If, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are few second acts in American lives, there are even fewer in the lives of American bands. The musical landscape is dotted with one, two, or three-hit wonders who petered out after a few years, fading into obscurity. And even the ones who make it to the money-grubbing reunion tour are usually living in the past rather than putting out anything new or compelling.
And then there is the Mavericks, the Miami, Fla. band who took country radio by storm in the mid-1990s on the strength of honky-tonk dance floor fillers, like “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down” and majestic ballads like “O What a Thrill,” great songs made into masterpieces by the epic, operatic voice of their singer, Raul Malo.
After two hit albums, What a Crying Shame and Music for All Occasions, the band faded from mainstream country radio, largely because they were expanding into a more fluid sound that combined country, pop, Latin music, and all manner of different influences into a gloriously genre-free carnival. The music was great, but it was hard to categorize, meaning that staying on the radio was an uphill battle. The band split in the early 2000s, reuniting a couple of times through the next decade but never permanently.
But in 2011, the band reformed and signed a two-album deal with country-music juggernaut Big Machine Records. Their first reunion album, In Time, was a stunning comeback, adding a heavy dose of rock ‘n’ roll muscle (largely courtesy of recent addition Eddie Perez on lead guitar) and incorporating a bigger production palette that allowed Malo to launch his seemingly limitless voice into the stratosphere. It wasn’t rock, country, pop, or anything else. It was simply the Mavericks. Their next two albums, Mono and this year’s Brand New Day, continue to build on that platform of joyous, big-hearted music, but now there’s a new twist: Brand New Day was released on the Mavericks’ own record label (and their accompanying management company) Mono Mundo Recordings. After two decades working for the man, the band was now working for themselves.
“We were already leaning towards that decision anyway,” says Eddie Perez, “and as we were making this record it blossomed into a mindset. Brand New Day is in some ways the template for how we operate as we head into the future. And it seems to be working for us.”
In terms of audience response, Perez is absolutely right. In Time hit the Country Music Top 10 and sold around 75,000 copies, despite not getting any real radio support or being all that much of a country album. Mono went even further, garnering the band a Grammy Award nomination and hitting the Billboard Top 5.
“We had a great couple of years with the Mono record. We had a lot of really big moments,” Perez says, “and when you’re seeing some progress, it emboldens you a little bit, everything seemed to be falling right in line.”
The final push the band needed to start their own label came when they suggested to Big Machine that they’d like to put out a live album from the Mono tour, a jaunt with an expanded lineup (featuring accordion, a horn section, and a standup bassist) that created some of the best performances of the Mavericks’ career.
“We felt it was important to document what we’ve been doing the last four years,” Perez says. “So we really wanted to release this live record. And most record companies don’t really like to bother with live recordings anymore. As we were recording these shows and listening to the playbacks, we started getting a little bit more confident that we could do this ourselves. The timing just seemed to be right.”
Once Big Machine passed on the live album idea, the Mavericks took matters into their own hands and released the propulsive, no-frills All Night Live on their own.
“We’ve always been very engaged in all the facets of this business,” Perez says. “We were hands-on before we took this step. So it just made sense for us to take the reins and guide what we wanted this experience to be. I mean, at this point, we’ve been making music for 27 years. If we don’t know what we’re doing at this point, we should be doing something else.”
One of the unexpected advantages of the band being their own bosses is that the days of trying to find some sort of home in country music are definitively over; Brand New Day doesn’t even bother to dip a toe in modern country music, with the band (which also includes drummer Paul Deakin and keyboardist JD McFadden) exploring everything from ragtime (“Rolling Along”), widescreen ’60s-style pop (the title track), muscular Los Lobos-style Latin rock (“Easy As It Seems”), and more.
“There are no preconceived notions of anything now,” Perez says. “We’re not trying to hit any point of reference. There’s no genre, no demographic; it’s about if the feeling of the song touching your soul and compelling you. We’re a lot more dynamic than we’ve ever been, because we’ve taken the control and opened ourselves to the experience. If it’s not joyous to us, we don’t do it.”