door?" You say, "Of course I know how to hang a door." I didn't know how to do it, so I'd go home and watch YouTube videos on how to hang a door and the next day that's what I'd do. I made my way up to 30 bucks an hour and started a company with a guy who had a master's degree in theology from Harvard, so he was a Harvard-educated carpenter, I was a Grammy winner. We actually called it Carpentry For All Occasions, a spin on our album "Music For All Occasions." I loved getting up at 5 in the morning and making my kids breakfast and going to work at 7 and then home at 3 with them for all those years. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but there were times when I would be in the dead of winter crawling under a house and see a tour bus go by and be like, "What the [expletive] am I doing?"
And then on the juxtaposition, I was at a wine bar in New York City doing a party and there's a Granger store across the street and I'm looking out the window, going, "I wonder what kind of tools they got in there?" But now my carpentry pass has been revoked other than working on my own house.
So, you happen to be playing here the same night as Brad Paisley...
Well, I got a good Brad Paisley story. I was working on a house, this guy was selling a house, and he had a lot of old drums. He was obviously a drummer, and I was like, "Wow, these are nice old drums." He was like, "Do you play?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Do you play around town?" I was like, "Well, not really. I just go out with a couple people here and there, but I had band that toured." "Oh, wow, what band?" "Band called The Mavericks." He was like, "Do you mind signing some of my records? I got all your CDs." Turns out it was Brad Paisley's drummer, Ben Sesar.
I ended up building his drum studio in his house. He was like "I play for Brad Paisley." I was like -- and this is how removed I was from the business -- "I remember Brad 'cause when we were finishing, he was just starting." I said, "He was such a nice guy and a great guitar player. How is he doing these days? Has country radio been good to him?" He goes, "Well, his last 14 singles went to No. 1 and we're the biggest arena tour right now and he's got his own plane." I'm like, "Brad's doing good! That's good to see." The respect I have for him is that he uses his touring band to play on his records, which is nice. So, I built their drummer's drum studio.