Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Raul Malo

Raul Malo (center, with guitar) performing with The Mavericks. (Photo: Peter Dervin)
Raul Malo (center, with guitar) performing with The Mavericks. (Photo: Peter Dervin)

Raul Malo, a founding member and lead vocalist of The Mavericks, has been playing a few solo shows in between his group’s run of gigs to support their latest album MONO, which was released with Universal Music in February 2015. And he’ll be playing one of those solo gigs at The Birchmere on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

“I’m just doing a couple of solo shows before we really get started….They’re fun for me and I get to try out new material,” Malo said.

“And I get to try out new material, so that’s always a really good thing for me to be doing because [the shows] always help out, whether they inspire new songs or just new ways to sing old songs or trying out covers that you’ve never done before. There’s always something to learn from these gigs.”

Malo said that the shows also help him determine which songs he writes will work better for his solo repertoire or work better for The Mavericks. He isn’t a stranger to making the distinction between solo and group songs – Malo began a career as a solo musician about 12 years into The Mavericks’ career as a group when he released Today in 2001.

Malo’s solo career flourished in the decade following the release of Today, during which he released five albums and worked with the likes of Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and country singer K.T. Oslin. In 2004, Malo went solo full time as The Mavericks split up.

He said that The Mavericks’ time apart (they reunited in 2012 and have been together ever since) was crucial to the evolution of the band. “I know we were all burnt out and we were just at a different point in our lives,” Malo said. “I had just had kids and I wanted to see them more in the crucial years of their lives. Now they’re grown and they’re teenagers and they don’t want to hang out with dad.

“But when they were little I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could and the touring schedule at the time was really just brutal and there was no end in sight. And it was a bit of a hamster wheel experience – all these people making money off you and you’re just a mule….It got exhausting and I was bored musically. I felt that we as a band said everything that we had to say.”

During the break up, Malo said that he went on a musical journey. “I made all kinds of records and I worked with all kinds of people,” Malo said.

“I worked with Peter Asher. I did a symphony record out in England. I went out to L.A. and recorded with a bunch of Cuban guys. And did all kinds of things and learned a lot about music, about studios, producing, arranging; I learned how to listen to music – I just learned a lot.”

So, he said, when the group reunited he was able to bring all of his solo experience back to the group to enhance what they do. And what The Mavericks have done since they got back together has been rewarded.

The group’s first record after getting back together, In Time, released in 2013, was critically acclaimed, reached #8 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and #38 on the Billboard 200. And now MONO is up for a Grammy in the Best Americana Album category and the single from album, “All Night Long,” is up for a Grammy in the Best American Roots Song category.

“It’s obviously a thrill to be nominated,” Malo said. “But it’s also a huge honor. We’ve a got a lot of friends in that category and they’re all great artists. So to be in the thick of that is really amazing.”

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