When the Mavericks' Raul Malo got his mates back together after breaking up eight years ago and suggested they record an album, there were no rehearsals and no pre-production. In fact, they guys barely even exchanged greetings before they got started. The result: In Time, a record they built from scratch in the studio in what might be their most band-centric effort to date.
"The time off was really something that we desperately needed, but I was blown away when we went back in to do the record," says drummer Paul Deakin. "I know every band that's been gone for a while and comes back says, 'Oh, this is the best thing we've ever done,' but it's gotten the best reviews we've ever gotten. It's something we kind of felt when we were doing it."
Released last February, In Time, widens the band's already broad palette even further. In addition to the Latin, Tex-Mex, neo-traditional country, and roots rock on which they cut their teeth for 15 years, the new LP features smoldering minor-key piano ballads ("In Another's Arms"), vibrant Tejano/polkas ("All Over Again"), and swinging horn-laden jump blues ("As Long As They're Loving Tonight"). The Mavericks have always been hard to categorize, but now they're all but indefinable.
"In the early days we were a little more focused on paying homage to the country music genre than we are now. Not to say that we're going away from that, but there are so many other influences that we've become a non-genre-specific band," Deakin says.
But make no mistake, the Mavericks have been country music oddballs all along. They got their start in the late '80s and shared the same Miami management as Marilyn Manson. They played on bills together and it wasn't weird — or no more weird than it's always been.
"We were a country band from Miami with a Cuban-American singer playing in punk bars. So it was all fucked up from the start and that's maybe why," he laughs. "But we always had a good time, and we were dedicated to enjoying ourselves and what we did. That seemed to work a lot, especially in the live performances."
Indeed, the Mavericks are one of the most respected live acts around. But by the turn of the millennium the road had begun to wear on them. When the 1998 single "Dance the Night Away" became a huge British hit, it didn't help. Suddenly, they were playing six sold-out nights at the Royal Albert Hall and arenas across the U.K.
"We sold half a million singles in England, which is like 5 million here," Deakin says. "From late 1998 to 2000 was pretty much all spent over there."
They released their fifth, self-titled album in 2003 with guitarist Eddie Perez replacing Nick Kane. It was the Mavericks' weakest release. After the 2004 support tour, Deakin and company went on hiatus. Malo would release five solo albums, while Deakin dropped out of music completely and became a carpenter, something he'd long dreamed of doing.
"I really had a wonderful time doing it, and I found myself at one point building a drum studio for Brad Paisley's drummer," Deakin says. "This is how out of touch I am. He says I play with Brad Paisley, and I remember Brad was just coming up when we were just finishing. I'm like, I remember Brad. He was such a nice guy. So how's he doing? Are things working out okay for him? And he's like 'Well, his last 14 singles went to No. 1.'"
Before recording In Time, they reconnected with label exec Scott Borchetta, who had worked on their second album for MCA. Borchetta had helped break that album's first single, the album's title track "What a Crying Shame."
While Deakin was learning carpentry, Borchetta was starting his own label, Big Machine Records, and signing 16-year-old future superstar Taylor Swift. That afforded him the luxury of offering the Mavericks a deal before they'd even stepped into a studio.
"He said just go in there and make a Mavericks album and give me whatever you want. I'll put it out and see what I can do with it," says Deakin.
When they got into the studio, the intervening years melted away and work went fast. Within two days they'd written nine songs. There was a spirit about the sessions that suggested a different attitude and appreciation for what they had.
"The standout thing to me was Raul saying, 'I don't want you to have any preconceived notions. We're just going to get in there and talk through the songs,'" says Deakin. "Everyone was really open to each other, and it just kind of became a cacophony of sound. Raul said after day two there was like a hive mind going. It was like very hive-minded yet able at any minute to go off the rails for a little bit of excitement."
Absence has only made the heart grow fonder, which bodes well for the project's future. "The brotherhood is way, way stronger. We're older and hopefully a little wiser. We're more adult. Granted we're in our 40s and early 50s, but the fact is as musicians you really have to take 20 years off," Deakin jokes. "So when we started, we were more like 10 years old."
Today, that eight-year breather seems more like a resurrection, and Deakin hints they might be good to go from here.
"It all started out as a reunion tour idea," he says. "And Raul said this thing, what started as 20 dates may turn into 20 years."